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The Daily Office Tutorial, Part VII – Singing and Chanting the Office

February 17, 2011

Feeling musical?  Have a few folks who like to pray and sing?  Live in an intentional community where daily prayer is a part of life and thinking about adding music to it?  Myriad ways, ranging from the simple to the profound, exist to sing the daily office.  But to do this, you’ll need at least one additional resource: a copy of the Hymnal 1982.  Other resources exist, and I can say something about them later, but for now, we’ll focus exclusively on the Hymnal 1982.

Got your Hymnal 1982?  Ok, let’s begin.

Almost every single part of each daily office service can be sung or chanted, whether in unison, in parts, whether in chant or in monotone.  For a lot of what we’ll be looking at we’ll be relying on the beginning part of the Hymnal 1982, the part where the song numbers begin with “S,” as in “S-58.”  The “S” stands for “Service” music to differentiate them from hymns.  Let’s take a look at what resources are available to sing Evening Prayer, Rite II – when sung this service is referred to as “Evensong.”

Turn with me to “S-58” in your Hymnal 1982 – the title should be “Daily Evening Prayer II Preces.”  You’ll see that there are different parts marked out for different folks labeled “Officiant” and “People.”  The Officiant begins, the People respond, just as when the office is said.  Musically, you may pitch these sung lines anywhere you are comfortable, but if singing them in a group, you should pitch them in a range comfortable for the majority.  These are also written using half-steps, which means that as the notes ascend or descend, they usually do so by a half-note rather than a whole note.

After the Preces, the next part of Evensong is the Phos hilaron, or O Gracious Light.  Turning the page in your hymnal, you’ll see that there are several versions (tunes) of the Phos hilaron available, from S-59 to S-61.  You might also use hymn 25 or 26, popular choices.

Following the Phos hilaron in Evensong is the Psalms.  The Psalms are identified the same way they are in Evening Prayer.  The simplest way to sing the psalms is to monotone them.  In the Accompaniment Edition of the Hymnal (not the pew edition – so if you don’t have one, ask your priest, choir director, or organist to see theirs) there are a few Simple Anglican Chant tones to which you may set the psalms.  Doing so requires a little skill, but its not something you can’t learn how to do.  Again, ask you music director or priest how this is done, as it would be difficult to teach in a post like this.  You could also use resources like The Plainsong Psalter, The Anglican Chant Psalter, or Gradual Psalms.  Additionally, you might enjoy A Hymntune Psalter, which sets the psalms to popular and well known hymn tunes.  Many other resources exist, but those are a few of the best.  I recommend, for the beginner, either the Simple Anglican Chant tones found in the Accompaniment Edition of the Hymnal (particularly S-410) or the Plainsong Psalter, which includes antiphons as well as explanation about how to sing the psalms.

The Lessons come next and usually, even at Evensong, these are said.  However, if you like to be thoroughly musical, you may chant the readings.  Again, the easiest way to do this is to monotone them.  If you would like more of a challenge, there are ways to point the readings for particular tunes, and these are explained and found in the back of the Altar Book (Missal) that your priest uses to say/sing the Mass, in the Musical Appendix, on page 377.

Each of the canticles used to respond to the readings are set to a number of traditional and delightful tunes and chants in the hymnal.  The Rite II versions of these begin at s-208, Rite I at S-177.  The traditional Evensong canticles (Rite II), the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis, are found at S-242 to S-247, and S-253 to S-260.

The Apostles’ Creed is usually monotoned or said, as is the Salutation and the Lord’s Prayer.  Chanted versions of the Lord’s Prayer are found at S-119 (traditional) and S-149 (contemporary).

The Suffrages are found back near where we began.  Set A, the same in both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer is found at S-52, and Set B in Evening Prayer is S-63 or S-64.  These include something called “reciting notes” which are indicated in the music as a long, solid bar.  That just means you stay on that note until directed to change.  And again, these can be pitched to you and your group’s comfort.

The Collects are a whole other ballgame.  The simplest way to sing them is to monotone them.  If you wish to have some variation, you may point them according to what are called Collect tones.  The instructions for doing this are once again found in the Musical Appendix of the Altar Book (Missal).  They are located on pp. 374-376 of that book.  Ask him/her for a copy of those pages and hopefully, when/if we revise our hymnal, these will be included in a new edition for ease of use by the laity. Additionally they may be found in the Accompaniment Edition of the hymnal beginning at S-447.

Following the collects may be sung an anthem or hymn.  Any hymn that is appropriate to the season is appropriate for Evensong, but there are hymns in the hymnal specifically for the Evening – hymns 24-37.

The General Thanksgiving and the Prayer of St. Chrysostom may be monotoned or pointed as with the Collects.

And finally, the concluding versicles are found in the service music section of the hymnal, at S-65 or S-66.  The graces are either said or monotoned.

There you have it, Evensong!

Of course, Morning Prayer (sometimes referred to as Matins when sung) works the same way and is found in the same section of the hymnal, just before all the numbers I’ve listed for Evensong.  Rite I language for the prayers and canticles are found there as well, just before the Rite II ones.

Unfortunately, the music for Noonday Prayer and Compline (one of my favorite sung services) is found only in the Accompaniment Edition (again, something which I hope is rectified in the next edition of the hymnal).  Borrow one from someone who owns it and look at S-296 – S-304 for Noonday music, and S-321 – S-337 for Compline music.  You are granted permission to copy these pages for worship use, just don’t sell them.

Choral Compline - Christ Church, New Haven, CT

As I mentioned, Compline is one of my favorite sung offices, and in recent times, it has become an exceedingly popular service, particularly among worshipers in their 20’s and 30’s.  In some places, like Christ Church in New Haven, CT, but more famously in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA, Compline is sung by a choir on behalf of the worshipers who only listen.  At St. Mark’s Cathedral, worshipers are even invited to lay on the floor and close their eyes during the service!  The entire church is usually darkened, lit only by candles, and usually there is an incense haze.

Just in case you don’t live in Seattle, for your listening and worshiping pleasure, the St. Mark’s Compline Choir podcasts their services.  Just click the link below to listen.

The Compline Choir

I have sung the office many times, but I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a musician.  I welcome correction or comment on my musical instruction here by those who know better, so feel free to leave a comment.  Singing the office is a beautiful way to enhance your daily liturgy.  I wish you the best of luck with it and remember, the Lord said make a joyful noise, not necessarily a pretty one.  So sing and chant your hearts out, friends!

Fr. Ryan+

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 12:39 pm

    Are there CD/mp3 recordings of the S sections (especially the morning and evening prayer parts) of the 1982 hymnal, or of the Plainsong Psalter? I’ve tried to learn some of them when I have access to a piano, but it would be a lot easier if I could listen to them sung a few times.

    Thank you for your post!

  2. March 16, 2011 3:11 pm

    Dear Susan,

    Thank you for your question – it is a good one. The best resource that I know of for that is a Book/CD combo called “Lord, Open Our Lips: Musical Help for Leaders of the Liturgy”

    Link: Lord, Open Our Lips

    This CD has a lot of the “S” sections sung on it in both a male and female voice, so you can hear it in a range close to your own. The only downside is it is fairly expensive at $50, and may contain a lot of stuff you don’t need. But, if you do get it, I know it is good.

    If you don’t want to spend that kind of money, look around on the web – many churches record services of Morning or Evening Prayer and you can hear them sung that way. On the Daily Office Tutorial Homepage here, there is a link to BBC recordings of Evensong, which may be a good place to start. Here is another link to choral evensong recordings:

    Merton College Choral Evensong

    Finally, this link from St. David’s, Austin, TX has a lot of recordings of what you’re looking for, especially good plainsong chants. Enjoy!

    St. David’s, Austin TX

    Good luck and let us know if there is anything else we can do to help you with your discipline of the Daily Office.

    Fr. Ryan+

  3. March 16, 2011 4:54 pm

    Wonderful resources, thank you!! 🙂 “Lord, open our lips” is exactly what I was hoping for.

    grace and peace,

  4. March 16, 2011 4:55 pm

    Wonderful resources, thank you!! 🙂

    grace and peace,

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