I am wondering if the experiences of choir directors out there confirm an observation of mine about the power of a drone – that is a continuously sung note alongside the melody – to help engage people with sacred music in the right way? I have seen the drone used in Gregorian chant and Byzantine chant to powerful effect. I suggest that this is something that could be used more, especially in modern churches which are not designed with an acoustic that produces a harmonic resonance naturally. In my opinion, chant requires that faint suggestion of harmony that such a resonance lends to it, as one might hear in a gothic abbey for example, in order to have full effect as sacred music (I will explain my reasons for saying this later).
Here are my thoughts as to why this might be. One of the attributes of beauty, famously listed by St Thomas, is due proportion. When something has due proportion, each part of an object must be in right relation to each other in a way that is appropriate to the purpose of the whole. What constitutes due proportion in any particular situation is to a degree a matter of judgment, but there are geometric and arithmetical guidelines that can inform that judgment.
Beauty it seems is ordered by the number three. Going all the way back to pre-Christian classical culture, it was noticed that in the human response to things in combination – that is, in relation to each other – a minimum of three things were needed to constitute some sense of completeness in the arrangement. If there are just two in combination there can still be beautiful combinations, but there is inherent within it a sense that it is incomplete.
This is most easily explained in the natural response of most people to the combinations of notes in music. When two notes are placed in a relationship to each other, it is called an interval, and when it is pleasing it is described as ‘consonant’ meaning literally, ‘sounding together’. However, it was also noticed that when people hear a harmonious interval, it still seems to lack something. If you ask the music theorist why this is, they will tell you its because an interval could be the basis of either a major or a minor chord, and you don’t know which until the third note is supplied. When (Read More)