Friday, August 01, 2008

Chinese Chant

I`ve not bought the new disc of chant by the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz but I`m glad to see that it has proved popular. Today I found this story about a chant disc which may not challenge it in the charts but certainly has curiosity value. It is all the more remarkable given the natural difficulties the Chinese have with Latin pronunciation which I have written about here.

The article doesn`t say but I imagine this is the work of the Patriotic Chinese Church rather than the underground Church in communion with the Holy See. The article lists the other difficulties in this attempting this project. I think it may well prove impossible but I will see if I can get a copy of this disc. Could it be that the Olympic games is proving useful to the promotion of Gregorian chant too? Earlier this year a Chinese choir sang Mozart`s Requiem for the Pope at the Vatican. Maybe China will have a part to play in the restoration of sacred music?

From the Union of Catholic Asian News website.

CHINA Shanghai Cathedral Choir To Sing At Latin Mass, Produces CDs of Requiem Hymns, Prayers

July 31, 2008
SHANGHAI, China (UCAN) -- A church choir that has released CDs of requiem hymns and prayers in Latin, Mandarin and the Shanghai dialect is now practicing hard for a Latin Mass marking the feast of the Assumption.

Ding Gaoying, conductor of the Little Angel's Choir at St. Ignatius' Cathedral in Shanghai's Xuhui district, told UCA News at least one of the four feast-day Masses would be in Latin and her choir would sing at it.

The Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15, is a major Church feast in China.

A choir member surnamed Wang, 20, said that since the feast falls during the Beijing Olympics, he hopes foreign visitors attending Mass here will be impressed with the liturgy and hospitality of local Catholics, and gain some understanding of the China Church.

Also located in Xuhui district are the Shanghai Stadium, a competition venue for the Olympic soccer matches, and Huating Hotel, which will serve as the "Shanghai Olympic Village." The hotel is on the same road as the cathedral.

Wang and Ding also spoke about the choir's experience producing the CDs.

In September 2007, it released a CD of 14 Gregorian chants for funeral Masses, sung in Mandarin Chinese as translated from the original Latin.

In April this year, around the Qingming Festival, for which Chinese traditionally visit and clean their ancestors' graves, the choir released two more CDs. One contains the 14 Gregorian chants in their original Latin and is titled Requiem: Missa pro defunctis. The other is a recording of several elderly Shanghai Catholics chanting the Office of the Dead in the Shanghai dialect, a tradition which has been handed down through generations.

Ding believes the 3 CDs are probably the first recordings of Catholic requiem music in the China Church.

Commenting on the Latin pieces, she shared that a few years ago someone found in the cathedral a set of traditional music scores dating back centuries. The choir decided to preserve such Church treasures by singing and recording the music.

"We learned slowly and sometimes consulted priests on the correct pronunciation of the lyrics," Ding continued. She noted that the monophonic chants, with their changing rhythms, are different from other songs and are not easy to sing.

Wang said the China Church does not have recordings of Latin hymns and the new CD could help people appreciate them. People "can sing the hymns by listening to the CD," he said.

Ding anticipates the CD might be in great demand in November, when many mainland Catholics observe the month of souls. It could be of interest to more than just Catholics, since Gregorian chants have been known to help people relax in addition to enriching their spiritual life, she added.

The initial 2,000 copies of the Latin-hymn CDs are now on sale in Shanghai's downtown parishes, and about 600 CDs have been sold. The Latin CD comes with a booklet containing the Latin and translated Chinese lyrics for each hymn.

Father Joseph Ai Zuzhang, cathedral parish priest and vicar general, told UCA News the hymns are very spiritually evocative. He added that the choir's singing is "not bad, though it cannot be compared with that of Benedictine monks" who have produced Gregorian-chant CDs in the past.

The 83-year-old priest studied Latin in the seminary and celebrated the Latin Tridentine Mass until the late 1980s, when the liturgical reforms based on the Second Vatican Council took hold in mainland China.

Commenting on the CD recording in the Shanghai dialect, Ding revealed that one of the elderly women who helped in the recording died soon afterward. As elderly Catholics pass on, fewer young Catholics are able to learn such chants, she noted. The recording of such prayers is "a very precious preservation of the heritage of the local Church," she said.

Chinese Buddhists have funeral prayers available on CDs or tapes, but local Catholics usually have elderly Church members come over to their homes to chant prayers for the souls of departed relatives, she observed. Now, the younger Catholics can use the CD to help them chant these prayers.


Mike Forbester said...

Can't see this being the underground church, the cathedral at Shanghai is as big, if not bigger than Westminster!

Fr Michael Brown said...

Sounds interesting. I`ll look for a picture.

Anonymous said...

I hesitate to comment on this subject fearing I am not familiar enough with the subject.

My, limited, understanding is that the Patriotic Church has, until very recently, actually been rather good liturgically preserving the old Holy Week rites for instance. However, I understand that a process of modernisation is underway.

I also understand that some bishops in the Patriotic Church are recognised as priests in the RC Church and vice versa.

Scelata said...

Thanks, I had missed this article.
Interesting blog, by the way, looking forward to exploring older posts.
Pax et bonum,

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)