Just read the NRO symposium on Christmas gifts, where Father Schall of Georgetown writes of the pleasure he finds in used books, most recently Lost Lectures, the memoirs of the English diplomat Maurice Baring:
In his chapter on “Music,” Baring writes: “The greatest musical treats I have had in my life have been listening to the Russian choirs in the churches of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and hearing the Russian soldiers sing the Prayer to the Holy Ghost at sunset in Manchuria…” I have read few sentences that have made me wonder more about what I have missed, about what is….Such is what books given at Christmas are to incite in us.
What Father Schall incited in me was the happy thought that I might not be crazy after all. A couple of months ago I discovered Russian Orthodox chant, a form of liturgical music nearly as old as Gregorian plainsong. I can’t understand a word, Old Slavonic not being one of my strenghts, but I love it all the same: Powerful, mysterious, beautiful in an almost frightening way. And it is terrifically moving to think of the tradition being kept alive through some eight centuries of some very rough history. My difficulty here is that none of my friends can find anything in the music at all but indecipherable rumblings.
For Father Schall—and anyone else who’d like to give it a listen-to—you can start by clicking here.