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Gregorian chant is typically thought of as a product of the early medieval era. Its monophonic melodies evoke a simple beginning from which Western music evolved; its timbres are associated with the austere monuments of the early Church; its image on the page is somewhat familiar, but foreign; even its present-day performers appear to be from an entirely different time. Despite its origins and the fact that it is typically studied as a historical artifact, chant is also part of a living institution worthy of examination. This dissertation discusses Benedictine music and ritual in relation to their historical origins and within the Rule of St. Benedict, but also in their current states as performed and embodied traditions. The sociological models of habitus and meshwork allow study of these cultural products in their present states while keeping mindful of their origins and their accumulation of meaning over the course of many centuries. Through performance of ritual, Benedictines form communitas that structures and unites them while simultaneously integrating new people and ideas into their group. The Gregorian repertoire as it is known today is largely the work of the Solesmes monks who, in the nineteenth century, collected, edited, and revitalized this body of music. Their efforts bear many traits of its time, including a subsequent Romantic reading of the repertoire as a whole, which this dissertation contends with. By using ethnographic fieldwork to observe chant performance in its modern context, I depart from the standard narrative and discuss how Benedictine communities use music and ritual to reinforce and create their complex system of beliefs. While the ethnographic chapters look at many factors of musical performance, each is somewhat focused on a particular issue. Chapter 3 discusses how the monks at Solesmes use music as a vehicle for institutional traditions, and as a means of embodying completely their spiritual texts. Chapter 4 shows how the monks at St. Leo Abbey tear down cultural boundaries and draw outsiders into the mysteries of their faith through invitatory musical practices. As I discuss in that chapter, though, the lack of distinguished borders can be problematic when a community such as this is too easily moved by outside groups. Chapter 5 shows how the monks at Clear Creek Abbey use music as a means of exclusion and of strengthening the communitas of their monastic body. These three chapters draw on fieldwork I conducted at those monasteries, including interviews with monks and visitors and analysis of the rituals I observed. The primary goal of this dissertation is to show how a repertoire regarded mostly for its historical presence is, in fact, rich with present-day meaning. Through ritual performance, monks recall the past while also integrating their lives and experiences into their stream of traditions. A secondary goal is to use this work as a pedagogical model for future scholars who may be similarly inspired to research taken for granted musical traditions.
A Dissertation submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Charles E. Brewer, Professor Directing Dissertation; Joseph Hellweg, Committee Member; Douglass Seaton, Committee Member; Frank Gunderson, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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