As Christmas Eve approaches, monks and nuns in their monasteries will chant Midnight Mass and many of the world's one billion Christians will sing some sort of Christmas music, secular or sacred. And so, we ask: What did Jesus sing? The answer is not simple. But perhaps of even greater importance is the question of whether what Jesus sang influenced the future liturgical music of the Catholic Church, which came to be known as Gregorian chant.
Jesus knew how to recite, rather than perform, the scriptures -- a practice that developed in the more than 300 synagogues that existed in Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed the Temple. This oral tradition of synagogue cantillation has survived unbroken among the Jewish people for more than 2,000 years and still flourishes today. Over the centuries communities in Spain, Eastern Europe and as far away as Iraq, Persia, Yemen and Uzbekistan have developed their own unique styles of cantillation.
Anthropologist Geoffrey Clarfield, writing in a leading Canadian newspaper, explores the relation between the synagogue music of Jesus’ time and Gregorian chant.
The Sacred Bridge, a CD recording that features Psalm 114, “oscillates between Latin and Hebrew, Gregorian chant and synagogue cantillation,” writes Clarfield. “The melodies are identical and despite the alteration between Hebrew and Latin you would think you were listening to the same song. In fact, you probably are, for no doubt this is a distant echo of what Jesus sang.”
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