Sunday, May 4, 2008

Need to reduce blood pressure? Join a schola cantorum!

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Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
's emphasis and comments
Gregorian chanting ‘can reduce blood pressure and stress’


Stress levels could be reduced simply by participating in some Gregorian chanting, researchers claimed today.

Dr Alan Watkins, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London, revealed that teaching people to control their breathing and applying the musical structure of chanting can help their emotional state.

He said: "We have recently carried out research that demonstrates that the regular breathing and musical structure of chanting can have a significant and positive physiological impact."

The research involved five monks having their heart rate and blood pressure measured throughout a 24-hour period.

Results showed their heart rate and blood pressure dipped to its lowest point in the day when they were chanting.

Dr Watkins pointed to previous studies that also demonstrated such practices have been shown to lower blood pressure, increase performance hormone levels as well as reduce anxiety and depression.

The lecturer also runs Cardiac Coherence Ltd, a company that helps executives perform under stressful conditions.

The Halo computer series has supposedly made an impact on the demand for Gregorian music after it appeared on the game’s soundtrack. [Wanna raise your heart rate? Play Halo on the "legendary" setting.]

He said: "The control of the breathing, the feelings of wellbeing that communal singing bring, and the simplicity of the melodies, seem to have a powerful effect on reducing blood pressure and therefore stress."

"We have found that teaching individuals to control their breathing, generate more positive emotional states and connect better with those around them – all key aspects of Gregorian chanting – can significantly improve their mental state, reduce tension, and increase their efficiency in the workplace." [So, employers, start a schola today!]

Record company Universal recently chose the monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, Vienna to make an album after responding to a public interest in the genre.

The company also believes the Halo computer game series, available on PCs and Xbox consoles, sparked a resurgence in the music traditionally sung in male church choirs, as Gregorian chant-like melodies form the main soundtrack of the games.
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Comments »

  1. Do you need to be a singer to chant? Could ordinary people volunteer at a parish, if chanting were revived? Comment by Jason — 4 May 2008 @ 9:47 am

7. Last Spring I had the opportunity to stand in the middle of a bunch of seminarians in cassock and surplice at a protest demonstration at the U of MN and sing along with them.
I surprised myself, having always believed myself to be on the tone deaf end of the musical range. But when sopranos weren’t standing next to me, I found it relatively easy to sing along with other men.

A few weeks later, I happened to be introduced to the director of a local parish choir and he invited me to participate in a small schola he wanted to start. I told him I played no instrument, had sung nothing more difficult than Jingle Bells, hadn’t had any musical instruction since grade school, but that if he was willing to work with me, I would be willing to try. I did study Latin in high school and was an altar boy in grade school so the pronunciation wasn’t difficult for me.

And I had been attending Saturday morning Mass at a local parish that featured the N.O. with the congregation singing the Latin responses and the priest celebrated ad orientem.

To make a long story short, the priest was excited about the possibility of a schola singing the first Saturday of every month and a few Holy Days and a half dozen of us met weekly last Summer for practice. The others were all musically trained and played instruments.

Learning the notation wasn’t difficult at all and the director, who is a math teacher on the side, is an excellent instructor. He hasn’t thrown me out so I must be a passable performer.

Since September, three to five of us have showing up and our performances have been well received. We just wear white shirts (and pants, too) as our “uniform.” We try to learn something new each month and practice the more difficult or new pieces only for twenty minutes before each Mass.

The director emails us the sheet music and mp3 copies of new pieces.

I don’t know how much it does for my blood pressure which, unmedicated, is high, but it’s been wonderful for my spiritual health.

We are in the Twin Cities. We are looking for more members. Please contact me if you are interested. We have occasional formal practices at St Raphael's Parish in Crystal and our Saturday Masses are at St Anthony of Padua in Northeast Minneapolis. Our last performance of this year will be May 31, the Feast of the Visitation.
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