Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Chanting the Psalms: A Practical Guide with Instructional CD

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Chanting the Psalms: A Practical Guide with Instructional CD

Article excerpt

Chanting the Psalms: A Practical Guide with Instructional CD. By Cynthia Bourgeault. Boston: New Seeds Books (an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc.), 2006. 265 pages, CD included. $18.95 (paper).

The modest title of this book belies the richness of both its printed content and the accompanying CD that provides aural illustrations of the text. Cynthia Bourgeault's excellent teaching skills draw upon her background in medieval scholarship and musicology. She is also an Episcopal priest and the author of several books on the spiritual life.

Her experience as a "vigils junkie" and a chanter of psalmody in her own daily prayer during the past thirty years brings integrity to her passionate convictions that chant is a "highly conscious art that not only teaches but transforms" (p. 29). It should also be said that hers is a joyful, good-humored passion, eager to welcome the reader into the wonder and spiritual benefits of both ancient and contemporary chant practices.

She begins this hospitality in the early pages of the book by addressing some of the aspects of chanting that often seem daunting to non-monastics and inexperienced singers: chant notation, and "making friends with our singing voice." Bourgeault raises additional questions that she acknowledges continue to lurk at the edges of discussions about chanting psalms today. Why focus on an "Old Testament spiritual milieu, . . . often fraught with violence, self-righteousness, and vindictiveness" (p. 3)? Where is Christ in these texts? Has a "fifteen-hundred-year-old tradition reached a dead end?" (p. 5). Can the spiritual benefits of chanting psalms within a committed community be transplanted into the lives of present-day lay contemplatives? The author also considers the challenge of choosing translations of the psalms for singing, and the distinction between the spheres of public proclamation and contemplative practice. …

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