Twelve-point chant is designed to highlight the natural patterns of speech accents found in the poetry of the Psalter. While the number of syllables per line of psalm text varies, there tend to emerge patterns of the number of accented, or emphasized, syllables per line. For example, when reading the following passage from Psalm 121, we may discern a subtle rhythmic pattern emerging: each line of text seems to contain three emphasized syllables (indicated by underlines).
I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth. (Ps 121:1-2)
It is also seen here, in Psalm 6:
My spirit shakes with terror;
how long, O Lord, how long?
Turn, O Lord, and deliver me;
save me for your mercy’s sake. (6:3-4)
This pattern of emphasis is found regularly, though not exclusively, throughout the Psalter. Twelve-point chant simply attaches melodic changes to the three highest points of emphasis, unfolding over four lines of text (generally 2 verses, divided by half-verse). The result is a simple, singable, twelve-note melody that follows the natural rhythmic accents of the text itself.
For example, the following simple melody may be sung to the text beneath it. Begin singing on note 1 until reaching the next underlined syllable, at which point the melody moves to note 2. Remain on note 2 until the next underline, which indicates a change to note 3. Continue the pattern through the rest of the verse block and the melody. In this example, all underlines have been marked with numbers that correspond to the notes in the melody.
Once the final note has been reached, a new block of text begins with the first measure.
Each block of text unfolds in exactly the same way, and so there is no need for note numbers to appear in the text:
How sweet are your words to my taste!
they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
Through your commandments I gain understanding;
therefore I hate every lying way. (Ps 119:103-4)
Twelve-point chant tones are in SATB harmony and may be sung unison or in parts, a cappella or accompanied.
Instructions for singing
The basic method for twelve-point chanting is as follows:
1. Each line of the text (usually a half-verse) corresponds to one measure of the psalm tone.
2. Each line contains three “strong” syllables, indicated in the text by underline.
3. Note changes occur at each underlined syllable.
4. A new line does not always immediately begin with a new note. Do not change notes until the first underlined syllable in the line.
5. Singers should pace their singing as if they were reading the verses. Let them flow smoothly with natural speech rhythms and inflection. Try to avoid a sense of even, rhythmic pulse.
*More information regarding conducting, accompanying, and introducing twelve-point chant is included in The Twelve-Point Chant Psalter.
Examples & Demonstrations:
Psalm 121 @ Sing! Getty Music Conference 2018
David Madeira teaches the twelve-point chant method in a breakout session entitled
"Chanting the Psalms in the 21st-century" at the Sing! Getty Music Conference in Nashville, September 12, 2018.
Psalm 51 @ Sing! Getty Music Conference 2018
Psalm 103: 1,8-14
Psalm 119: 97-104
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