Yes, even if you “can’t sing,” you should learn some of the glorious chants by heart and sing them to your babies every night. (I’ll bet you sing in the shower, or somewhere else where no one hears you. And I’ll bet you’re keeping in tune pretty well, too.) I could give you dozens of reasons doing this will help you and your children spiritually, musically, intellectually, aesthetically, and linguistically–I have listed them out on paper–but then this post would be much too long. So think about it for a minute, how wonderful it would be to be able to sing some beautiful traditional Latin hymns from your heart to your precious sleepy baby, and have him fall asleep to the holy words and melodies. Then: commit to learning some. You can do it, and it won’t be hard. Nope, not at all.
• Step 1: Get the audio. Mamas, I think you can’t do better than get Kitty Cleveland’s CD Sublime Chant: The Scotland Project and use it as your guide. It’s such a wonderful disc to listen to, and will relax you and baby as you are initially listening to learn.
Pick a particular chant to start learning. Maybe try the “O Salutaris Hostia” (Track 1) or “Regina Caeli” (Track 10) to start with.
Play your chosen selection at least three times a day, listening carefully, and then after a day or two singing along when you notice you can anticipate a word or phrase.
• Step 2: Get the visual. Get the words and sheet music for your pieces. A good resource for chant words and music is the site Gregorian Chant Hymns. (“O Salutaris Hostia” and “Regina Caeli” and many of the others can be found there.)
(Note: You don’t have to worry about not reading the musical notation. When the notes go up, you will sing the notes of the melody higher, and when the notes go down, you will sing the notes of the melody lower. It will make sense immediately when you work with it!)
For the very enthusiastic, I can recommend a book, too. As a former schola leader, I found The Parish Book of Chant is a must-have for Catholics, and at the above link is a page with another link to the book’s free PDF. (This is recommended for when you get hooked on learning these beautiful pieces and can’t stop yourself!)
• Step 3: Take tiny itty bitty baby steps. You, I mean you, can actually memorize Gregorian chants. You will do it with baby steps! Use index cards or sticky notes to memorize one line at a time, just one line per day. Assign yourself to recall and repeat line one on your card #1 until you couldn’t forget it if you tried. Only then do you add the second line on the second card. Keep listening, and keep singing! This process itself is so good for you and your baby–he is learning the whole time you are.
Keep singing and singing, until the chant just wells up in your heart and you can sing it beginning to end!
Oh–it bears remembering that these chants, these interwoven words and melodies are prayers. And while you are singing them to your baby, you are praying with him. These very old prayers are full of beauty and richness and are surely most pleasing to God. Consciously offer up the prayers for him, and for your family, while you sing. And sooner than you think, your little one will be joining in–I’ve known of more than one baby who could sing along with chants before the age of two!
Get started, then, praying and singing together!