K. asked for an explanation of plainsong in response to one of my recent entries about choir practice. Basically, it's a form of liturgical choral singing, in which the meter is free and there is only one “part” or “voice” (aka unison).

Gregorian Chant is a kind of plainsong, but not all plainsong is chant. Some of it is actually pretty melodic.

Here's a more technical description, from

Broadly speaking, plainsong is the name given to the body of traditional songs used in the liturgies of the Catholic Church. The liturgies of the Orthodox Church, though in many ways similar, are generally not classified as plainsong, though the musical form is nearly as old as Christendom itself.

Plainsong is monophonic, and is in free rather than measured rhythm. Gregorian chant is a variety of plainsong that was standardized by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century CE, and represents the first revival of musical notation after knowledge of the ancient Greek system was lost. Plainsong notation differs from the modern system in having only four lines to the staff and a system of note-shapes called neumes.

There was a significant plainsong revival in the 19th century CE when much work was done to restore the correct notation and performance-style of the old plainsong collections, notably by the monks of the Abbaye de Solesmes in Northern France. The use of plainsong is now mostly confined to the Monastic Orders.

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Holidailies 2005

In the nearly eleven years that I've been married, I've taken to decorating my Christmas tree in stages, which is why it's been in my living room since Sunday, but is still not finished.

The first stage is just bringing it in the house. As our tree is plastic, this isn't terribly difficult. It just means five minutes of gyrating through the garage, and three minutes of work with a steak knife, cutting off last year's tape.

Then, we put it together, and plug it in. Because Fuzzy hates stringing lights on trees, and I hate untangling them at the end of the holidays, we invested in a pre-lit tree last year, and I'm still in love with it. Just as other people do with their cut trees, we let ours 'rest' overnight, with just the lights, before any ornaments are put on.

After the resting stage, we begin with the ornaments. When I was little, my mother and I would sit together, and open them all, and as each ornament went on the tree, we would talk about it – where it came from (a gift, a trip we took, etc.), and what it means – most of my ornaments represent some facet of my personality, and I've tried to incorporate Fuzzy into them as well. A tiny ballerina came from my very first Christmas present EVER, for example, and an angel sitting on a crescent moon is a piece from the mobile that hung over my crib when I was a baby.

As I've grown older, I've acquired enough ornaments to fill three plastic totes, including the sun and solar system, from Jeremy a couple years ago, a carousel frog and carousel lion from my aunt, last year, and the glass “rubber ducky” in a Santa hat that I added this year, along with a mermaid, and two seahorses, all in glass as well. I love the glass ones, but I also collect Santa Claus ornaments, and most of those are wooden.

Three totes worth is quite a lot of ornaments, almost too many for our seven-foot tree, but I can't bear to part with any, because they all have meaning. Even the little wooden basketball players are important, as they remind me of a Christmas spent with my grandparents, when my mother and I had to replace all their ornaments, because most had been dispersed among their children.

When the ornaments are all on the tree, with the back of the tree holding those that are out of favor for one reason or another, I let it rest again, and just enjoy the effect. It's amazing how little figurines on strings combine with twinkle lights to turn a plastic tree into something magical.

Finally, I wrap the tree skirt around the base, and pile presents underneath, or, if there's room, set up a train around the base (I've loved trains since I was a little girl, building model railroads with my grandfather, who graciously let me wear his engineer hat.) I don't use tinsel, not because I don't like it – it's quite pretty in small doses – but because my Uncle Merrell used to be in charge of hanging the tinsel on the family tree, and the year he died, my mother and I left it off our tree as a memorial, and somehow, that decision became a tradition. With the dogs, it's probably better that we don't use the stuff, anyway.

The tree is finished at that point, and stays up til epiphany, or the weekend closest to it, because I like to have the lights and color through New Year's. The house, however, remains decorated for winter, at least through the beginning of February.

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Tonight's rehearsal resulted in an almost perfect blending of voices, in song, and a perfect blending of voices in laughter between songs. I have experienced singing plainsong for the first time, and am learning to find a Zen place in the chant-like responsory passages.

Tomorrow, I will begin a new blending of the facets of my personality: writer and general recluse must compromise with wage earner, as I'm starting a new job on Monday. I'd hesitated to post about it, lest I jinx it, or talk myself out of it. As it is, I must constantly remind myself, “This is not forever, and it does not define me.” (This starts tomorrow when I must go sign forms and have fingerprints taken.)

I will not be listing the name of the company, but the line of work is a familiar one, and I shall leave it at that.

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