Two months ago, we started singing Compline together as a family at bedtime. We’ve been mostly good about this, with only a few lapses due to either very late or very early nights. It has been a fascinating and fruitful endeavor, but it has also required a sort of special intestinal fortitude.
Himself doesn’t particularly enjoy it, but he is a good husband and humors me in my odd fits and starts. His issue is the chant, not the family Compline Itself. Chant in English doesn’t do anything for him, he tells me. Furthermore, learning chant is hard, and it’s even harder when you are starting essentially from scratch like we did. Our initial fumblings through the music were not at all inspiring. But over the course of two months, we have improved a great deal and so maybe chant doesn’t bother him as much.
As my ability to read and sing have improved, so has his ability to follow me by ear. This is the usual barrier to learning chant, in my opinion. Most people can sing perfectly well by ear, but I have found no good resources for learning chant this way. That makes the learning hard.
I find that chanting Compline serves exactly the purpose I hoped for. Chant, even after I’ve achieved a sort of competence, demands my attention and helps keep my mind from wandering. I also think it is beautiful, it even feels beautiful. So I can’t help but love it, and dearly wish that The Office of Lauds and The Office of Vespers existed to match our copy of The Office of Compline.
And then there’s GeekBaby…
I expected and was prepared for resistance of a magnitude at least as great as that he displayed to our last attempt at family bedtime prayers (a very modest Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be). Or worse, bad behavior previously only ever witnessed during Mass! I was not prepared for him to be enthralled by it instead. Yet he is. After one week, he was excited about family Compline. And after six, he has started trying to sing the Ordinary.
His behavior is not perfect, he usually loses interest about the time the daily psalm starts, and curls up either next to daddy or on our bed and just listens. But he does seem to like it and insists on it’s an essential part of his bedtime routine. Even if Himself and I agreed there was no benefit to continuing, we would continue just for him.
There’s a whole essay about children and liturgy in this observation, but I don’t have time for it today. Soon.
So I think this Great Chant Experiment has been a rousing success. We have more (and better) family prayer, and constancy in one of the Hours seems to help encourage individual effort in praying the other Hours.
The downside is that the barrier of entry was high. High barriers are pretty meaningless to me if I’ve decided on something, but then I’m not normal. At All. Learning just from a book was tough, even though I already knew how to read music. Too often I see people show off a video of grammar school children singing and proclaiming chant ‘so easy a child can do it!’ And I think this is unfair, both to the children for their skill and to the person who wants to learn and is faced with the really monumental task of teaching themselves by book when they lack the opportunity to learn by ear.