Why can’t our community write down our music?

See that?  Those four measures and thirty-two notes are basically the result of me spending all my free time (and an unhealthy amount of my ‘supposed to be working’ time) since October 3rd looking for sheet music of my favorite pagan chants and finding nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  (Well, except for this nice site…but I think it was abandoned in the early 2000s.)

I get that we’re an oral tradition and all that…but we’re also kind of not.  At all.  So much of our material is passed about through books and the Internet.  We have lists and lists and lists of different chant lyrics, but–aside from a few increasingly unavailable recordings–no way to disseminate the basic tunes.  That is unfortunate, especially when you consider that chant tunes are so basic their transcription should be almost annoyingly simple to a musically trained person.  We’re not talking about re-creating symphonies here, after all.

I think a lot of the lack of written music in the pagan community is that we have lacked the tools necessary to publish it.  Professional music notation programs are too expensive for anyone but real professionals to use, and they’ve got an equally notorious learning curve (two weeks of dedicated study to achieve basic proficency, I’ve heard).  And I don’t think there’s a huge market for pagan hymnals, so even if someone did the ethnographic work and collected our songs, they’d probably just get buried under the ever-growing pile of unreadable academic production.

But this weekend I discovered MuseScore, which is a free music notation and sharing program…and it works really, really well.  It also has an amazing online user’s manual and community troubleshooting, and the software writers do fix their bugs.  It probably took me a day or two of dedicated playing around to produce the sheet above (it took my flautist housemate all of 5 minutes to transcribe the tune for me!) and most of that was in learning how to correct mistakes (without starting everything over), manage the slurs, and properly set up the lyrics.

I have no great musical talent.  My many years of childhood piano lessons were all Suzuki, and I really can’t read music beyond a very basic level (though I could play 3 instruments very well at one point in time, it was all by ear).  I can’t actually do the transcription, but I can take the time to do the ‘typesetting.’  Just imagine what pagans with musical talent could do!  This program generates .pdf files like Willy Wonka generates candy.  If a handful of people got together, we could have a library of chants and songs written up in a matter of weeks.  Heck, the more talented could even set about to more complicated arrangements than just unaccompanied vocal melody.

Dear gods…we could have a free source hymnal.  Cue the pipe organs!


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