Demotic plainchant

Goal: Give church music back to the people. Remove the elitism from traditional church music. Rediscover the spiritual depths of ancient Christian music.


It is difficult to assume anything that will apply to all churches, but a fully staffed church service would have at least the following:

  • A trained choir capable of singing chants of any difficulty, and singing polyphonic/in full harmony when required. Churches which do not have one can give this role to the cantor.
  • A cantor leading the trained choir.
  • A priest and deacon capable of singing the parts traditionally assigned to them.

The ideal is a church service which can be entirely chanted, except for the sermon. Some churches may choose to read one part or another without note, but we should have a plan for the chanting of all the parts.

Difficulty rating

Recto tono
Anyone can do this: sing on one note the whole time.
Versicles and simple psalm tones
Largely recto tono, with minor inflections at the ends of sentences, which nonetheless repeat, giving less musically confident people in the congregration the chance to learn the music by example.
Solemn psalm tones and introit verse tones
Office and introit antiphons
The least complicated things which are nonetheless probably beyond the musical reach of what a congregation could sight-read without guidance.


Ordered according to the 1549 BCP, which more or less reflects the order of the Roman Mass; adaptations for 1662 etc. are relatively minor.


Traditionally sung: cantor intones antiphon; choir continues antiphon; cantor sings first half of psalm verse; choir sings second half of psalm verse; (choir sings antiphon); cantor sings ‘Gloria Patri’; choir sings ‘Sicut erat’;

Anciently, more psalm verses than one were sung according to how long the entrance of the ministers actually took. This hardly takes any time at all these days, but if things like vesting at the altar are done, it would be a good idea to revive this.


Traditionally sung (ninefold): cantor ‘Kyrie’; choir ‘Kyrie’; cantor ‘Kyrie’; choir ‘Christe’; cantor ‘Christe’; choir ‘Christe’; cantor ‘Kyrie’; choir ‘Kyrie’; cantor ‘Kyrie’. (VRV/RVR/VRV)

Typically each of the repetitions of Kyrie and Christe use the same melody, except sometimes the very last. The need for congregations to sightread the first ‘Christe’ is an issue: it could be mitigated by changing the pattern to VRV/VRV/VRV. A sixfold Kyrie (VR/VR/VR) is another solution, but leaves no space for the concluding ‘Kyrie’ unless it is similar enough to the penultimate one that the congregation can sightread the difference.


Traditionally sung: intoned by priest; continued by choir.

The melodies are generally fairly simple and there are few of them. It can be intoned by the priest and continued by the choir and those congregation members who feel confident enough to join in.


Simple versicle and response, ‘let us pray’, the collect, and an ‘Amen’. Can be learned by congregations.


Chanted by the subdeacon, recto tono or versicle tone. Traditionally there is no response, but ‘Thanks be to God’ could be recto tono’d by the congregation.



Chanted by the deacon on a special tone. The responses ‘Glory be to thee’ and ‘Praise be to thee’ are simple versicles (though in Sarum they did vary according to feast or feria).


Sarum had only one melody for the Creed; the Roman chant books only have four. Most are essentially syllabic and repetitive. Easily within musical reach of a congregation, regardless what setting is chosen.


Not chanted.

Offertory Anthem

Traditionally sung: intoned by cantor; continued by full choir.


Three pairs of versicles and responses between the priest and congregation, which are textually and musically invariable except on a small number of feasts, followed by the real preface sung by the priest alone.


Traditionally sung: intoned by cantor; continued by full choir.

Renwick suggests antiphonal singing, but it’s less than clear where the breaks between words sung by alternate parts should be.

Prayer for the Church and the Eucharistic Canon

Traditionally said silently by the priest, except for the concluding ‘in saecula saeculorum’. Very anciently it was sung aloud, but this practice died out before any form of musical notation was used, and no melodies survive. Newer melodies and traditions exist, from that of Martin Luther (adapted for the 1662 prayer of consecration), to singing the whole thing recto tono as in Merbecke, to just continuing the use of the preface tone, perhaps using the gospel tone for the institution narrative. It would also be possible to use the post-Sanctus melody from Te Deum in theory, which has some theoretical grounding assuming the theory that Te Deum derives from some early eucharistic prayer is correct.

The most authentic thing to do may simply be to let priests improvise their own melodies.

The Lord’s Prayer and Peace

Sarum knows only one melody. Can be learned and sung by the congregation each week.

‘Christ our Pascal lamb’

Hardly of relevance, as (rather sadly) no modern Anglican liturgy includes this beautiful and doctrinally solid anthem.

Confession of Sin, Comfortable Words, and Prayer of Humble Access

Perhaps none of this ought to be sung.

Agnus Dei

Traditionally sung: intoned by cantor; continued by full choir.

Communion Anthem

Traditionally sung: intoned by cantor; continued by full choir. Sarum does not include communion verses.