Nostalgia and Grace, by Carolyn Lee (page 9)

Parisian Polyphony (continued)

As I stood in Notre Dame in Paris recollecting the music, I could see how it was related to the architecture, how its timeless effect depended on the apparently infinite depth of the building, in which human voices could blend and melt, ascend and disappear. It also gave me a sense of why Christian Chant had moved into parts, unlike religious songs of other cultures, which remains basically melodic (although often supported by instrumental accompaniment). I saw how the “polyphonic” experiment arose from an urge to use the space fully, to build a sacred edifice in sound that would match the temple in stone. And to do this, the music had to be written down, crystallized into an exact form so that all the simultaneous voices would blend harmoniously.

As I further studied medieval polyphony, it was no surprise to find that many compositions were based in hidden structural principles that conformed to the geometry underlying Gothic architecture. And this system of sacred number was, in turn supposed to reflect the vibrations of the planets and the inherent structure of the cosmos, created by God, the Divine Architect. The highest “music” therefore, was thought to be the “music of the spheres”.

I became a little dizzy, but increasingly fascinated, as I studied all this. I envied such a vision of a single, sacred universe governed throughout by perfect Divine laws.

The next fourteen years or so were a testimony to the simple truth, oft repeated by Adi Da, that “you become what you meditate on”. I became a professional musicologist, a scholar in the music and liturgy of the Middle Ages, lecturing during term time, and haunting cathedral archives during university vacations. I corresponded with a grapevine of other musicologists, drank sherry in the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge, and wrote papers to deliver (trembling inside) to serried ranks of experts at academic conferences. To cap it all, I eventually married an accomplished performer of Bach.