In a nutshell: We set out to record and preserve a Western European cultural tradition of psalm recitation that has been intact in Christian monastic communities since the time of St. John Cassian (c.360-435), and structured in the Rule of St. Benedict (480-543), but that today is fast fading away.
Monastic communities are closing or have switched to chanting the psalms in the canonical hours in their local native languages utilizing new chant melodies. The ability – only acquired by much repetition – to fluidly chant the Latin psalms in authentic Gregorian chant tones is being lost.
Performing psalmody well is perhaps the most difficult part of successfully singing Gregorian chant. Most of the singers taking part in the Psalterium Project have had years, even decades of experience in singing the Office repertoire with its considerable Psalm chanting.
The project was born in the minds of three members of the group in the late 1990s – with some imbibing of Burgundy wine to stimulate the out-of-the-box thinking that took place at the time. That much we can remember. The remaining details have been lost in the mists of time. No doubt inspiration was taken from the project which had just been completed by the St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir under the direction of John Scott. They had recorded all 150 psalms according to the Anglican chant tradition – a monumental effort. Why not undertake a similar project with Gregorian chant?
We had the skills. Who else would undertake such an effort?
The seed was sown, but it took several more years to develop to the point where we said to each other: “If we don’t do it now, it isn’t going to happen any more.” A plan of action was made, a location decided on (far away from home to concentrate the minds) and the first recording session was held in May 2012 in an 11th century Cluniac Romanesque church in the village of Malay in Southern Burgundy.