Gregorian Mode -> What Key? Transposing a vocal chant to fit your lever harp

Triplett Luna harp with sharping blade set on Bb string, making it B natural.

Triplett Luna harp with sharping blade set on Bb string, making it B natural.

So my Triplett Luna has been tuned to the key of F Major for some time now. It has sharping blades on all the strings (which probably need to be adjusted in the shop at some point; they’re a little stiff). Anyway, having all the B strings tuned to Bb is convenient, because this way I can just play any chant I want at sight, and then flip a blade if I want to play one that’s in a mode that calls for a B natural in the scale.

However. After a while this gets a little monotonous. It would be nice to have some different tonalities going on, especially if you’re planning on recording a batch of Chants back to back and they’re all in the same mode, on the same album.

While doing some online research on the subject of modes and our modern day concept of keys I came across a Musica Sacra forum link at the Church Music Association of America, to an archived copy of The Cæcilia, December 1933, vol. 60. On page 5 of the pdf is a history of the Missa de Angelis. Page 6 is where it gets interesting. Along with citing the possible century that the Kyrie may have been composed in, the author discusses appropriate key transpositions for the Kyrie, which is in mode V. He suggests our modern key of E flat Major or D Major.

I tried playing the Kyrie in D Major on my Triplett Luna. I’ve been learning the piece in F Major this far and got accustomed to the tonality of that key on my harp. D Major is pretty, sparkly and brings out a different quality of my harp. I may play the piece for a while in D, just to let it settle and see if I prefer it, then retune my E and A strings and try out the other suggested key of Eb for a bit.

I will continue to research Gregorian modes and post what I find.

Back to the harp!


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