In the early sixth century, St. Benedict set up a "school for the Lord's service" and made the Divine Office, regular, round-the-clock services anchored in prayer, and psalmody, the centerpiece of his curriculum. Benedictines were encouraged to work with the psalms in a devotional or transformational context chanting, studying, and meditating upon them.
Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest, a medievalist, and a musicologist who has been chanting the psalms for more than 30 years. For her, they are not only Israel's love song but also an adventure of inner consciousness. Those two aspects of the psalms explain why they are so well loved in the Christian contemplative tradition. For more than 1200 years, the church's tradition of psalmody was carried in the vehicle of Gregorian chant. With admirable succinctness, Bourgeault spells out the four elements of sacred chanting and then goes on to explain the psalms as helpful psychological tools to integrate the shadow, to instruct the heart, and to stir the imagination.
After looking at various psalters, the author gives advice on working with your voice in chanting, reading simple psalm notation, dealing with the wide world of antiphons, reading Gregorian notation, customizing your psalmody, developing your own daily office, and exploring the new currents of Christian sacred chanting (including Taize and Iona). The accompanying CD covers basic techniques and very accessible easy melodies. As Bourgeault writes in the introduction:
"Psalmody itself, understood as a system of spiritual transformation, is neither so quaint nor so lacking in self-awareness as many people routinely assume. More is going on beneath the surface than meets the eye. As you begin to appreciate the subtlety of this practice, you may be more willing to brave the inevitable learning curve involved in incorporating chanting the psalms as the cornerstone of your own contemplative life."