Dear Friends, especially Choral and Church composers,

This is not a Dorico question per se, rather a question of definition that I call out to the learned Dorico World for advice.

I am in dispute with members of the Music Department where I work as to how many notes actually constitutes melisma. We have a year group doing a composition assignment on plainsong of the Middle Ages where they have to correctly use stylistic features of Gregorian chant in their composition.

Some are saying that two, three or four pitches on a syllable qualify as melisma. The Oxford Companion to Music states “in which one syllable flowers out into a passage of several notes.”

Is this right? I am having a bit of trouble accepting it, thinking that melismas should contain more extended passages on the syllable.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated.


Groves Music defines melisma as “A group of more than five or six notes sung to a single syllable”, with neumatic describing smaller groups, and syllabic describing one note per syllable.

The liber usualis does not mention the term at all.

In figural music, I think the term is used more broadly as any sized group of notes. (In Finale, there’s a plug-in called “Auto-Slur Melismas”, which puts slurs on any sized groups of notes with one syllable.)

What would constitute an incorrect use of Gregorian features in a new composition? :smiley:

Thank you for taking the time, benwiggy, much appreciated :slight_smile:

I had read about neumatic but it does not appear in the Oxford Companion. I will seek out the reference in Groves.

Regarding your final question, that’s a tricky one. I take this assignment as a composition of Gregoria Chant rather than a modern take on Gregoria Chant so in my mind, aside from writing in nuemes (which was taken out of the assignment this year), the composition should be as authentic as the students can manage and as we can teach.

Thanks again,