For an increasing number of North Americans, the name Taizé evokes a certain style of singing that has become popular in more and more churches, retreat centers, and campus parishes. Taizé is in fact an ecumenical community of brothers located in the small village of that name in the Burgundy region of eastern France.
Taizé began with one man, Brother Roger. In 1940 he came to what was then a semi-abandoned village in Burgundy, his mother’s native region. He was twenty-five years old, and he had come there to offer a welcome to Jews fleeing the Nazi persecution and to work out a call to follow Christ in community, a community that would attempt to live out the Gospel call to reconciliation day by day. Today, the Taizé Community is composed of around a hundred brothers. They come from different Christian traditions and from over twenty-five different countries, and make a life commitment to live together in joy, simplicity, and mercy as a “parable of community,” a sign of the Gospel’s call to reconciliation at the heart of the world. Tens of thousands of people, mainly between the ages of 17 and 30, come throughout each year from around the world to spend a week going to the roots of the Christian faith. They join in the community’s worship three times a day, listen to Bible introductions on the sources of the faith, spend time reflecting in silence, and meet in small sharing-groups. The community encourages participants, when they return home, to take back what they have discovered and put it into practice in the concrete conditions of their life – in their parishes, their place of work or study, their families.
Life at Taizé, following the monastic tradition, has always turned around three main poles – prayer, work, and hospitality. The three times of worship create the basic rhythm of the day, with a very meditative form of prayer in which singing and silence have always played a large part. When the number of visitors to Taizé began to increase, and more and more young people started arriving, the brothers felt the need to find a way for everyone to join in the prayer and not simply be observers. At the same time, they felt it was essential to maintain the meditative quality of the prayer, to let it be an authentic encounter with the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Finally, it was found that chants made up of a few words repeated over and over again made possible a prayer that was both meditative and yet accessible to all. They were happy to develop a form of sung music that can be used just as well by a small group of students who meet weekly in a dorm to pray as in a celebration that fills the cathedral of a large city. The “songs of Taizé” thus make it possible for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world to be linked in common praise of God.
With the help of the musician Jacques Berthier, friend of Taizé, different methods were tried out, and a solution was found in the use of repetitive structures, namely, short musical phrases with melodic units that could be readily memorized by everybody. The use of some very simple words in basic Latin to support the music and the theme of prayer was also dictated by pastoral needs. From practical experience it was the only way of solving the unavoidable problem of languages that arouse at international gatherings. On the other hand, living languages are widely used. Increasingly, song collections around the world, Protestant and Catholic, include songs from Taizé for congregational worship.
GIA Publications is the North American publisher of the many recordings and song collections from the Community of Taizé.
GIA Publications, Inc. (http://www.giamusic.com)
A son of musical parents, Jacques Berthier (b. Auxerre, Burgundy, June 27, 1923; d. June 27, 1994) studied music at the Ecole Cesar Franck in Paris. From 1961 until his death he served as organist at St. Ignace Church, Paris. Although his published works include numerous compositions for organ, voice, and instruments, Berthier is best known as the composer of service music for the Taizé community near Cluny, Burgundy. Influenced by the French liturgist and church musician Joseph Gelineau, Berthier began writing songs for equal voices in 1955 for the services of the then nascent community of twenty brothers at Taizé. As the Taizé community grew, Berthier continued to compose most of the mini-hymns, canons, and various associated instrumental arrangements, which are now universally known as the Taizé repertoire. In the past two decades this repertoire has become widely used in North American church music in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.
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