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Not your average ordinaries

East Syracuse church performs traditional Gregorian chant with a twist

Jared Shepard plays the organ at St. Matthew’s Mass in August 2012.

Jared Shepard plays the organ at St. Matthew’s Mass in August 2012. Tami Scott

— Jared Shepard isn’t afraid to go against the norm. When he was hired as the Minster of Music and Organist at St. Matthew’s Church in East Syracuse two years ago, he was already experienced as a classical musician, having studied with pupils of legendary Juilliard pianists Irwin Freundlich and Eduard Steuermann. Though his experience in sacred music was limited, in the two years he’s been developing the music program, he has successfully made St. Matthews different from nearly all other churches in Central New York by performing Gregorian chant: a type of music that was once a staple in the Catholic Church, but is now rarely performed.

“When you hear Gregorian chant, the first thing you notice is that it’s extremely beautiful – and part of the reason is that it’s almost like it was crowd sourced - it’s like a Wikipedia, in a sense,” Shepard explained. “You have all this possible variation, these potentials for it to diverge into something else. Wikipedia supposedly works because the truth is the most common path, it doesn’t veer too far. With these melodies, they have this natural beauty to them. And I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they had to stay beautiful in order to be passed on through thousands of years. Beauty is the irresistible, common path in these melodies.”

Shepard admits that when most people think of Gregorian chant, they tend to think of “some old monks singing some quiet, mumbly things in Latin to each other.” In actuality, chant is much more than that- it’s been around since the time of Moses and is comprised of over 3,000 distinct pieces of melodies. Gregorian Chant comes from Pope Gregory, who was the first person to decide to put the chants on paper so that they could be performed more consistently, and the music has endured and influenced all of western music as a result.

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