In the research approach to the issue of the performance of late medieval chant presented here, basically two paths have been followed. On the one hand, there was a simple desire to gain substantial theoretical and practical knowledge about the historical performance practice of plainsong, and how this practice has or has not found its way into the manuscripts. On the other, the concern was to become more aware of the way in which chant in general, and particularly the chant of the fifteenth century can be approached by today’s voices, in present-day settings, and how it can find its way to the hearts and minds of today’s public.
Dealing with practice-as-research, the double status of researcher and/as performer is a major factor in the whole process, influencing the theoretical and practical knowledge as well as the development towards an ‘expert habitus’ – celebrating the embodied know-how or tacit knowledge of the artist (Coessens, drawing on Bourdieu and Polanyi). There certainly are quite a few traditional musicological aspects in what is presented here. In fact, when starting this doctoral project in 2004, I expected to do a lot of more or less traditional musicological work, gradually evolving into a reluctance to do that kind of work, and finally (almost) ending up refusing to do musicological work. The most typical and innovative part of this endeavour is that the questions start from an artistic viewpoint, and that the artistic practice is used as a research tool.
These boundary-blurring activities came together in three main ambitions. First, to determine the way in which square notation as used in fifteenth-century chant manuscripts provides a clue to performance practice (focusing on the problem of rhythm). Secondly, to see and experience more generally how the manuscripts themselves can suggest answers to our performance-related questions, how certain features of these manuscripts can lead us singers to new sounds and perspectives, how our present-day training in chant or in the performance of chant can alter our understanding of the different historical sources – in other words: what these manuscripts make us do as present-day performers. And thirdly, exploring the potential of the human voice as a research tool in the development of a performance practice of late medieval plainsong. It all comes down to the singing itself. The scrutiny of the evidence is done with today’s voices; it is with these voices that research results resound.