Alabado (Song of Praise)

Traditional, 1600s

What kind of song does this sound like to you? Old church music, almost like Medieval Gregorian chant. If you close your eyes, where are you when this song is being sung? Church. What kind of church? What does it look like inside?

What language is this song in? Spanish. Where in America might it have been sung in the 1700s? Spanish colonies in the Southwest or Florida. What church did the Spanish represent? Roman Catholic. What did Spanish Catholics do in their American colonies? Build missions to convert Native Americans.

Why would this song be in Spanish and not Latin? It is meant to be understood by ordinary people. What was its probable function? To teach the basics of the Catholic faith. Why wouldn’t they use the Native American’s languages? What does this suggest about Spanish missionaries’ relationships with Native Americans? They wanted to convert them and not let them keep their own culture.

Compare this song of praise to “Old Hundred,” a psalm of praise in the Puritan tradition. How are they the same? Both are unaccompanied; both teach basics of the faith; both are in everyday languages (not Latin). How are they different? One is in Spanish and the other English; Alabado is sung like a chant, no rhyme; psalm is in four-line stanzas with rhyme.

If you found these songs without identifying information, which song would you guess is from a Protestant tradition and which is Catholic? What are the clues? Alabado mentions the sacrament, Mary, saints. Alabado is also similar to medieval chants from before the Reformation.

“Alabado” performed by the Coro Hispanico Mallorca with Padre Juan Thomas on Early American Psalmody: The Bay Psalm Book - Cambridge, 1640/Mission Music in Califiornia: Music of the Southwest, Folkways Records, © 1965. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This performance sounds as if it were recorded in a church during the celebration of the Mass. It is performed as a call and response between the male cantor and the female choral response, with interjections from the presiding priest.

View the music and lyrics for “Alabado.”

jesuit Missionaries in California
Jesuit Missionaries in California.

An alabado is a hymn of praise in Spanish. This particular alabado was sung throughout California by settlers and Native Americans in Franciscan mission settlements beginning in the early 1700s. The music, sung by unaccompanied voices in unison, is metrically free. The original Spanish text consists of twenty-four stanzas praising the Holy Trinity, Blessed Sacrament, Virgin Mary, Angels, and Saints. The entire mission community knew the melody of the hymn and sang it prior to retiring for the evening as a way of reinforcing their beliefs

Compare this song to:

“Old Hundred” (in this unit)

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