Disclaimer: Chant Wars is not a "battle of the bands."

Disclaimer: Chant Wars is not a "battle of the bands."

Despite its quasi-video game title and the fact that it features two ensembles, the program of ninth-century plainchant is not in and of itself a battle, nor does it dramatize one. But Chant Wars does portray a period of conflict among varying musical traditions and thus provides little-known insights into the history of western music and also of western Europe.

"The conflict that existed was between the dominant tradition of chant and local traditions, a conflict of styles," Katarina Livljanic, music director of Dialogos, told The Beat. Livljanic's research is the foundation of the program's repertoire.

"People have a picture of Gregorian chant as all one thing, but what is now known as chant is the result of this process," Benjamin Bagby, Sequentia director (and husband of Livljanic) added. "We're trying to show how, 1,000 years ago, there were many different traditions."

Livljanic said there were local chant styles in places like Spain, southern and northern Italy, Rome itself, Germany and Gallica (now France). Emperor Charlemagne attempted to assert the original Roman style as the dominant style, in one of a number of cultural initiatives to unite his disparate empire by any means.

Controlling the church's liturgy through singing was a key, alongside the consolidation of education and political administration, to his desire to create a new "Roman Empire" under his rule.

That the unification of chant was seen by Charlemagne as significant shows the central role played by music and the church in this time period.

The regional traditions, Livljanic said, are preserved in some manuscripts, but they are decaying and being lost. Some of the music in this program is being performed for the first time in centuries, Bagby said.

"People listening to this concert, even if they know Gregorian chant, will hear things they've never heard before," he said. "Some of this repertoire was transcribed for this program."

Programmatically, the concert features both choirs in combination, as well as smaller ensembles. The various traditions are represented throughout in "constant fluctuation," Bagby said.

So while the title may be intended as, according to Bagby, a "play on words," there is certainly a push-and-pull effect created by the presentation of the repertoire.

Livljanic added that the program is not a "pedagogical exercise," but a concert. "There was a vibrant and varied musical landscape that we aimed to present in this concert," she said. "Of course, it is part of my long-term work as a researcher, but we chose to present this as a musical program rather than in written research.

"Those interested can find the element of scholarship, but it works on many levels. Even if someone does not know anything about chant, they can enjoy this concert."

For more from Livljanic and Bagby on Chant Wars, "Like" The Beat's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TWTheBeat.