Some of you of an older vintage will remember a band of the 1980’s who rejoiced in the name The Flying Pickets. They had a couple of hits, but was unusual about them was that they sung “a capella”.
This musical term, meaning “without accompaniment,” has a rather interesting history. It comes from a Frenchman, Martin of Tours. Around the year 326, the young Martin rejected the gods of ancient Rome to follow the beliefs of the growing Christian church. He later became a missionary in Gaul and, in 360, founded the first monastery there.
Regarded as a holy man and a miracle worker, Martin was honoured as a saint after his death. The chief officials of Gaul placed his cloak, considered a holy relic, in a small room in his church. The room became known as the capella, which is Latin for “little cloak.” The guardian of the cloak became the capellanus. Religious services were held in the capella. While there was singing, no musical instruments were used in the capella. For this type of music, the Italians coined the phrase a capella, meaning “in chapel style.” Other languages quickly borrowed the phrase to mean singing without musical accompaniment. The French later adapted capella and capellanus to chapelle and chapelain. In English, the words became chapel and chaplain.