27 April 2010

PMP Chant Forum Meeting 2009

Further to the notice of the Chant Forum meeting to take place shortly in Pluscarden, Fr Benedict Hardy has sent me this report on last year's meeting in Downside.

Chant Forum Meeting, Downside Abbey 11-14 May 2009

The “Chant Forum” is a wholly informal grouping of UK monastic musicians, gathered under the benign umbrella of the Panel of Monastic Musicians, though with its focus exclusively on Gregorian Chant. The Forum met for the fourth session of its existence at Downside Abbey in May 2009. Numbers were a bit down from previous years, for various reasons including canonical Visitations, community Retreats, poor health, and assorted other incompatible commitments. Nevertheless, the 16 booked participants were joined by several Downside monks who joined us for many or all of the sessions, and we had a truly excellent meeting, which all present very much appreciated, voting with unanimous voice for more of the same next year.


The main speaker at this session was Père Xavier Perrin, Choir Master, Novice Master and Prior of Kergonan Abbey of the Solesmes Congregation in Brittany. We were very fortunate indeed to have him. He has a deep knowledge and love of the Chant, and very considerable musical ability. His English is more or less fluent: well able to express his teaching points on music, liturgy and prayer, and also his rather dry humour, seldom far from the surface.

Appropriately for the Year of St. Paul, the theme Dom Xavier chose was St. Paul in Gregorian Chant. First of all, he presented Paul’s doctrine of how to pray as a key to understanding the Chant. “I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind as well” he says in 1 Corinthians 14:15. Accordingly the Chant is rooted in the word, the text, which is always primary: it is not mere sound, but always conveys clear meaning. Yet this word, this text is expressed with free musical movement. We can think of this as representing the spirit, whose depths reach far beyond earth-bound human comprehension. Dom Xavier continually returned to this idea: that in Gregorian Chant we have a perfect union of word and spirit, and this above all is why this music is so much honoured in the Church, and still so valuable for us today.

There are relatively few Pauline texts in the Gregorian corpus. In the current Graduale Romanum indeed, only 17, of which one is a 19th century “neo-Gregorian” composition, and another a mediaeval adaptation, setting Pauline words to a pre-existing melody. We were therefore able to look during these days at a good portion of the available repertoire in some detail.

Here I mention briefly just two Pauline Chants we were taken through: both given for the feast of St. Paul’s conversion on 25 January. First, the Introit, setting the text of 2 Timothy 1:12: Scio cui credidi... Originally sung on 30 June, the implicit reference to the Introit for 29 June would formerly have been more obvious. There St. Peter sang Nunc scio vere ... (Acts 12:11). It’s as if the two Apostles sing antiphonally of what each knows; though as befits their very different characters, in very different musical mood (IIIrd mode for St. Peter, Ist for St. Paul). The composer of the Pauline Introit well captures the Apostle’s confident affirmation of invincible faith, especially on that striking intonation “Scio”. The word that he chooses to draw out most of all, however, is the “in” of “in illum diem”. In this way the music points with emphasis to the future, inviting us to make our own not only Paul’s faith, but also his hope.

Then in the Gradual for 25 January we have, as was typical for Gregorian composers, a combination and adaptation of scriptural texts. We start with Galatians 2 then move on to 1 Corinthians 15: Qui operatus est Petro... Gratia Dei in me vacua non fuit... Again the composer draws attention to the contrast with Peter. As Paul boldly establishes his own Apostolic claim the music soars up triumphantly. Yet there is no hint of pride, for all is based on grace. So the word “gratia” occurs three times in this wonderful piece, which Dom Xavier presented as Paul’s own Magnificat. Here as elsewhere we were invited to pray the text as we sing it: in Paul’s name, in our own name and in the name of the whole Church.

As well as his detailed analysis of pieces, Dom Xavier also spoke to us about the earliest Chant manuscripts, especially that of St. Gall, dating from the early 10th century. Why was it written? Certainly not to be sung from as we sing from a score today. Perhaps a clue is to be found in the carved ivory box that was made to house the precious volume. The suggestion was made that this whole work of art was conceived as a cultural monument: a concrete affirmation of the importance of the texts and music which this community had received, and wished to pass on, in aural tradition. The beautifully executed signs above the words should not be understood as merely describing the series of notes to be performed. Rather they convey visually how these sacred words are enthroned by this inherited musical gesture.

Not to be omitted from this write-up was the contribution of Jennifer Smith, professor at the Royal College of Music. She conducted an ever-timely session on voice production and breath control. “Keep the breath low and the voice high!” She followed Dom Xavier in lacing her instruction with theology: when we breathe in we take in, as it were, God’s breath; we incarnate his Word in our lungs, then breathe forth his Spirit. ...

Next year’s session to be here at Pluscarden. The main speaker is to be Mr. Jaan-Eik Tulve, master interpreter of Gregorian Chant. He has a great deal of experience helping monastic Choirs around the world, including our own, and we very much look forward to welcoming him back.

26 April 2010

Introduction to Gregorian Chant, Jarrow, 18th May

Hat-tip to Forest Murmers, where there are more incidental details.

Fr Adrian Dixon, Diocesan liturgist of the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, will be leading an introductory session on Gregorian Chant:

Venue: St Bede's Church, Catholic Road, Jarrow, (NE32 3LX)

When: 7-9pm, on May 18th 7-9pm.

23 April 2010

Panel of Monastic Musicians Forum

The "Panel of Monastic Musicians' Chant Forum", an offshoot of the Panel of Monastic Musicians, http://www.monasticmusicians.org/ is having a meeting at Pluscarden Abbey 4-7 May.

This is a new venture, and while the meeting is invitation only, readers will be interested to know that things are developing in the monastic world.

-- Post From My iPhone

18 April 2010

Chant Workshop at Douai April 24th

Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Reading RG7 5TQ

Led by Dr John Rowntree, Diector of the Douai Singers, the lay choir which sings at Douai Abbey

Fee (for the waged) £15

Sat 24th April, 9.45 am - 4pm

Contact: douaiabbey@aol.com

-- Post From My iPhone

15 April 2010

Training Event in Portsmouth Cathedral 12th June

This will be the Gregorian Chant Network's second training event. Our intention is that it be a characteristic of our events that beginners and the more advanced get separate tuition to maximise their benefit from the course; to this end we need to have two tutors at our events.

The Portsmouth training event will be led by Abbot Cuthbert Brogan of Farnbrough, assisted by Christopher Hodkinson of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge. Both are very experienced and talented singers and teachers of chant.

Registration in the Cathedral Hall will be from 9.30 and the day will end with Vespers (1960 Breviary) and Benediction (now confirmed) in the Cathedral at 4pm.

The fee will be £15 per person.

CONTACT: chantnetwork@gmail.com

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(Photo: the LMS Annual Solemn Mass in Portsmouth Cathedral, 4th October 2009)

Provisional programme:

- From 0930 registrations take place in the Cathedral hall.

- 1000 Workshop commences in the hall with an introduction to the chant for the whole group - led by Fr Abbot

- 1100 Workshop continues in 2 groups (we will use 2 rooms)

- 1230 Lunch

- 1330 Workshop continues in 2 groups

- 1445 Break

- 1500 Workshop continues with whole group

- 1545 Workshop completes. Prepare for Vespers and Benediction.

- 1600 Vespers and Benediction in the Cathedral.

Reaction to GCN Residential Course

A schola director has posted this on his blog:

"I spent the weekend on a superb and paradigm-shattering chant course taught by Nick Gale, music director at St George's Cathedral, Southwark. Note to Schola members: The bad news is that almost everything I have taught you about Gregorian chant in the last year is wrong. The good news is that my eyes (& ears) have been opened to a different way of thinking about chant that will be more organic, more intuitive, easier to pick up & ultimately both more musical & better suited to the texts being sung.

Trust me, this works!"

These weekend courses are a really unique opportunity, since it is possible to do so much more over a weekend than in a single day. We had excellent numbers at the course last weekend, but for those who didn't make it, don't let the next one pass you by!

12 April 2010

Successful GCN Weekend Course completed

The Gregorian Chant Network's first training event, a weekend course, took place 9-11th April.
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To enable us to divide the singers into more and less experienced groups, we had two tutors: Nick Gale, the Director of Music at Southwark Cathedral, and his colleague Mark Johnson. The picture above shows Nick addressing the entire group, of thirty singers.
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The course was hosted by the St Catherine's Trust at their annual Family Retreat, and Nick (above) gave a very interesting talk to the Retreatants about the history of Gregorian Chant (picture, above). The SCT Family Retreat is a large retreat which has been taking place annually since 2006, and includes daily Sung Mass, Compline twice, and Vespers and Benediction once, and this year a Marian procession. So there is plenty of singing to be done! Nick Gale and Mark Johnson took the singers on the course through much of the music they would encounter during the weekend's liturgies, in the course of teaching the singing of psalmody, the interpretation of melismatic neums, and general style in the chant.
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Nick Gale's general approach is based on the Graduale Triplex, and the scholarship it represents. Singers were taught to give the text the leading place in the interpretation of chant, and not to attempt to impose an artificial rythmic structure on it. This is particularly clear in chanting the psalms for Compline and Vespers, but is applicable to the chants of the Mass as well.
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For the first Mass of the Retreat we had a professional schola; subsequenly, the Masses were accompanied by the singers on the chant course: in the picture above we are sitting at the back of the Chapel.

It was a wonderful and very stimulating weekend, of Chant in the context of the traditional liturgy and spirituality of the Church. There is a post about the Retreat itself on the LMS Chairman blog here, and I hope to post some videos of the singing soon.

06 April 2010

Chant Training Day in London, 29th May

The Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge is presenting a Gregorian Chant singing day in the glorious surroundings of the Temple Church in London. It is open to beginners and more experienced singers alike. The music will include chants for the Templars’ own breviary recalling their Foundation of this Church in 1185 and the day will finish with all participants singing Vespers. There will also be an organ recital, a talk on the Templars and an optional Schola dinner in the historic Inner Temple Hall.

The day will be conducted by Jeremy White and Philip Duffy, both expert teachers of the Chant.

£35 for the day, £25 for students. Optional dinner for £50. Free parking.

For booking and more information:

www.scholagregoriana.org and click on Events
or please ring 01223 263063