20 December 2012

PIMS AGM and Conference in York

PMMS 125th Anniversary, York, 10 July 2013

There’s no place like Rome: Centres of music and liturgy before 1550

PMMS members are warmly invited to the AGM study day on 10 July 2013, held at Bedern in the city of York. The day will celebrate the Society’s 125th anniversary with a wine reception and free evening concert of conductus by candlelight, two public lectures and a series of papers held in medieval venues in York city centre. The theme of the day is the exploration of centres of music and liturgy before 1550, and will have a good balance of talks on plainchant and polyphony. Speakers include Roger Bowers, Emma Hornby, Rebecca Maloy, Andrew Kirkman, Jim Borders, Thomas Schmidt, Matthew Ward and Hannah Vlhova.

Registration will be in the region of £50 (non-members) and £35 (members and students). Delegates will be provided with lunch, refreshments and a discounted ticket to a further concert at York Minster, as part of York Early Music Festival. Further details and registration will appear on the PMMS website in the new year. The day will also include the AGM, which is free to attend.

Delegates may like to stay for a few days to enjoy further events at the York Early Music Festival (Friday 5 - Saturday 13 July) and will focus on Rome, with music created under the patronage of medieval Popes, the renaissance polyphony of Palestrina, and the exuberant baroque of Handel in Italy. Special features will include a celebration of the anniversaries of Corelli (1653-1713) and Dowland (1563-1626). Artists will include countertenor Iestyn Davies, one of the world's foremost viol players Wieland Kuijken, the Italian medieval Ensemble Medusa with singer Patricia Bovi, medievalist Stevie Wishart and her group Sinfonye and Theatre of the Ayre with Elizabeth Kenny and members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain!

18 December 2012

Messiaen, birdsong, and chant

The pianist Matthew Schellhorn, who is also very much involved in the Gregorian Chant Network, has given an interview on Messiaen, on whom he is an expert, and birdsong. Messiaen was fascinated by birdsong, and based numerous compositions on it. Matthew remarks:

While Messiaen found birds to be "sovereign" in their creative capacity, he also said they are "the closest to us, and the easiest to reproduce". I should assert that the only man-made music ever, perhaps, to come close to birdsong is Gregorian chant. This music, the music proper to the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, manifests the same flexibility of both melody and rhythm. There is even evidence to suggest that the Gregorian melodies we have written down were the basis, in fact, of improvisation – which of course further reminds us of the sounds of the natural world.
In antiquity and the Middle Ages birdsong was regarded a very significant. The above picture, from a Bestiary, shows a lion bowing to a cockerel; in Hamlet the theory that cockerels sing all night at Christmas time, banishing evil influences, as they do throughout the year at dawn, is recounted. St Francis preached to the birds, encouraging them to praise God for the natural gifts with which God had endowed them, by singing. And so, of course, they did.
It is interesting to compare the ordered spontaneity of birdsong and of Gregorian Chant. Singing Gregorian Chant has to be learnt, by human singers, but in learning to do it we reconnect with something very fundamental in human nature.

07 December 2012

Listening to sacred music IS active participation

From the Holy Father's recent address to the Italian St Cecelia Assocation.

'The second aspect that I propose for your reflection is the relationship between sacred song and the new evangelization. The conciliar constitution on the liturgy recalls the importance of sacred music in the mission “ad gentes” and calls for an appreciation of the musical traditions of different peoples (cf. 119). But also precisely in countries, such as Italy, where evangelization occurred centuries ago, sacred music – with its own great tradition, which is our western culture – can and does have a relevant task of assisting in the rediscovery of God, a return to the Christian message and the mysteries of the faith. We think of the celebrated experience of Paul Claudel, the French poet, who converted listening signing of the Magnificat during the Christmas vespers at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris: “At that moment,” he writes, “there occurred the event that dominated my entire life. In twinkling my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such a powerful adherence, with such an elevation of my whole being, with such a strong conviction, in a certainty that did not leave space for any sort of doubt that, after that moment, no reasoning, no circumstance of my troubled life, was able to shake or touch my faith.”
But we need not have recourse to illustrious persons to think of how many people have been touched in their depths of their soul listening to sacred music; and of how many more have felt themselves newly drawn to God by the beauty of liturgical music like Claudel. And, here dear friends, you have an important role: work to improve the quality of liturgical song with being afraid to recover and value the great musical tradition of the Church, which has in Gregorian Chant and polyphony 2 of its highest expressions, as Vatican II itself states (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 116). And I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music. You, who have the gift of song can make the heart of many people sing in liturgical celebrations.'
Contrast this with the following, from an Instruction of the Congregation of Divine Worship in 1987:
 'Any performance of sacred music which takes place during a celebration, should be fully in harmony with that celebration. This often means that musical compositions which date from a period when the active participation of the faithful was not emphasized as the source of the authentic Christian spirit are no longer to be considered suitable for inclusion within liturgical celebrations.' (Concerts in Churches, 1987).
The clear implication of the latter document is that Chant and Sacred Polyphony did not promote 'active participation'. It's not often I'd say this about an official document of the Church, even one with the limited authority of an 'Instruction' from a congregation, but this is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.

Viva Papa!