Learning to sight-sing chant Propers and Realistic Expectations and Tips for improving
  • I joined our EF choir about 6-7 months ago under the impression that, being a woman, I wouldn't have to worry about singing the chant Propers, since I was under the impression that women, generally speaking, were not permitted to sing them since they were sung by clerics, who could only be men.

    I was wrong. Since our schola member numbers are hit and miss each Sunday, and I am a deep contralto singing well into the bass clef (or as our schola director refers to it, the "male range", but I'm not a male, so...), I sing the Propers every Sunday, which we mostly sing the long Propers rather than the simple psalm tone Propers.

    I have no formal singing experience, and am really struggling to learn Solfege on my own. I sing everything by ear and use music as a guide. I have no problems whatsoever reading modern notation or singing on pitch if I have a strong person to match, but I cannot for the life of me sight sing the chant Propers with solfege on my own. I can sight sing simpler chants and more melodic chants such as the simple tone Marian Antiphons on my own if I don't use solfege.

    I have been told over the past number of weeks that the expectation for me is that I should come to chant practice able to sing, in solfege, the Introit and Communion Antiphon on my own. I can't do that, and I'm tired of being grilled each Sunday for not being able to do so, and I dread chant practice each Sunday before Mass. The only thing that keeps me going is the Cross and my love for Christ.

    Does my schola director's expectations sound reasonable for someone as new to chant as myself? We're expected to learn this stuff on our own for the most part, and this seems a bit unrealistic to me. Also, does anyone have any advice for learning how to sight sing and learn solfege?

    Thanks.
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 389
    I've got to run, but for starters, have you seen this?

    It has both sheets of solfege exercises & audio to go with them, and covers a lot of ground.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • It seems to me a bit much (and I am known for being strict) that it is unrealistic to expect a neophyte to come to rehearsal having taught him or herself the chants from the GR. I do, though, encourage you to develop and improve your solfege skills, which, it seems, you are willing to do and are even enthusiastic about. I suggest that you talk to your choirmaster very respectfully as one who simply hasn't the skill to do what he or she expects of you on your own. This, after all, is what rehearsals are for. Even paid choristers can not always be counted on to do what is being asked of you - they ought to, but all to often don't. Perhaps your choirmaster could be prevailed upon to offer tutelage in solfege, but it is rather far out for him to expect an average volunteer chorister to be skilled in it. (On the other hand: if you persevere, you might be glad that you have mastered a valuable musical skill that even some professional singers are, quite amusingly, strangers to.)
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  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,956
    If you have time, try learning the Introits and Communios using the internet videos that are widely available. Then "translate" back into solfege.

    I agree that you're being asked to do something very difficult--and that you'll be glad you did, in the long run.
    Thanked by 1Ben Yanke
  • I don't need to run!

    But you should. Being in a non-welcoming situation. And the fact that you sing in the men's range probably threatens them, confuses them or just plain make them uncomfortable. To them it may be like having a cross-dresser in the left with them! There are some truly difficult people sandwiched in among the really, really nice ones. Find them in another parish.,

    I have been told over the past number of weeks that the expectation for me is that I should come to chant practice able to sing, in solfege, the Introit and Communion Antiphon on my own. I can't do that, and I'm tired of being grilled each Sunday for not being able to do so, and I dread chant practice each Sunday before Mass.


    And they are working hard to make you run. Run.
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 751
    It seems to me the expectation is a bit high for a beginner, but not unreasonable for where you will eventually be.

    Use youtube videos to learn by ear, but keep reading along as you are learning.

    Get the chant workbook here

    get the ward music books free download on cmaa website and see if they help.

    Get to a colloquium asap.

    Ask someone here to give you a short skype session to assess what you really need.. (Yes i can)

    Be patient with yourself.
    Be very patient with your schola director.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,326
    If you can, chant parts of the Divine Office during the week, when you find the free time. Something like Compline to start off with, or one of the Little Hours, since they don't have so many changing antiphons.

    The antiphons for the office are usually much shorter, ergo manageable, so it'll help build a solid foundation for the proper antiphons for masses. It'll help you keep "fit", as it were, for the Sunday stuff. Also, it will improve your prayer life BIG TIME. Which is why we do this in the first place, anyway. :)
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,224
    These may help,
    http://www.gregorianbooks.com/propers.html
    and
    http://bbloomf.github.io/jgabc/propers.html

    I find it takes years to become confident singing chant and finding your way around the G.R.
    It is not too difficult to use the links above to learn the pieces before hand, O.K some are difficult, but others are easy.
    While some people can just pick up a G.R. and sing the rest of us need to practice.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,387
    I think the expectations are unreasonable. You are being asked to display skills it can take some time to acquire - years, in some cases. How badly do you want to be in this place and put up with this director? If, as you note, "Since our schola member numbers are hit and miss each Sunday" is there a message in this? Perhaps others are having some difficulty, as well.
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  • dad29
    Posts: 1,564
    I have been told over the past number of weeks that the expectation for me is that I should come to chant practice able to sing, in solfege, the Introit and Communion Antiphon on my own.


    That's ridiculous.
    Thanked by 3canadash Liam MarkB
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 720
    I have been told over the past number of weeks that the expectation for me is that I should come to chant practice able to sing, in solfege, the Introit and Communion Antiphon on my own.


    Perhaps this means that the choir director is unable to "teach" chant, and has to rely on others to figure it out for themselves..?
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Liam
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,594
    Before we pile on the director, let's consider whether we agree on exactly how far between "requirement" and "goal" the word "expectation" lies and what might have been meant.
    I have no problems whatsoever reading modern notation or singing on pitch if I have a strong person to match
    As long as someone is already doing what is expected, right? If you're being patiently exhorted to get ready to someday take their place, seize the chance to start learning something new.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I'm sorry....after reading this and your letter again, this isn't much of a solution for you, SC. I concur with others' conclusions.

    My choristers can sight sing Bartlett, Rice, Weber and Kelly et al on Sundays. That is a fairly easy proposition to accomplish in a few months, and doesn't necessarily require an indoctrination to solfege or the symbiology of neumes. Whether or not English Propers are a terminal or transitional goal, it would be where I would start with novices. And that said, after a prescribed period of use, moving them on up to the GR (please bypass the simplex) will be mitigated by their acquisition of the "feel" of chanting, particularly if the director doesn't have an overly emphasized obsession with mensuration. I have another schola in my team I don't direct, and they exclusively use the listen/repeat method with the recordings from So.America. I've found that doesn't translate well when we mix groups in terms of declamation and flow.
    I have to disclaim that I'm an "off the page" singer, and use recordings as a secondary informative source.
  • ...(please bypass the simplex),,,

    Sage advice.
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  • OraLabora
    Posts: 124
    Sage advice.


    Yes. I FINALLY got to use it recently in spite of having it for years collecting dust in my library. I decided to put together a Nocturnale Romanum for the modern Liturgy of the Hours for my own use (antiphons for the Office of Readings), as I pray the LOTH every day. It turns out that a few antiphons specified in Ordo Cantus Officii come from the Simplex.

    I do agree with the advice of taking up the Divine Office in chant, and taking the time to learn the accent rules for the psalmody. The latter will help with the accentuation of the Latin words and help with reading the Latin. The antiphons, being relatively simpler, will help one learn the modality and patterns of each mode. The propers are also modal and knowing the basic patterns of each mode will help tremendously.

    Ora
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,400
    Literacy is a perfectly reasonable expectation. My peeps have somewhat the opposite problem: they are very good at sight-reading chant, not so much figural music. You've gotten good advice (apart from the "run" part). Here's what I'd add: any repertoire has its stock phrases, chant more so than others. Be on the lookout for musical "words" that repeat from one chant to another. As long as you know where the half steps are, don't worry about the solfege. It's a fairly limited set of intervals: 2nds, 3rds, the occasional 4th or 5th. And READ READ READ. If you get off on one interval, the rest will sound "out of mode". Try reading and then listening to a recording, or read with a recording. You're being asked to play catchup; it's not a fun position to be in, but it's one you can get through.
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  • As long as you know where the half steps are, don't worry about the solfege. I


    Unfortunately, solfege is required by our director, which is causing me the most issues because I have a very poor memory, so I struggle to remember the names in order. I prefer to use the number of intervals, as that is what I know, but no, only solfege is acceptable. I could give Do an actual note such as C or F, etc and name out the notes as I sing, but no. Solfege is the be all end all.

    If I ran, I wouldn't be the first person.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,350
    It's normal to stumble over solfege. I just finished an undergraduate program in music last year, and most of the music majors struggled with it from time to time, despite practicing solfege in "aural skills" classes for four terms. But solfege is helpful so that you can function in the world of chant practice, where "Do" is movable and chosen arbitrarily depending on the singers. (Using letter-names for pitches keeps you working in the system of modern notation, key signatures, and fixed Do.)

    Just as a teaching tactic, some choir directors prefer to have adult students name the degrees of the scale with numbers 1 to 7, since those are familiar. But I would still want to transition people to solfege syllables after that.

    You can find a book full of exercises for learning to read chant notation on our resource page
    http://musicasacra.com/resource-lists/
    The book is called "Cours elementaire du plain-chant gregorien", and you can download a PDF copy for free. While the title is French, the book contains instructions in English too, but there's not much to it: just a lot of exercises.
  • Unfortunately, solfege is required by our director, which is causing me the most issues because I have a very poor memory, so I struggle to remember the names in order. I prefer to use the number of intervals, as that is what I know, but no, only solfege is acceptable. I could give Do an actual note such as C or F, etc and name out the notes as I sing, but no. Solfege is the be all end all

    If I ran, I wouldn't be the first person.


    You sound like a Marine recruit bailing out on the first morning of boot camp: "Unfortunately, push-ups are required by our drill sergeant, which is causing me the most issues because I have a very poor upper body strength.... I could jog a mile, but no. Push-ups are the be-all, end-all."

    If you stick it out for three more months, you'll revisit this thread and either laugh at yourself or be embarrassed for yourself (depending on your sense of humor).
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    IIRC, Jeff Ostrowski is/was a big proponent of using the tetrachord as a key touchstone in modal reading. It does make sense. And in that light, there is some merit to JQuick's advice regarding half-step recognition.
    Again I agree in principle with MarkT and others that solfege has a big place. But if the novice chanter isn't proficient with figuration, then all of the nomenclature might be too many trenches on the solfege hill a newbie is ordered to take. It's not the only approach.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,400
    I like solfege. I like phonics too. But they're tools to an end, not an end in themselves. An expert sight-reader will be using many different strategies at once: scale-place recognition (solfege), interval recognition, pitch memory, harmonic analysis, pattern recognition. Solfege will allow you to sound out the words. But that's only the first step.
  • @SponsaChristi, I'm wondering how you're doing with this situation two and a half years later. Did it turn out to be a temporary thing you could get over with perseverance, or did your schola director make it impossible for you to continue to offer your voice? I sympathize either way, and am just wondering how it's all turned out.