Forming a Schola
  • I am considering forming a schola at our parish to sing chant for our ad orientem NO Mass, and wondering if anyone here is able to offer some practical advice on how to do it successfully.

    I have two primary concerns. First, I don't want to siphon vocalists away from the regular adult choir. Second, I want to be careful not to over-burden the new group, who will have little previous experience singing chant.

    Any guidance would be appreciated!
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  • madorganist
    Posts: 512
    I don't want to siphon vocalists away from the regular adult choir
    A legitimate concern indeed! I might have some advice, but a little more info would be helpful. How often would the schola sing? How many Masses does the adult choir sing for each weekend? Do you plan for the schola to sing the entire proper in full Gregorian chant, including gradual and offertory? Will it be a mixed schola or all male? If mixed, do you plan for men and women to sing together, or divide the chants between them? Would it be possible to schedule the schola rehearsal immediately before or after the choir rehearsal for the convenience of anyone who might be interested in participating in both?
  • I would like to create a schola of male voices, singing at just one or two Masses per month. (The adult choir sings once each weekend September thru May and rehearses each week during that time.) The schola could rehearse immediately after the adult choir, however, I am wondering if I should keep the two completely separate. Is there any wisdom in creating the schola to be by invitation only?

    I would indeed like them to eventually be able to sing both the ordinary (in Latin) and the propers in English.

  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,495
    Somebody around here did something similar.
    I would start with Office hymns and the Marian antiphons, because they're the easiest to learn, and the most like "normal" church music. Fit them in as "features", Communion motets etc. If you have multiple Masses and a flexible membership, you could move from Mass to Mass and spread your chanty joy around.. How much variety does this parish do in Ordinary settings? If "a lot", you could then pop an Ordinary setting in sometime. If "none", you're going to have to pick a season and have a pastor prepared for pushback. I'm not a fan of Advent/Lent for this; summer might be a better choice, after the regular choir season (if there is such a thing by you; we go 12/365). There's something to be said for the shock value of doing Mass 18 for Ash Wednesday, though. Propers are the 3rd stage, and a whole other battle, because of "muh hymns".

    My own sense would be to keep things fairly open in terms of membership. You want to get as many people chanting as possible. But if folks can't carry a tune or sound like a buzzsaw, then you've got to move them out, and that's never fun for anyone.
  • We had success implementing a chant schola about 10 years ago in a similar situation (except it was EF instead of OF). Some members of the choir - of which we are all singing - approached me about forming a schola. At that time, the choir sang few (if any) chant ordinaries and only the Rossini propers.

    I went to the director of the choir and asked if we could form a sub-group of the choir and, several times a year, sing the full propers rather than the Rossini. She very graciously agreed, and she and I determined a schedule of Masses at which the schola would sing the propers - we only chose four Masses that first year to see if it would be something that would "stick".

    Went back to the men, and suggested rehearsal that would either be an hour before or after the regular choir rehearsal. That first year, we only rehearsed 3-4 x before the given Mass for which we sang the full propers (Christmas Day, Easter, Corpus Christi, and Pentecost).

    At the end of the year, the men had made lots of progress and asked about continuing. I went back to the director who said - sure, as long as I can join the schola! She and I worked out a more expanded schedule of 12 Masses the following year, and we jumped from 5 men to 11 mixed voices (including some new members who joined the choir).

    Eventually, the schola was no longer a sub-group of the choir, but became its own entity. We sang at Masses around the diocese, and started acquiring members from other parishes as well. In that second year we added the full Holy Week Triduum and about 14 Masses at another parish along with vespers (about 10-12 x that year). We began learning more advanced polyphony as well as chant including ordinaries.

    People from the original parish tended to be part of both groups, although our rehearsal shifted to be nearly equivalent - 60 minutes for each group if I remember correctly. The members of the schola from other parishes would show for the schola practice and then leave when the choir practice started - but our parish choir was still the full group.

    It turned out to be something that not only elevated the knowledge of chant; it became a way of introducing high-caliber polyphony (the choir members that gravitated to the schola tended to be the better singers in the group); more importantly, it exploded the opportunities for different types of Liturgy in the parish dynamic. Tenebrae, regular weekly vespers, occasional Christmas Matins, lots more feast days...

    Just some thoughts!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,722
    You could just stick with Vespers for a year or so, while people are learning to read chant notation, sight-read the antiphons, and pronounce everything together. It's worth doing in its own right, even as a small group on a weekday. After a few months, you could sing Sunday Vespers for the parish once a month, maybe, and then start the group learning some Mass ordinaries and propers.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,051
    Check out "How to Start Your Own Garage Schola" by Arlene Oost-Zinner here:
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  • madorganist
    Posts: 512
    Invitation only might not be a bad policy. Like others types of unison choirs, a schola is not limited by the number of singers in the repertory it can perform; more isn't necessarily better. Whether it would be better to combine or separate the rehearsals depends entirely on what you and your singers are willing to commit to. Consider whether they live or work close to the church and whether an additional trip to the church - or part of an additional night away from their family - might be burdensome.

    Make sure you and your priests - not only the pastor, but preferably all of your regular celebrants - are on the same page, so to speak, regarding what the congregation is expected to sing and what may be sung by the schola alone. Decide whether you'll sing strictly a cappella or with organ accompaniment. Maybe your priest also has a strong opinion on that, which you should take into consideration. If you provide your singers with recordings to help them learn, make sure those recordings model the tone quality you want. Best wishes in your endeavors!
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  • Anyone have an opinion on whether to introduce chant notation from day one or stick with modern notation while getting started?
  • Petrus,

    An opinion: Introduce Chant as a new notation, so that you avoid continuous comparisons with modern music on the terms and turf of modern music.
  • Chant notation from day one.

    I know it sounds silly - but my experience has been that is more difficult to convey nuance of interpretation via modern notation, in part because it reinforces the (incorrect from my perspective) concept that all notes are equal in duration. There is a constant ebb and flow of tempo and dynamic, and I find the chant phrasing is easier to explain within the chant notation.

    I think it is easier to "think" chant via chant notation - and "think" polyphony via modern notation...
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 453
    Throw them into the neum swimming pool without water wings.
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  • Your question arises from a putative understanding of chant (a thing that is sung) and chant notation (instructions on how to sing it) as not being a unity, two sides of the same coin; and that another, conceptually and fundamentally different notation which does not give guidance as to how to sing it, giving naught but pitches, might do just as well. This, as I'm sure you will agree, is not so. Chant and chant notation are a unity. Only those who fail to understand that unity could entertain borrowing another notation (impossibly) to fulfill the role of of chant's native notation.

    The misapprehension that a non-chant notation will do just as well as chant notation is an error found even in most academic and scholarly works on chant. As if a row of note heads and slurs could communicate the nuance and niceties of performance as 'square notes'. It is sad that scholars of high repute think of chant as a sequence of notes, pitches. Throw your scholars 'in the water' and watch them swim!
  • My 2c is this: I and a nearby organist started at neighboring churches around the same time. We both graduated with masters degrees within the last 3 years and both had to whip up scholas for special TLMs. He used neumes and I transcribed. Some of his choir members are comfortable reading authentic chant 8 months later and mine aren’t. Lesson learned.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,401
    Re. notation: FWIW: I can sight-read melismatic Offertory verses without any difficulty in chant notation, but will continually trip over something as simple as the "Gaudeamus" Introit if rendered in modern notation. (And not because I'm not proficient in modern notation, I am--it just doesn't work for chant.)
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,818
    If they're going to sing English Propers, choosing whether it's going to be from the American Gradual, the Plainchant Gradual or another source will weigh in deciding on a notation.

    If one doesn't have the knack of singing round-note chant beautifully, it's worthwhile to pick it up. While Богородице Дево doesn't bear the weight of habit of "Bogoroditse dievo", I doubt anyone could guess in a blind test which I was reading (maybe if I were stumbling over Cyrillic italic forms!), and elegant as square notes can be they're not magic unless one has an underlying understanding already.
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  • ..from the American Gradusl...
    I read somewhere last year that Bruce Ford was putting his American Gradual into chant notation. I've not heard about the status of that endeavour, but I do hope that we'll see that it actually happens.
  • elegant as square notes can be they're not magic
    You're absolutely right! I have men in my schola who barely ready modern notation at all, but surely that doesn't apply to anyone on this forum. I have to question what the difficulty is with reading chant from modern notation. Do those who have problems with modern notation chant also find the Lagal notation challenging? The revised Gregorian notation of the new Solesmes books, which is also used in these editions? Even the eminent Dom Cardine called for revisions to the square notation of the Vatican edition.

    By and large, the shape of the various neumatic elements in the square notation is a holdover from the adiastematic neumes. With the precise pitch indications of the staff, the melodic indications inherent in the shape of the square neumes are redundant. As far as performance goes, there isn't a single nuance in the Vatican edition that couldn't be conveyed with only plain square puncta. Attached is a demonstration - with rhythmic signs added! What's missing that would affect the actual performance in any way?

    Hakkennes was on to something. As for the revised notation used in the newer Solesmes books, the "initio debilis" notes and the sign for augmentative liquescence are the only real improvements for those interested in semiology, but neither was utilized in the Graduale novum.
  • Mad makes some salient points worthy of consideration.
    I would add though, that...

    I believe that the most confusing aspect of chant notation, other than acquiring 'modal ears', is the movable clefs and the difficulty acquiring proficiency as to where the half and whole tones belong. As for square notes in and of themselves, I cannot believe that anyone of normal intelligence should have difficulty reading them. Some people just throw up their hands at anything that may require a bit of learning or thinking, and they will throw up all manner of facetious whining to rid themselves (and deprive everyone else) of it. I have no pity for those who whine and whine, and insist that they 'can't' read chant notation. I've had many people over the years tell me that square notes were easier than modern notation

    It is possible to devise a system using round (or triangular or trapeziodal) notes rather than square, (as if the shape of the notes were the real problem - it isn't), but it has yet to be done. I am reading several treatises on various aspects of the offertory in history. These essays, by the finest and most learned university scholars of our time, give their examples in rows of round noteheads and slurs, oblivious (apparently) to the fact that their examples don't begin to indicate how actually to perform the chants which they illustrate, examples going back as far as the pre-Carolingian age. This is poor scholarship. These same scholars would do well to study Cardine's Gregorian Semiology, study the symbiotic relationship between Carolingian and square notation, and to cultivate an interest in how to perform chant as well as analyse it structurally and compare the various chant dialects melodically.
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,349
    The circle is complete, closed and self-regarding, 'perfect'. I suspect round notes encourage us to see the music as a regular sequence of separate sounds, and chant is not that. Compare the melismata of a Gregorian Alleluia with the vocal acrobatics of the Queen of the Night.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,107
    It is possible to devise a system using round (or triangular or trapeziodal) notes rather than square, (as if the shape of the notes were the real problem - it isn't), but it has yet to be done.

    What about "shape notes" ... in particular, the 4-shape note system? The four shapes are represented also by syllables, borrowed from the Guidonian solmization. "Fa" is a triangle (the upper right half of a square cut by a diagonal), "Sol" is an oval (same as a modern "round" note), "La" is a square shape, and "Mi" is a diamond shape.

    Mode I (with flatted Te) would be rendered with the shapes: La, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Fa, Sol, La (in solfege: Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Te, Do, Re). It's the same as the modern natural Minor scale. Mode I with natural Ti would be rendered with the shapes: Sol, La, Fa, Sol, La, Mi, Fa, Sol.

    Shape notes appeared in the U.S. in publications towards the end of the 18th century, in particular, in music written by William Billings (and engraved & published by Paul Revere).

    There is also a 7-shape system with shapes corresponding and named by the traditional solfege syllagles.
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  • This took a mere ten minutes to do:

    Maybe others prefer round notes:

    Or something like this:

    Would anyone care to elaborate on what nuance of the Vatican/Solesmes edition has been lost? I won't claim that objections on aesthetic or psychological grounds are invalid, but is any information necessary for the proper rendition of the chant found in the Vatican edition lacking in these transcriptions?
    2088 x 403 - 159K
    2088 x 403 - 163K
    2088 x 403 - 158K
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,349
    Chant is sung text, and grouping the notes according to the syllables of the text is an important aid to rendition, particularly for singers who are not professionals. The even spacing of the note heads is a hindrance, although substantially mitigated by the beams.
    Of course many of the nuances are not in the (semi)official editions, the nuances shown by Hakkennes here on the second page are missing from those editions, and Hakkennes seems closer to what our organist plays.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,401
    Thread drift, anyone?

    But I agree with Mr. Hawkins.
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  • IdeK
    Posts: 46
    At the very beginning, my chant teacher introduced the first antiphons without any partitions, just by ear and memory. I found that very useful, because it helped memorize lots of patterns that you find then in lots of other places, and it helped with keeping in mind that we were not singing notes, but words and text.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,349
    IdeK - In English the thing almost every other European language calls partitura is called a score (no one knows why, the etymology is totally obscure).
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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,818
    the difficulty acquiring proficiency as to where the half and whole tones belong.
    For a string player this is easy in one's accustomed notation; keyboardists may not have this advantage. Being a cellist/gambist fluent in C clefs I just had to cope with 4-line staves to start chanting, but other instrumentalists might not have that head start.
    I've seen vast amounts of rehearsal time wasted by an otherwise reputable conductor who thought it impossible that the different shapes of a climacus could be sung at the same speed: a case where round notation would have been a decided advantage.