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!
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • madorganist
    Posts: 457
    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: 1,433
    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: 7,481
    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: 965
    Check out "How to Start Your Own Garage Schola" by Arlene Oost-Zinner here:
    Thanked by 2MarkB CHGiffen
  • madorganist
    Posts: 457
    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!
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • 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: 448
    Throw them into the neum swimming pool without water wings.
    Thanked by 1petrus_simplex
  • 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!