Help: I Involuntarily became Schola director
  • So, a while back, like half a year ago, i started directing our small Schola(with me 4-5 people depending on attendance).
    The old Schola director retired because he said it became to straining for him in his age.

    Thing is, while i can sing rather decent, learning by hearing, im actually terrible at theoretical aspects of music, and have never directed before that.
    (Example: Some of the Schola singers will talk about "oh thats a terce, great quarte and x" and im like, "I like your funny words magic man". I get these terms in principle but i cant really apply them, much less differentiate by hearing.)

    So i wanted to ask some more experienced folk, what i ought to learn and be capable of, to direct well.

    The Ressources that i have at disposal are, besides the books:
    -One experienced singer that prepares well and is basically my pillar to lean on when i cant cope with difficulties in chant. He cant take over directing because he already does way too much volunteer work in the chapel.
    -One Singer with a very strong/loud voice that couldnt figure out the actual sound of pieces if he tried, but can cling to a leading voice well.
    -One Singer that occasionally struggles in singing. I think he might be redelegated to organ playing for low mass.
    -One Singer thats new to Schola singing but can follow along well if there are no dissenting voices.
    -One Singer(the Organist) that can hit all the notes securely, but is very shy and sings very quiet. Not available for the ordinary since he has to play, but he joins the propers when he´s there.
    -Myself. I can sing with decent volume and with enough practice, very secure. Really cant read notes beyond pattern recognitition and "This goes up and that goes down". I just figure the chants out by hearing.

    -I have roundabout 30 minutes of common practice time before mass, though attendance for the practice is somewhat unreliable.
    The new guy and the struggling one are reliable, The Experienced singer is busy in the sacristy until like 15 minutes before, the loud voice also arrives 15 minutes before mass, the Organist like 5 minutes before mass,

    The parish is unfortunately very diaspora, so people come from afar and cant gather during the week easily.

    My personal preparation currently consists of Practicing on a daily basis and reading the commentary by Dominic Johner OSB.

    The experienced singer practices at home. The new guy cant because he doesnt have internet and cant work out notes from theory, the others dont really practice, citing time issues.

    The Performance usually is ok, with minor hiccups once or twice per mass depending on the difficulty of the propers.

    So yeah, TL:DR
    Any advice for a new Schola Director?
  • Maybe others can volunteer to help the "magic man" with his other chores, so that he can lead the schola, at least until you are better prepared.
    Thanked by 1Julius_Krüger
  • One thing that I've found helpful (and bear in mind, not everyone is open to putting in the effort, but a few are very happy to do so) is to provide "practice tracks" to the choir. Now, if you are learning these chants by ear yourself, odds are you're going to follow the lead of whatever it is that you're consulting. There are thousands of chants recorded on YouTube, many by very experienced chanters with animated scores that you can send out to everyone. This might be a bit of a leveler and get the strong voices to submit to a neutral third party (again, if they will bother to listen even once on the way to church) and it might help the more timid voices feel more confident, because they can see what is coming and live with it a little outside of rehearsal to feel more confident.

    I feel so strongly about this, I started a YT channel ("SeviamScores") for my choir which now has over 400 videos, including well over one hundred recordings of Fr. Weber chants that we've done. This has been a God-send for some of my choir members, and has even permitted one woman to progress from not reading music at all, to becoming a competent singer and anchor of her section, just because she's willing and eager to listen to the tracks. You don't need to go the full distance and make the recordings yourself as I have done, but perhaps you can leverage a lot of what is already out there for free. The same thing goes for many of the "greatest hits" for polyphony. There are tracks that break those pieces down according to each part.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    1: Please post your repertoire in detail for the next four weeks
    2: I can then give you some pointers based on number one.
  • How soon does everyone have to leave after mass? Could they practice a little afterwards?
  • @Andris Amolens I dont think i could convince Magic man to give up his sacristy duties. The Schola thing is more the side gig. Additionally, as far as i understood him, he doesnt feel quite confident enough to lead. Still good idea.
    Additionally, while i do feel sub par, ive made it decently work so far, so i dont think he would see the reason in taking over.

    @ServiamScores we do have the CCwatershed page for the propers recordings available as help.
    Ive been thinking of gather the relevant ones on CD for our newbie without internet, but i cant find the time for it.
    I would love it if they all practiced at home. I mean, almost all of the tracks we use are online, and i can make those that arent myself. The magic man practices with me on the sunday afternoons after every bit of sacristy stuff is done and ready. That way i was able to make a recording of our self composed Saint Angsar propers

    We dont really use polyphony. i think with 5 people its just too small of a group.
    The only exception was a Self composed version of Sub tuum praesidium by Magic man with 2 simple voices, where the womens group would sing the secondary voice.

    Its a latin mass parish and we currently exclusively use the propers for the sundays, since the capabilities for much else arent present.
    We have a requiem for B16 coming up next saturday, i will probably be singing that alone, no problem.
    Candlemass next Sunday including the procession chants.
    for the sundays after that
    Ash Wednesday
    And 1. Sunday of Lent(Invocabit)
    For each the corresponding latin mass propers.

    Otherwise we always have a vernacular german hymn for the closing of the mass, but those are always chosen by magic man only a few days before.

    Technically they all should have time. Magic man is busy with sacristy tho(we practice, just the two of us, an hour or two after mass), Strong Voice usually wants to talk to other parishioners, shy guy wants to pray for up to an hour or two(might be convinced tho), the struggler i think is mostly busy socialising and the organist leaves very fast. I assume he is somewhat introverted.
    Im afraid if i asked i would first get a "Not right after mass". understandable.
    Then i would get a "really have to get going". frustrating.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,668
    Thanks for the info

    I highly suggest downloading Square Note for everyone’s phone

    It will play the pitches for personal rehearsal.
    Don’t worry about all the idiosyncrasies of chant notation just sing the notes with musicality and prayerfulness
  • Your schola sounds like mine. Like everyone's really.

    What you need, as a director:
    1. Error detection.When things go wrong, can you identify what it was? This may be the hardest to gain.
    2. Some way to communicate time. This doesn't have to be anything formal, but formal ways (chironomy, beat patterns for metric music) were developed for a reason
    3. People skills, to keep it all together.

    Your decision to stick with chant is a sound one, and I say that as a big polyphony proponent. By listening and practicing, you all will learn what the notes do, in a limited language, which will lead to mastery of the chant language. It's a bit like a parent reading to a child: your schola hears the notes, and sees the notes, and eventually puts the two together conceptually.
    Thanked by 1Julius_Krüger
  • @francis
    I do have that app, and youre right in that i should get the others to get it. Ive mentioned it before but havent asked why the others dont seem to use it.
    I think the 3 older singers might have issues with the technology (Magic man doesnt even have his own phone. He and his wife share one which they had gotten like last year)

    Do you have any tips for learning that?

    @Jeffrey Quick
    Regarding 1. Im not that good at error detection. I´ll hear when something is off, and with effort i can tell in which direction it was off, but in the confusion of voices i have a hard time who goes off track when. Like if its a collective error or one caused by me(often coincide) then i can easily identify, but if its by someone else its difficult.
    It seems i have unconsciously adopted "judge not" for music, which is probably a suboptimal application of the gospel.

    Regarding 2. As of now i try this via hand gesturing the speed and height of the chant, like the previous Schola leader. Struggling a bit with that because my focus sometimes neglects the hands when the chant is difficult for myself. Also i think the singers pay more attention to my voice rather than my hands. That is an issue though because i often need to take breathers at points, due to asthma limited lungs, where i need them to supply stable continuation(it works most of the time but the rythm hiccups a bit because of that sometimes.)
    I was asking around in another group how other Schola leaders do this, but there was only one other singer there and i dont think i entirely understood his answer.

    Regarding 3. Well i can keep the folks together i guess, but i think in part thats because i make no demands like practice time, so it might be a suboptimal solution.
  • WGS
    Posts: 297
    Others may have alluded to it, but I encourage you personally to attend a chant training course. I presume that in most if not all courses, there is a track for beginners through more experienced. I especially recommend the facilities of the CMAA - with its annual colloquium plus additional local training sessions. Ideally, the pastor should see the value of such training and would be inclined to financially aid in support of one or more participants.
  • I'd also recommend the chant retreats put on by St. Meinrad Archabbey in far-southern Indiana, should you have the means.
  • Check out the ICA. They have some great online tutorials about chant.
  • I'd also recommend the chant retreats put on by St. Meinrad Archabbey in far-southern Indiana, should you have the means.

    I believe that our friend Herr Krüger here resides in Germany. Indiana ist ein bisschen zu weit weg, würde ich sagen!
  • If you can manage it, attending the Colloquium chant classes would be great.

    Just a suggestion, you might look into hosting a chant workshop at your home parish so all your singers can benefit. You might contact a Seminary for this - in the summers, seminarians are likely to be sent here and there for various apostolates. We did this a few years ago and it was helpful.
    Also - you might ask yr priest if there are any former seminarians in your congregation. Could be a helpful resource.
    Please continue to post! At this site you will find a wealth of information, from a virtual library of books on chant, to a host of knowledgeable and helpful friends.
  • on the site you will find audio files for almost all the Propers of the year, Sundays and feast days.
    These links can be emailed to your singers so they can practice at home as long as they like.
  • Well… I feel your pain. I would say the number one thing that helped me with my Schola even without formal training was the Sacred Music Symposium down in LA. It’s put on by the FSSP, and it’s geared towards running volunteer choirs. It helped me so much that I ended up getting involved in helping them organize stuff. I’m just a volunteer so I was actually coming on here to post about it. It’s much more affordable than the Colloquium and it’s geared towards people like us. Here is the link for the info:

    Good luck!! You can do this!!
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • For those who don't know:

    LA = Los Angeles, where the FSSP have a parish,
    Louisiana (whose postal code is LA)
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • If textures are thick, error detection can be hard for all of us, but with just a few voices in unison, it should be doable.
    Keeping people going can be a hard thing. When I first started my with schola, if I would stop singing, things would dissolve into cacophony within 6 notes. And several years in, I developed a condition of mucus in the throat, which, if I didn't have time to swallow (Credo!) would lead to a coughing fit (better now, but not totally gone). They keep going now, but there's always a little burble.
    As the choral conductor.pedagogue James Jordan said, "What they see is what you get." If your own placement and breathing is not good, they will copy what they see and hear.
  • Learning how to sight read through chant is by far the best time investment. Back in 2010, i was in my 40’s, at basically the same sight reading level as you are, but i thought chant and square notes could help me. They did. Back then there were no recordings of the simple English propers, so i taught myself how to read them. It took me about 3 years to fluently sight read chant. It would take less with some help. Don’t wait. Rip off the band aid now.
  • 1. Sol-fiege is your friend. I find when you sing using do re mi, you make fewer mistakes. This is helpful for difficult sections that you have sung incorrectly several times. Sing it through using do re mi and somehow you don’t make mistakes. Then sing it with the words.

    2. With respect to error detection, it is usually when there is a half step involved, (mi to fa or ti to do). If you can figure out where the half steps are on the staff for the proper you are singing, when you notice a mistake, go back to the last neum which crossed one of those lines. 7 times out of 10 that is where the mistake was made. (major instead of minor third, half step instead of whole step). This is usually where you switch keys as well since the effect of the leading tone is to shift tonality. The other 3 out of 10 times are descending fourths for our schola right now, but those errors vary by the season.
    Thanked by 2Julius_Krüger Bri
  • Clarke,

    I've read this often, but I've never understood the necessity of the syllables themselves. Could one sing the melody to "la", rather than trying to remember the syllables of the solfege scale?
    Thanked by 1francis
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,152
    CGZ, to me the syllables help to define the intervals. You know how big a step it is from Do to FA, Re to Ti, Sol to Mi, etc. Other syllables, numbers, or letters could be used. But I find that having a different syllable, name, etc. helps with the pitches. If I am having trouble with the timing I tend to use beat, be-ea, beat &, beat e & a, etc. Different tools to help with different problems.

    Besides, do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do is pretty much ingrained in the common psyche, thanks in part to 'The Sound of Music'.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Chris,
    That’s right, the names for the syllables helps keeps you within the same key. Having different names is helpful since every “so” for instance sounds the same as the last one. It gives you a slightly different mental grasp on the tonality of the whole without having to do an analysis of the parts in terms of intervals. Basically, it is another strategy that can be used when other strategy’s aren’t working, or as a good first approach to a proper.
  • joerg
    Posts: 137
    If you can spend some money I'd suggest that you buy the 15 CD collection
    Narrabo omnia mirabilia tua. (EUR 150) curated by Johannes Berchmans Göschl. He used to be assistant to Dom Eugene Cardine in Rome, the founder of the so called semiological school. Here you find recordings in a unified, reliable style for all the Sundays and major feasts (Of course it's all according to the new calendar, but you can easily adapt it to the former calendar.) Göschl also has other CDs for Saints' feasts, for Dedication and for the Kyriale -- all published by EOS Verlag. He's also written a book "Das Kirchenjahr im Gregorianischen Choral" with detailed hints on all the chants.
  • Chaswjd
    Posts: 254
    Is there some way you could have a weekly practice not just before mass? That would seem to give you the time to learn the pieces as a body. If you are too spread out, could you at least do something by Zoom?

    You could also check the Graduale Simplex or some other resource for simplified chant? You might be able to find something which allows you to sing the propers but in a simplified form.
  • @Chaswjd Unfortunately the parish is very diaspora. Meaning, the parishioners come from across an 1/8 length of the country, with about 1-2 hour drives occasionally.
    Also the parish only has mass on weekends from Friday to Sunday. I Get to catch one or two singers during those days, but never the whole squad.

    Im hesitant about zoom. I mean the only option to do that without a headache would just be having everyone muted besides me, but that way i cant check anything about the performance.

    Regarding simplification: Theoretically speaking, we have psalmodied versions of all the propers, but usually we do still manage to do the originals.

    But that did give me an idea. The Womens schola recently had a training day where they met for a saturday to practice. One could recreate that with the men perhaps, meeting at least once a month and powering through whats on the Schedule.

    Though this is harder for the men, as the women only sing like once a month, and the rest is up to us.
  • Actually you are a member of a Schola in need of direction. You would do well to use the practice as a chance for you to learn from the others.
    Thanked by 1Julius_Krüger