Teaching chant to your singers and in the parish or "community"
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,068
    Has anyone taught chant over a sustained period either to new schola/choir members, to people who unfortunately can't commit to the schola, or to Catholics in the parish and in the community who may or may not go back to their parish choirs, which hopefully includes new members of your choirs? Fr Perrone apparently does this in Ontario (I find that the schedule is too cramped, and see below for what I would do instead.) I know that Mary Ann Carr Wilson runs Canticle in the San Diego area, which is great, but I'm aiming at adults and would consider only sixteen and seventeen year old students.

    Now, of course, there are only so many hours in a day, and people who are DMs (and organists to boot in most cases) have paperwork, planning, practice, weddings or funerals, other things to pay bills like lessons, and family obligations. Or professional ones if it's a second job, or classes, so maybe this sort of thing isn't really done.

    I have had the thought percolating that I would like to teach based on volume 1 of Laus in ecclesia which would hit almost all types of chant in the repertoire (including propers, but not sufficiently to sing the verses of say a gradual by oneself, and without focusing on psalmody in itself, as that's covered in vol. 2.

    It does occur to me that it's a correspondence course, so I would ask, but not absolutely require, folks to do the homework and send it to the correctors on their own time. However, I think that having someone to teach the contents in person and with whom to sing the choral exercises is immensely helpful, and it's perhaps (perhaps!) easier to do this over the course of a school year (twice a month, maybe) than one week in the summer at Clear Creek.

    Our parish collects people from all over the diocese, and I would say that most people who are serious Catholics choose a parish which isn't their territorial parish or are at least willing to travel for spiritual nourishment (based on convenience on a given day), for talks and classes, for social events… and happily several parishes have varying levels of chant in their musical diet, so being at one parish versus another or only for parishioners of one parish doesn't really faze me (other than needing an appropriate space and access to materials and a copier) — the real question is how many people to enroll, given that I need an appropriate room and would be doing this for the first time, and that in my opinion, it's much less deflating if you have people absent from a larger group than a smaller one (5 people absent out of 10 versus 20, for example)

    Of course, I need to talk to the clergy and others involved or who have interests, and maybe this is a bad idea or just not the right time and place, but I would like some thoughts regardless.
    Thanked by 1Bri
  • Anna_BendiksenAnna_Bendiksen
    Posts: 231
    Hi MatthewRoth,

    I write with trepidation---I am not a DM and fear that the feedback I have to give may be utterly unhelpful. In our NO parish, Father and the DM concentrated such energies around the Marian antiphons, announcing for a year or so the pertinent page numbers at daily Mass and singing with gusto no matter what we in the congregation did. It is now a given that they are sung at every daily Mass and are now beginning to be built into weekend Masses as well. Result: most folk now sing them with great sweetness and accuracy. Welcome to St. Catherine's Trumbull CT.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,068
    No worries. I'm not a DM either, but I feel like I'm ready to spread my wings a little. That's great that they're picking up. We have a very enthusiastic congregation too.

    One dynamic that is underappreciated in the US and not well-known about France is how much chant depends on lay initiatives. One, they don't have the money nor tradition of paying full-time music staff like we do, although we know that for many organists (Tournemire, Langlais, Messiaen…) their church positions were the center of their lives, personal and professional. Since before the Solesmes editions existed, since before Mocquereau's method existed, lay people (and clerics, but not pastors — Lambillotte and cathedral canons of Le Mans who were friends with Guéranger come to mind) led the instruction and discussion.

    We know of Madame Ward and her efforts, but that's fairly atypical especially nowadays. Yes, you can learn to chant at workshops, but those are typically formal parts of the music program, or at the Colloquium, which is one week a year, requiring you to travel. Or the traditional way of doing Laus in ecclesia, which requires traveling to Clear Creek (or if Fr Bachmann offers it elsewhere, to wherever he does it). But that's a lot of work, and it's best if you've already done the exercises so that you can just take the exams and benefit from your stay at the monastery.

    Really, something formal throughout the year is what I envision… I am a card-carryiing trad and all, but chant shouldn't be just for one parish or a handful, and it shouldn't be just for people who already have choral training or who are in the choir of the one parish that does chant (or the handful or whatever). I also think that we can do better than learning purely by ear (the interesting syllabification of Ite XI, where more notes are on "te" than "I" has long posed a problem in my parish — and yes, I know, it's a small problem!) and hoping that it sticks, that other pastoral changes don't disrupt it… they might not let us in the church to chant, but you can chant the office at home, in rented spaces… and how do you get more people interested in singing the propers, Matins responsories, or unfamiliar Gregorian ordinaries if they don't know that it exists? You can't have any pudding if you don't eat your meat!
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    I heartily applaud any systematic efforts to support familiarization of the PIPs with chant. One of the problems I remember from my decades in volunteer church choirs was declining musical literacy. Not merely the formal nuts and bolts, but the broader cultural habit of being part of an ensemble making music, something that was more naturally part of daily life until the cultural sea change of being dominated by a passive experience of music.
    Thanked by 1Anna_Bendiksen
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,068
    I recently realized that while as a child in school, I didn’t always like music class, and then I played trombone as an adolescent but I grew up singing — so things like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at a minor-league game are enjoyable (“Happy Birthday” is depressing from the first note…)
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,777
    Anna, we implemented the seasonal Marian antiphons at my last parish at all masses. It was really a rather resounding success, imho. Even the school kids could sing them from memory. It was lovely, and typically one less thing for me to have to plan. The congregation also balks less at the latin since a.) it is repetitious so they have plenty of time to acclimate and b.) you can get away with murder when it comes to our Lady.

    I recently had a discussion with someone who obtained his masters in medieval music in Ireland, and he did copious amounts of plainchant study. One thing his teachers did was to make him and his classmates sing "repeat-after-me-style" quite a lot. They would learn things by ear before then being shown the music, at which point they would then reverse engineer the notation and do some semiological study. He emphasized that his teacher was relentless about singing first and making them repeat back before seeing the music.

    I tried to implement a similar strategy with my choir after learning of this, so for a few weeks in a row, I made my choir warm up by singing the Communio for Corpus Christi a few syllables at a time. The first few weeks, they struuuuuugled. And grumbled too. But then they got better and better at it. And eventually, they could sing whole phrases back to me with relative accuracy. So when it finally came time, I gave them the music and we were able to put it all together and then chant the gregorian communio for a feast day. I intend to continue this practice for more difficult chants.

    At my last parish, I was there for 5.5 years and we immediately obtained the Fr. Weber books upon my arrival. It took 2-3 full cycles before they were really competent, and we started out with tons of option ii's and option iii's. Then we worked our way up to the simpler option i's and eventually added in more and more of the harder/longer option i chants. (There are something on the order of 160+ Fr. Weber practice tracks on YouTube which I created to help them wade through this process and practice more from home.) After about one year of WEEKLY chanting, they became very adept, and even began to prefer the square note notation.

    We started out by adding the communios prior to the communion hymn. After about 8-10 months of that, we added in the introit after the entrance hymn, while the altar was being incensed. This way, nothing was taken away—we simply added something that wasn't there before. In the end, it worked really well, and by the time I left, I could hand them more complicated latin chants no problem. They would take some rehearsing and coaxing, but it was a total non-issue to hand the music to them. They could tackle it and they weren't the least bit put out.

    All in all, I'd say it was a resounding success, and I'm hoping to repeat the process at my new job.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,777
    And, as an anecdote, I'll just share that we've been using source & summit vernacular propers for the past few months. I had a gentleman tell me that his teenage grandchildren who attend every week have talked multiple times at the Sunday dinner table about how much they love hearing the chant at Mass. He is thrilled to death that "they get it". He also had different grandchildren come visit from out of town recently and they were apparently blown away, and lamented that the music wasn't like that at their church back home. Make of that what you will!