Gregorian chant's renewed interest spans generations
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    BY P.J. NUTTING • • March 18, 2010

    Read the article and view the video at the website!

    Of all the ways to convince college-age kids to get involved at their church, who would have thought that Gregorian chant was the answer?
    Members of The Schola Cantorum rehearse Gregorian chants under the direction of Joel Bacon, back to camera, March 11 at Blessed John XXIII University Parish. Members, from left, include Rick Miranda, Bob Lynch, John Murgel, Father Don Willette, Jacob Tefft, Dick Borowski, Dennis Griffith and Mike Emptage.

    "My choir started with a few students getting together to sing," said Joel Bacon. The Colorado State University music professor is also the director of the men's chant choir at Blessed John XXIII University Catholic Parish. "They had never sung in Latin before, but were interested in Gregorian chant, which I teach at CSU.

    "Now we have college freshmen to men in their 60s and 70s who actually remember the Latin chant from when Latin was the only language in Mass; it's an interesting mix that way," Bacon said.

    For the older members, the chant choir is about nostalgia, said choir member Jakob Tefft.

    "But it's also about trying to bring a sacredness to Mass," the 20-year-old Colorado State University student added. "For me, it's fulfilling that traditional aspect, something beautiful I feel has been largely lost today."

    The group of two dozen parishioners is known more formally as Blessed John XXIII's schola cantorum, which Bacon joked is just a fancy way to say men's choir. More specifically, it translates to "school of singing," heralding a time in early Western music history when most music was canonic in nature and churches were often the only
    place one could go for musical instruction. Music and religious life were indistinct from one another, and listening to some of the group's earliest pieces, dating back to the sixth and seventh century, can open up a window to life in another time.

    "Saying (the Mass) in a language other than your own almost removes yourself from the world outside," Tefft said. "As soon as I came into the group, I heard them chanting in Latin; they were doing songs very slowly, very... traditionally, I guess. It was something that almost took me back 500 years."

    When singing chant music, there's a sense that this is something very old, like a "musical artifact," Bacon said.

    "While a lot of these things aren't familiar to us, especially to the younger members of our group, most of this music has been sung fairly continuously for the last 1,000 years," he said.

    Both Bacon and Tefft note there is a renewed sense of conservatism among young Catholics in the area. Young people who have left the church come back with a stronger desire for tradition, a longing for the majesty of times long gone, Tefft said.

    The first step to creating an authentic, traditional experience is to return the texts to Latin. When the group learns a new piece, the first order of business is to go over the pronunciation. "It creates more focus - you have to learn what the words mean, and then how to say them before you can sing," said Tefft, whose first sessions with the choir involved a crash course in the language (R's are rolled, odd spellings like "ae" require attention, and G's are either hard or soft depending on the vowel following it).

    "You pick it up pretty quick," Tefft said. "I'd say it takes about ten hours to learn the phonetics."

    Blessed John is not the only parish with a schola cantorum: Both St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Holy Family parishes have them and have performed with Blessed John in what they all jokingly called "Chant-a-palooza."

    "I think there's a rising interest in chant among young people," said Bacon, adding that the interest is even higher amongst his organ and liturgical studies students at CSU. "But I think this newer generation of Catholics is especially interested in the older forms of liturgy."

    It's also a lot of fun, for both the members of the choir and their director.

    "Singing in Latin is a fun experience," Bacon said. "It's a beautiful language to sing, with lots of really pure vowels.

    "Coming to rehearsal is always a pleasure for me," he added. "At the end of a day of teaching, of being in the office doing office work, to sing this kind of music is just a real joy."
  • The video is well-done, including a close up shot of the Parish Book of Chant!
    Judging from the video, the group chants in English as well as Latin.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Correction: The web page states that Compline will be at 6:00 Saturday. It's actually at 7:30pm.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I wonder why the article focuses so much on the Latin aspect rather than the chant aspect. But I've definitely seen this trend--I mean the whole college students being interested in everything ancient, and wanting to participate in the reform of the reform. I've known personally way more twenty-somethings than older people who are bent in that direction.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592