How to form and train a new choir?
  • For those of you who have done this, all the advice i can get would be helpful. What are the first steps to take in starting a new, more traditional choir, and training them to sing the chant ordinaries, as well as chant hymns? How do keep them interested, or attract people when you first start out? How much commitment do you ask of them? Pretty much any advice you have from having had success with starting a choir/schola that is learning good latin and english music.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Start small. Start VERY small. My choir has been all but run into the ground at this point. I got some great things accomplished last year, but I think it was too much and the choir is now 2-3 people meeting sporadically. I'd say start with getting together with another person or two and say "hey, would you like to sing (Gregorian hymn) with me at Mass sometime?" Then, after you've sung with a few people, ask if they'd all like to get together to sing a communion or something. It also helps people see it as a "congregation thing" rather than you forcing it on them.
  • Gavin is correct. And don't schedule any liturgical gigs until you have met for a few months.
  • The chants will keep them interested. My guys in the new schola are very enthused and we're mostly doing psalm tones at the moment! They really like the Epiphany antiphons and the hymn for the day, "Crudelis Herodes". It's been hard work, but so worth it.

  • Liz
    Posts: 6

    I just started a new job at the end of Sept. The pastor wanted a complete change of direction from the P&W that had been the staple for many years. I tried to gain some interest in a men's schola but knew that the congregation had absolutely no idea what I was talking about ("why don't you want women?"; "don't you ever want women to sing?" etc. "men ONLY?") So, my idea was to find professionals that knew how to sing chant or at least could learn how to sing quickly without too much instruction. I decided to set the goal at Advent I. What a huge hit! There were 5 men that sang the Introit; Psalm; Communion & a Communion motet (as well as harmonize on the hymns). You could hear a pin drop in the congregation. The congregation had never heard such music. I'm blessed with a fabulous pastor that is behind this movement so that is a real benefit. We are going to continue through Advent and midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. After that, I'll see what happens with the parish congregation. I would love to form a women only schola (a la Anonymous 4) that could combine with the men for various services.

    I think the best part of adding sacred chant to the liturgy is you really don't need dozens of singers. These 5 men produced enough sound to fill the church. I can't help but think that is the beauty of gregorian chant. It sounds beautiful sung by a few or many.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 757

    That's great - congratulations.

    Why the single-sex approach?
  • At some point, every parish schola must deal with that the musical difficulties of singing chant with with both men and women's voices -- and this introduces the potential for an odd sort of strife rooted in political and social issues. There is no real reason for this. There are ways around these problems that use everyone's voices to their fullest extent. Actually Arlene Oost-Zinner and I are going to work on an article on this topic.
  • Liz
    Posts: 6

    I decided to start with men only because I knew they would be the most difficult group to reach. My thought was to encourage the men and make it less intimidating for them. The women are generally an easier sell. I do intend on including women (as I mentioned above) just wanted it as simple as possible for the short time frame I was dealing with. Also, a few women approached me with completely different ideas than what I was trying to accomplish and I didn't want to immediately turn them away and since no men came forward it was easy to start with them. Kind of a psychological approach I guess but it seems to have worked.
  • Jeffrey: I'm eager to see your and Arlene's article.

    When the members of Harmonia (two men, two women) chant the Communio, we generally sing the refrain together and alternate men and women on verses. Gives the singers a chance to rest, provides a little variety for listeners, and is a good opportunity for each same-sex pair to work on sounding like one voice.
  • The single-sex approach to scholas is rooted in tradition, but also one needs to consider aesthetics. Chant simply sounds better in unison. It's hard enough to tune without dealing with octaves on every note. We live, however, in a society that has a serious mistrust of anything that is single gender.

  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 757

    I too look forward to your article. I'm happy to ignore Pius X on mixed choirs, but agree that the issue of vocal blend needs special attention when singing monophonic chant.
  • The whole gender issue is a strange one since the voicings don't always follow gender lines. This weekend I sang soprano on a Di Lasso motet - and I have an alto that frequently sings tenor.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I'm wary of the "boys only rule" that some reforming choirs exercise, but Ann really makes a good case for it. Women will jump right on the choir bandwagon, the challenge is men. Once you have men active in music, everything else should fall in place.
  • I'm more than wary, Gavin, because the discussion flies in the face of both reasoned experience and a "Plessy v. Ferguson-like " denial in mindset that rationalizes and justifies the "discriminate" solution out of convenience.
    As to the former, we know that women, properly trained have been singing chant with precision and beauty for centuries, and not just since Peter Phillips and Anonymous 4 showed up. More to the point, in my first CMAA collquium that many of us here attended in June, I would think it was evident that "unison" was achieved on a greater level than whether just intonation, phrasing, rhythmic nuance and vowel/phoneme consensus resulted. Namely, that of the grace present in the informed and practiced effort of performance.
    And I don't deny the efficacy (which was also modeled at CMAA) of schola assignments based upon gender that Jeffrey advances. We utilize those options at my parish as well.
    (eg. our men chant the Communio antiphon and psalm vs.1 while the women receive, and then rejoin the men for the remainder; the men receive during the congregational hymn.)
    And, mon ami Dr. Mike, as much as my sentiment agrees with you on the "aesthetic," my heart in charity has to accede to the more Pauline demands of a "no Jew nor Greek" ethos- just work the folks as best and as far as you can, and let them enjoin in the communion of the chant (and the polyphony, and the hymns) as best they can.
  • Charles,

    Of course. Please don't read my comments as misogynistic or anything like that. In my case, I started the chant group outside the walls of a parish so that I could have a) access to more people, and b) some say in the membership. I prefer the sound of unison male and female groups, with all singing together on polyphony. If I were in a parish, I don't know if I would do it this way, but I'm not so I get to exercise some preferences. I should say, though, that we do have one alto in the group but she understands that she must negotiate the men's range to sing with us. I do hope the women's group gets off the ground soon, though.

  • No worries, Mike, I didn't regard them as such.
    Without trying to walk a fence-line, I am cautious that our efforts in the so-dubbed "Re-reform" are always generated from pious idealism, not pedantic idol-ism (and that is just a sentiment in general and not intended as a specific indictment towards anyone.)
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Back to the original question, Kimberly,

    Attracting a few guys to sing chant wasn't that hard - I find that each person has their own reason. Some love to sing, some hearken back to their childhood, some want to learn something new. So the idea is to welcome each person and bring them together by singing some great stuff. But not too challenging at first! A big part of bringing people together is to have them start to feel COMFORTABLE and become confident. That's taken a couple of years, so you have to be patient.

    We probably moved into performing the music too quickly - as Jeffrey said, you want to know what you're doing before going out there trying to lead a mass. We stumbled for awhile on this one. Of course, the schola members also become impatient if they're purely practicing for too many months.

    One thing which helps our group is that I do a recording of each song, provide a clean photocopy, and provide translations where appropriate. We do both English and Latin, our parish isn't ready for 100% Latin yet. So each person has the opportunity to practice (using the practice CD, and now, recordings on our website) in between our weekly practices. For the last year we were singing approximately one mass a month. This year we're increasing that to two masses a month, which really means only one detailed practice in between each mass, plus a warmup of about 25 minutes. We have that planned through Easter, and I'm trying to monitor the group to make sure they don't get burned out. This new plan does mean we don't have the time to go after such challenging music, though.

    Attend as many workshops as you can - you'll hear lots of divergent points of view, but it will make you better and give you a lot of experience. Read as much as you are able. Follow along with discussions, like on this forum. I've described it as, "My job is to keep 5 minutes ahead of my guys." See if you can find someone who knows Latin (my Achilles' heel).

    And keep praying!
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    Off topic:

    I too prefer the sound of chant sung in one octave, except for the sequences (which sound great alternating between unison and octaves for paired verses). I use the terms "treble choir" and "F-clef choir," the former including children and male altos, the latter female tenors. Using a term like "men's schola" is just going to add to the view that chant is old fashioned and exlusive.

    On topic:

    I would suggest starting with the handful of hymns in Latin "Jubilate Deo," then "Chants of the Church" or "Liber cantualis." Many of these are available in English singing translations. The unofficial English collection "By Flowing Waters" is a good step towrad singing antiphons and psalms in the "Graduale simplex." Then move on to "Communio" (starting with the chants for general use) and the English adaptations in the "American Gradual" before tackling the "Gregorian Missal" or "Graduale Romanum."