How to Start a Gregorian Schola?
  • Greetings,

    That is exactly my question. How do I [who have no music training] learn enough about chant to do such a thing? Where to start? I'm printing and reading the offerings here on the site: Idiots Guide to Square Notes, and FAQs on Sacred Music. Our parish offers the extraordinary form of the Mass once a week without music. The Music Director is opposed to such 'outdated' music.

    But I want to try. I will take any pointers and read anything I can remotely understand. Any comments?

    Many thanks!

  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,244

    It's laudable that you are willing to try in spite of an apathetic Music Director. I'm sure you will get several good suggestions from people more knowledgeable than I am, but I do recommend that you listen to as much of the sung Masses and Propers (including the Simple English Propers) as you can (with the chant music in front of you) - through recordings that you can find here and at the Corpus Christi Watershed, among other places. As you listen and then sing along, you will be surprised at how quickly you will get into the flow. Best of luck, and prayers for your endeavor.

  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 986
    A lot of us have gone through this experience, so I'm hoping there will be many helpful comments here! For me:
    * Take the view that your job is merely to stay 5 minutes ahead of the rest of the schola on your learning curve. This helps to reduce the pressure you'll feel to figure everything out in advance. Don't worry about it - go ahead and give it a try, and learn as you go along.
    * Get thee to a convent, university, cathedral, or someplace that has a chant workshop. Do as many as you can. Listen to recordings, now that there's a lot available.
    * Read, read, read, and ask lots of questions. You'll get a wide variety of answers, but that's OK. There's a wide diversity of backgrounds and opinions.
    * Listen to your MD, and push only as fast as you think you can. Help him or her to develop learning as you go along.
    * Try to find the line between infectious enthusiasm and maniacal fanaticism. You don't want to set off too many peoples' alarm systems.
  • a1437053a1437053
    Posts: 198
    Forget about all the reading and complicated advice.

    #1. Make a greatest-hits CD with good easy/hard/common repertoire. (Pater Noster / Ave Maria; mini-Kyriale: new ICEL in English, Jubilate Deo, de Angelis, Orbis Factor; 4 Marian hymns for Compline; top 3 Eucharistic hymns: Ave Verum Corpus, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo, Adoro Te; Requiem Propers and In Paradisum/Chorus; and finish with a relish: Mozart's Requiem Introit and Allegri's Miserere)

    #2. Simple English Propers, weekly or monthly basis.

    #3. Finish each night with Weber's (or some sung) Compline in English.

    As far as I've moved, 100% with NO MUSICAL TALENT, this approach has been best! People will take the CD and magically sing it weeks later. At least that's what we hope at our 2nd "Chant Club" meeting in early November!

    The logical and intellectual persuasion didn't inspire; I hope the music will.

    (The other approaches just didn't work for a chant geek who owns all the blue Solesmes books but can't carry a tune.)
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 986
    I always made practice CDs for my schola. For some people, it was the primary way that they learned the music. But there was still the problem of having the skills to RECORD the tracks - and that advanced, bit by bit, over the years. All part of just staying 5 minutes ahead of the schola's learning curve.
  • a1437053a1437053
    Posts: 198
    Carl, for those of us who are totally unmusical, I don't ever see it getting too advanced. It really does take TALENT+hard work to get to some of those, even basic, chants in the Graduale. That's got to be one of the reasons for the push-back against this movement: lack of talent aimed at Church. Come to think about it, that applies throughout.
  • Thanks for the replies. I am "Google-ing" my way through them. I even lack the vocabulary as you can see, though I can read modern music notation... As suggested by Carl D. here, I am starting in stealth mode. I'm laying out my project for my spiritual director who is our pastor. He may not want to make waves with the music director who is not merely apathetic, he is opposed. We'll see.

    I am in contact with the music director at the local cathedral who will be giving a workshop in January. His training is actually in chant and he is willing to help me to some extent. They have a schola there, but it is only for more advanced singers so its not an option for me. I am allowed to listen to them practice so I'm going to make as much use of that as I can.

    a1437053--would you be willing to share the playlist of your CD specifically? I can easily make a CD if I know what to record

    Also--can anyone recommend any very elementary books to read?

    Staying optimistic....working through the Children's Chant and Chant Powerpoint on this site with much gratitude. Diana
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,332
    Also--can anyone recommend any very elementary books to read?

    Noel? You there? Someone's calling for you.
  • Ha! I was reloading my site to make sure the links would work!

    Diana, visit:

    While some have used my Beginner's Guide to Reading Gregorian Chant Notation, the IF YOU is much more in depth and also easy, I'm told, at the same time.

    On the right side of the page you will find a link to keynote or quicktime downloads of a slide show that can be used by itself for learning, and it amazing includes some wonderful english chanting by a pre-eminent singer, Matthew Curtis of Chanticleer but also of, an incredible resource for polyphony but also chant now as well.

    This is part of a 14 week curriculum I was asked to put together for learning chant - it's all there for download.

    In this book there is no learning Latin....all chanting is done in English, as some have trouble learning chant & Latin at the same time.

    (A beginning singing Latin book is lurking someplace, maybe here)

    Did I mention that the IF YOU is $24.95 but you may, and I encourage this, download it for free (my accountant says, "YOU CAN'T MAKE MONEY DOING THAT!," but he's wrong. What better way to figure out if you want a book than being able to see and read every single page?

    Everything on all my sites is available free or for purchase.

    Chant site

    Thanks, Adam!
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 986
    Well, a143, I hate to admit it in this august and talented forum, but ... my schola rarely got to the level of being able to sing the propers. Part of that is the difficulty (although they often seem scarier than they actually are) but also how fast I figured I could "push" our parish and priests.

    If I could turn back the clock, though, I'd probably be more courageous in this regard. The propers truly are beautiful and appropriate.
  • Protasius
    Posts: 468
    A good advice is listening to recordings of chant with the score in front of you. If there is a good choir in your neighboorhood, you could join it; singing in my parish's choir helped me a lot in singing by sight. And I'd like to mention a cheat I used for the first time I had to sing the propers: I copied recordings of the propers (a requiem btw) on my dictation machine, plucked my earphone in and sang along with the chant I found on the internet; if you're alone in the organ loft nobody notices it. Almost equal and less cheaty would be to find someone who has sung chant before and sing together with him.
    For the complicated propers such as Gradual, Alleluja and Tract, there is a simplified version by Richard Rice here. Also there are the socalled Rossini Propers and the Chants abreges which set all and everything to psalm tones (which sound rather boring and displeasing to me) as a help for beginners.
  • a1437053a1437053
    Posts: 198
    Carl, et. al.

    Couldn't attach the OpenDocument (*.odt) file, e-mail me if you want me to send it, but text is below:

    For Adoration
    1. O Salutaris Hostia
    2. Tantum Ergo

    The Ordinary
    * in English (new ICEL translation)
    * in Latin (Pope Paul VI's 1974 Jubilate Deo)
    3 & 4. Kyrie
    5 & 6. Gloria
    7 & 8. Sanctus
    9 & 10. Mortem Tuam (Memorial Acclam.)
    11 & 12. Pater Noster
    13 & 14. Agnus Dei
    15 – 22. Creed

    Propers for the Requiem Mass, in Latin
    23. Introit – Requiem Aeternum
    24. Communion – Lux Aeterna
    25. Recessional – In Paradisum / Chorus Angelorum

    Scales for Vocal Practice/Warmup
    26. Do Scale
    27 – 34. Modes I – VII

    Gregorian Ordinaries, in Latin
    35 – 39. “de Angelis” (VIII)
    40 – 44. “Orbis Factor” (XI)

    Canticles for the Liturgy of the Hours, in Latin
    45. Benedictus for Lauds (Morning Prayer)
    46. Magnificat for Vespers (Evening Prayer)
    47. Te Lucis Ante Terminum for Compline (Night Prayer)

    Marian Chants, in Latin
    48. Ave Maria
    49. Alma Redemptoris Mater, for Advent through February 2nd
    50. Ave Regina Caelorum, from February 2nd through Lent
    51. Regina Caeli, Easter Season
    52. Salve Regina, from Easter to Advent
    53. Stabat Mater, for Stations of the Cross

    Eucharistic Chants, in Latin
    54. Adoro te Devote
    55. Ave Verum Corpus

    Chants for the Holy Spirit
    56. Veni Creator Spiritus
    57. Veni Sancte Spiritus, sequence for Pentecost

    59. Mozart's Requiem
    by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composed in Vienna in 1791 and left unfinished at the composer's death. It is one of the most enigmatic pieces of music ever composed, mostly because of the myths and controversies surrounding it, especially around how much of the piece was completed by Mozart before his death.

    60. Allegri's Miserere mei, Deus (Have mercy on me, O God)
    by Italian composer Gregorio Allegri, is a setting of Psalm 51 composed during the reign of Pope Urban VIII, probably during the 1630s, for use in the Sistine Chapel during services on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. The service would start usually around 3AM, and during the ritual, candles would be extinguished, one by one, until one remained alight and hidden. Allegri composed his setting of the Miserere for the final act within the first lesson of the Holy Week service.
  • If you have a decent singing voice, this is more doable than you may think. A weekly EF mass without music means you have a Low Mass. Good news- the musical demands of a beginning schola would be rather small.

    Bypass rehearsing English plainchant for now. In your situation that is a waste of time. Don't worry about rehearsing ordinaries and propers for the foreseeable future- you won't sing them at Low Mass. (Do get yourself to a chant intensive and all workshops you can, so you can learn this rep and immerse yourself in it. But as long as you're schola sings at a Low Mass, why rehearse what you won't sing?)

    An immediate and workable goal if you want to start chanting in this context- Low Mass- would be to learn 5-10 chant hymns that can be sung in rotation.

    Pray for 3-5 ardent chant-loving volunteer singers to join you. Start small, practice weekly for an hour minimum (more if you are doing more than chant hymns) and make sure everything you do is WELL REHEARSED and SUNG BEAUTIFULLY.

    Catch the flies around you with honey by doing steadily beautiful work. Less is more. You may get bored with 5-10 chant hymns in the first few months, but let the people in the pews get used to it.
    Pray hard, and ALWAYS operate with the full support of the pastor. Ask him for prayers.

    Prayers and best wishes for you and the schola.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 986
    Awesome! What will make the difference is to maintain optimism, humility, and persistence. Things won't go exactly as you plan, but that's quite fine - it's the Holy Spirit in operation. All our support is with you - make sure to give us updates!