Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nuns, an island, a new organ and spectacular chanting

It has been my great privilege to pay a number of recent visits to the Abbey of St Cecilia in Ryde on the Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England. My first visit was to give a talk to the community as part of my then role as Director of Music to the UK based Panel of Monastic Musicians. The second visit, prompted by the first, was a Chant Day I organised through the Academy of St Cecilia, when Professor John Caldwell of Oxford University gave an excellent history of Chant and we enjoyed several master classes from the Monastic Choirmistress, as well as taking part in the Divine Office.

The Abbey has an interesting history in that the nuns were originally members of the community of the Abbaye Sainte- Cécile de Solesmes. The French anti religious laws of the early 20th century forced the whole community into exile in England, to the forerunner of the present St Cecilia's Abbey. After several years of exile the French community was at last able to return to Solesmes in 1921, but a number of the sisters remained and formed the community we now know today.

The sisters sing the entire Office and Mass to Gregorian Chant every day of the year. A visiting monk from Quarr Abbey, a few miles away on the same island, makes a daily trip to celebrate the Mass (Novus Ordo in Latin) and the Monastic Choir, under the direction of Sr Bernadette, a true disciple of Dom Cardine, trains the sisters on a regular basis in the Chants of the Office and the Mass, using Cardine's Semiological approach. This, coupled with the use of Dom Saulnier's new Antiphonale Monasticum, now fully in use in the Abbey, makes for the most vibrant, fluid and prayerful performance of the Chant I have heard in the UK.

The Abbey also boats a new Kenneth Tickell organ in the West End of the Monastic Choir – details of which, for all organ enthusiasts, can be seen at www.tickell­organs.co.uk/specInfo/opus54.htm. The Community can be visited at any time and has an excellent website – www.stceciliasabbey.org.uk – and I urge those of you who live in or are visiting the south of England to make a short trip across the Solent by hovercraft, ferry or catamaran, to hear the mesmeric singing of this wonderful, young, thriving, growing community of nuns.

Nick Gale, June 2010
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