Monday, April 28, 2014

A New Resource for Chant Solfege from CMAA

Cours élémentaire et pratique de plain-chant grégorien, Troisième édition
P. Balduinus van Poppel, O.C.R.

Westmalle, Belgium: Imprimerie Cistercienne, 1949
Reprint, Richmond: Church Music Association of America, 2014

A New Resource for Chant Solfège from CMAA

With the daunting title and author, Cours élémentaire et pratique de plain-chant grégorien by P. Balduinus van Poppel, O.C.R., one might be tempted to pass over this little gem.  Originally published in 1906, this is the third edition of a comprehensive set of exercises in the singing of chant.  This book, used judiciously, is a wonderful resource for schola directors and dedicated singers who have longed for systematic sight-singing exercises geared specifically for chant.  

Again, the Church Music Association of America gives us another book that will help us develop scholas with sure and beautiful intonation.

Originally a comprehensive course in chant, the third edition published in 1949 removed the theoretical material, retaining only brief introductions to each of the three sections of practical exercises.  Here is sight-singing on the four-line staff, with movable do-clefs and fa-clefs.  The exercises progress methodically through interval training in Part One to the full range of Gregorian neumes in Part Two.  While singers might quail at the elaborate names of the compound neumes in Part Two, schola directors can calm their hearts by reminding them that they are simply amalgamations of neumes they already know.  There is no need to learn their names unless one wishes to make a splash at musicological cocktail parties. Part Three is the pinnacle of the exercises, requiring the singer to move from one mode to another with the clef (and thus, the mode) changing every two bars.  Only for the very adept singer. 

Each part has an introduction in Dutch, French, and English, so language is no barrier to this book.  Pater Balduinus van Poppel (1862-1945) was a monk of the Abbey of Saint Benedictus in Achel, Belgium. He taught chant in his own monastery, as well as other religious houses, parishes, and seminaries.  The opening material to the book includes a tribute to Pater Balduinus in Dutch and a warm endorsement in French by Dom Joseph Pothier of Solesmes and St. Wandrille fame.
Schola directors who want to improve (or begin) their singers’ training in solfège will find here the exercises that will speed the learning of new chants by instilling a familiarity with intervals and neumes of Gregorian notation.    An over-zealous director might be tempted to go from one exercise to another to another in a single rehearsal.  Do that for a few weeks and you might be improving your solfège by yourself.  Perhaps one exercise each week as part of the schola warm-up will suffice, combining the solfège with the development of unified tone that comes from singers listening to each other.  An interval study of those thorny fourths and fifths might be in order for an adept schola that needs some cleaning up on those intervals.

The Cours élémentaire et pratique de plain-chant grégorien is a book that every schola director will want to own. It is available in hard copy for $12.99.  As is the policy of the CMAA, it is also available for download at no cost.  
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