Getting Started on Chant

I was deeply touched by this testimonial from Susan Carroll of the I Cantori Vocal Studio:

At present I teach voice in my home studio and have a small schola of high school girls who have been with me for years. Recently, I was asked by the Friars at the Franciscan Monastery in D.C. if my schola – called “I Cantori” would sing once or twice a month at their 10 am Sunday liturgy and become the “regular” choir of the Monastery.

I accepted – of course – and consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to serve the liturgy in such a worthy setting with the acoustics of a (well-built) great Cathedral. 
Here’ the point: Last night, in my living room, I took my new copy of the “Simple English Propers” in hand and had “my girls” (ages 12 -14)  around me to prepare for Mass this Sunday — and began work on the Introit and Communio for the liturgy.  At previous rehearsals I had explained that we would be starting to sing the Propers and provided them (via email) with brief instruction on why, what and how — along with a brief history of the place of the Propers in the liturgy.  I had also sent them links to the Watershed tutorials on Youtube,  and asked them to prepare the Introit and Communio for rehearsal last night – if possible.
However, I didn’t tell them that they’d have to quickly learn how to read neumes or give them any hint that they were going to read the chants in Gregorian notation. Now these girls are dedicated and they have been singing various chants of the liturgy with me for years.  However, they are also incredibly silly, talkative, inattentive and all of that–AND, they are very busy, popular girls who are also athletes, actresses, big sisters, etc. 
I didn’t have time to actually plan a detailed lesson for them – we had a good deal of music to rehearse; however, at the last minute I decided to read them the tutorial from the forward of the Simple English Propers as we carefully worked our way through the Introit. 
The happy denouement is that even with my lack of preparation, the little introduction in the hymnal for the Simple English Propers was perfect.  They were able to understand exactly what they were trying to decode, made notes right on their music (at my insistence) and sang the Introit with the purity of angels.  Once I gave them a little direction on how to interpret the simple loveliness of the unison line, singing with reverence and care to shape the chant as if they were singing the waves of the ocean (arsis and thesis) – they totally understood their role.  They quickly grasped the concept of the differences in the various neumes and remembered which notes had to be sung first and how to group the notes by twos and threes. 
Then, unexpectedly – within 5 minutes and two iterations of the Introit, I witnessed something very beautiful as they became less of a “choir” and more of a “schola.”  What do I mean by that? Well, to me, it is the submission of the ego in response to something more beautiful, creative and powerful than oneself — in service to the ultimate “art form” (for lack of a better phrase) — the Sacred Liturgy.  The chant did what we know it is capable of: it introduced itself to them and taught them how to interpret it IN LIGHT OF THEIR FAITH. 
I guess what I’m trying to say is that although these girls are already open to the power of the liturgy and they do – for the most part – take their faith seriously, interpreting the Introit somehow matured their faith.  I could see it in their demeanor as they chanted and I could definitely hear it in their voices as they were careful not to overpower the delicacy of the “line” as they sang.  
It wasn’t just that they performed the chants with clarity and a purity of sound – there was a humble honesty in their rendering – as if they were beholding an ancient, holy thing that they didn’t quite understand – yet compelled them in some silent corner of their faith. 
I wasn’t surprised and yet, I have to say that I was a bit shocked- as one is shocked when one’s fervent but hopeless prayer is gently answered — at the same time that we become aware that – to our astonishment! — our prayer is in the process of being answered!  It was the shock of innocent faith to the disillusioned (me) that a prayer I’ve held so deeply in my heart of hearts could actually be answered – even though I had “secretly” lost hope.
Because for a holy moment in my living room – my girls experienced a transcendence that had nothing to do with how beautiful they sounded and everything to do with how reverent and faithful they sounded.  Does that make sense?  It has to because it’s the truth.   

See you in Steubenville, Pt. 2

Tomorrow I will be flying back to the Franciscan University of Steubenville once again, this time to give a presentation at a liturgical conference for the Diocese of Steubenville.

You may have heard that this Diocese has mandated the singing of the Missal Chants ONLY during the introduction period of the new translation of the Roman Missal. I have not yet heard of another diocese that is not allowing commercial Mass settings to be sung in favor of the music actually in the Missal. This means, of course, that this is the only ordinary that will be heard on the campus of Franciscan University for, I believe, the first six months following Nov. 27, 2011.

So it is very good to see the wonderful liturgical happenings of this diocese. The conference is sure to be great with talks also being given by Bishop Sarratelli, Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Denis McNamara and Dr. John Bergsma. Please note the absence of the abbreviation “Dr.” before my name. I feel a bit out of place here, but am humbled to be invited and will give that which I have to offer. The talk will be very similar to my talk for the liturgical musician retreat last month, though will be somewhat shortened and directed to non-musicians. I would appreciate your prayers! I am told the talks will be video taped, so perhaps we can post these at a later time.

More English Mass Settings – Watershed

On 25 October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. The English saints are truly remarkable and have set a extraordinary model for our imitation. We should also ask their intercession.

Composer Jeff Ostrowski has included four complete Mass settings in the Vatican II Hymnal, and each is dedicated to one of the English Martyrs (see below). Also of note: a video production company called Mary’s Dowry Productions has recently come into being, and is primarily dedicated to producing fantastic videos about the English Martyrs.

With regard to musical settings of the Mass, the parts of the Mass Ordinary are very short and do not represent a serious challenge for the composer, with the exception of the “Glory To God,” which is a longer text and requires structural considerations. In particular, the new ICEL translation of the “Glory To God” has proven to be very difficult for many modern composers to set if they do not choose the Gregorian settings as their model. Included below are five examples of the “Glory To God” taken from the Vatican II Hymnal.

A talented classical scholar, St. Ralph Sherwin was ordained a priest on 23 March 1577 by the Bishop of Cambrai. In 1580, he was imprisoned, and on 4 December severely racked. Afterwards, St. Sherwin was laid out in the snow. The next day he was racked again. He is said to have been personally offered a bishopric by Elizabeth I if he converted, but refused. After spending a year in prison he was finally brought to trial with St. Edmund Campion. In 1581, he was taken to Tyburn on a hurdle along with St. Alexander Briant and St. Edmund Campion, where the three martyrs were hanged, drawn and quartered. This holy man’s last words were, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi Jesus!” The Mass setting in his honor is relatively short, bright, and not too challenging for the average congregation:

St. Edmund Arrowsmith joined the Society of Jesus in 1624. In 1628, he was arrested when betrayed by the son of a landlord he had censured for an incestuous marriage. Having been convicted of being a Roman Catholic priest in England, his sentence was death, and he was hanged, drawn and quartered on August 28, 1628. His fellow-prisoner, Father John Southworth (afterwards a Martyr) absolved him as he went forth to undergo the usual butchery. The Mass in honor of St. Arrowsmith is a slightly more difficult than the St. Ralph Sherwin Mass, but more in the Gregorian style:

St. Edmund Jennings was ordained priest in 1590, being then only twenty-three years of age. He was arrested while saying Mass in the house of St. Swithun Wells on 7 November 1591 and was hanged, drawn and quartered outside the same house on 10 December. His execution was particularly bloody, as his final speech angered Topcliffe, who ordered the rope to be cut down when he was barely stunned from the hanging. It is reported that he uttered the words, “Sancte Gregori, ora pro me,” while he was being disembowelled. St. Swithun Wells was hanged immediately afterwards. The Mass in honor of St. Jennings, although modal, is a metrical Mass. It was written for congregations who are not used to singing Gregorian chant:

St. Anne Line was the daughter of William Heigham, an ardent Calvinist, and when she and her brother announced their intention of becoming Catholics both were disowned and disinherited. When Father John Gerard established a house of refuge for priests in London, St. Anne was placed in charge. On 2 February 1601, Fr. Francis Page was saying Mass in the house managed by Anne Line, when men arrived to arrest him. The priest managed to slip into a special hiding place, prepared by St. Anne, and thus escape. However, she was arrested, along with two other laypeople. She was tried on 26 February 1601, but was so weak that she was carried to the trial in a chair. She told the court that so far from regretting having concealed a priest, she only grieved that she “could not receive a thousand more.” She was hanged the next day. The Mass in honor of St. Anne Line is a very simple setting that might be nice for weekday Masses when there is no organist:

The Vatican II Hymnal also contains the ICEL “Missal chants,” and organ accompaniments for these chants can be freely downloaded here. The ICEL “Glory To God” is an English adaptation of Gloria XV from the Gregorian Kyriale: