Ana Laura Rey teaches choral conducting at the Universidad de la República Uruguay. Here she offers a short talk (19 minutes) on the basic ideas of rhythm in Gregorian chant, and on how choral conductors can benefit from learning chant, starting with the classic Solesmes interpretation and moving on to semiology.
Spoiler alert: this article amounts to nothing but extemporaneous thoughts…..
Some who frequent here may recoil, others might think “Uh oh, he’s off his meds again!” Others will wander through and exit with a quiet “Ho hum.”
Reverend Father David Friel composed a lovely, tender yet powerful article about how all God’s singers are definitely not created equal, and many of whom gravitate towards church choirs who are clueless to that reality. His advice reflects a wisdom that his boyish visage betrays. Good priest, this Fr. David! He offers some very pastorally sound advice upon how we choirmasters can make the best of our often meager talent pool, and with utmost charity and dignity still work towards preserving the integrity of the choir and its art in a musically impoverished era. His article spurred a great deal of reflection within me about who we choirmasters are and how we go about our business.
Here I offer some of those occuring thoughts-
*Choirs are figuratively (and in Vivaldi/Mozart’s day quite literally) hospitals for minds, souls, hearts, egos and voices who are afflicted with either a talent they earnestly want to share with God and the people who worship Him, or some who have a portion of their being absent, or discomfited by some psychological or emotional desire to fill that hole by becoming part of a whole that is about wellness, progress, healing and success. Others are simply like the young prince in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who simply cries out, “But Father, I just want to SING!” Singers can’t help themselves most of the time in that way. So, what does that make directors? Both doctor and nurse, orderly and chaplain, social worker and CEO, an unknown visitor and a comforting friend.
*Choir directors of church ensembles have immense gravitational pull and power. As celestial objects, we come in all sizes, varying constitutions and often with purposes and behaviors that can both attract and detract, sometimes simultaneously. We can be the Sun in spring and autumn, or a dark star in death throes that pull others into spirals that end in disaster eventually. I think that if we try to remember to “come down to earth” (still a celestial object) we can emulate earth’s relationship to both the star which is the sun and the perfect, all encompassing light of the Son. We are in harmony with our solar system, both inwardly and with those folks who gravitate with us.
*We must be emissaries, ambassadors and advocates of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Himself the primordial Logos. This goal is no small feat. We need to intimately know the breadth of Holy Writ, and the vast body of texts and musical settings, that when truly married, will deliver the import of scripture readings that Holy Mother Church with the guidance of the Holy Spirit over centuries has parced into elegant tapestries that will inspire us to take the Word into our daily lives every waking hour. Even moreso, our well chosen song helps us become those tapestries for others to see and hear. For those who, for whatever reason, do not hear the lessons fully, who cannot enable us via homilies experience the “deep, deep down freshness” of our Sunday and Office readings, we can awaken the slumbering and wandering mind and heart with the well-chosen song, a Proper song, a blossoming lyric born from the Word, replete with melodies, harmonies and forms worthy of that task.
Perhaps this last analogy remains the most challenging for “directors (what a dry term!)” God is love, and love is at all times, even harsh times, beautiful as well as everlasting. Only by being faithful messengers enlivened by Grace are we then able to sing “Lord, Your Love is everlasting, do not forsake the work of Your hands.”