Monday, June 30, 2008

What I Learned at Chant Intensive...

So many things were wonderful about the trip to Chicago for Chant Intensive. It is hard to know where to start. I guess, first and foremost, since obviously I am not getting this commentary out while it is still news, I guess I would like to encourage others who want to improve on their knowledge and understanding of chant to plan to attend the course next year. Especially for anyone who thinks he or she may be called upon to direct a schola at some point, this instruction is invaluable. How I wish I had been able to learn this stuff - oh - maybe six or eight months ago...

If the course had been offered last summer, I would not have been ready for it. I'd still have learned a lot, of course, and been a bit farther along than I was when I began directing the schola, but I think I was able to get more with a little more experience this year.

What particular points did I take away from the course?

1. The necessity of learning, using and teaching solfege. This basic understanding of the diatonic scale and its use in sight-reading makes learning new chants so much easier.

I can remember last summer at the colloquium getting very tired of trying to sing the chants in solfege. I really could not see the value in it. I had developed my own 'cheat' system of sight-reading whereby I mentally thought of a key signature (assuming the four lines of the staff were the bottom four lines in a modern notation staff) and happily sight-read with ease. The main problem with this is the fact that my system was virtually impossible for me to teach to others (even those with a fair amount of standard notation experience). They just couldn't get it. Solfege may not be second-nature to most modern notation note-readers, but they can all understand it and get used to it with a little practice. Beginning note-readers do far better with this than trying to understand modern notation.

2. I learned so much more about the understanding of the various modes. The organization of them, the ability to hear the difference in the modal scales and a more clear understanding of them only came about for me this summer.

3. Chironomy training that is so essential for leading a schola was made so much more clear.

I had seen the basics of it in use last summer during the colloquium. I had also read about it in various chant books I have in my (ever-expanding) library. I had even tried to figure out how to direct simple drills with the arsis and thesis concept. I was not really very successful. I always simply fell back into my own simple method of directing, somewhat loosely based upon the directing I had been used to seeing while singing in choirs over the years...

The ability to see some actual rules to use in determining whether a grouping should be arsic or thetic was so very helpful. I have, since coming home, marked up many chants I already knew well with the directing notes. And yes, I have even practiced directing (no one present to direct, of course) here at home. I don't think I would have made too much progress along this particular path without having someone really show us how.

Picture the way our entire gathering of forty-some attendees all gathered around our teacher, Scott Turkington, in front of the chapel that faces Lake Michigan practicing our chironomy. We looked a bit like a tae- chi group out doing our exercises.

4. We learned the actual rules that exist for determining rhythmic groupings. Rather than just having to guess at what 'seems' right, we have actual rules!!! It had never been explained so clearly to me before. What's more, the most crucial of the rules are all printed for anyone to use in the back of the newly published Parish Book of Chant (p. 175 for anyone interested).

5. The method of teaching new chants using a combination of the various bits of information is something I will use.

Whenever we began learning a new proper during the workshop, we began by marking all the rhythmic groups according to the Solesmes method. The groupings of twos and threes and the insertion of understood rests at full- and double-bar lines helps tremendously in gaining familiarity with the chant. We also sang the chant in solfege... knowing where those half-steps are is crucial for note-reading accuracy... it is hard to miss when singing solfege. Then we would often sing the chant by the rhythmic numbers. This helped us to concentrate on the rhythm (and also gave our poor, unaccustomed-to-solfege brains a chance to rest). We would often go over the text, assuring accurate pronunciation... and finally put it all together text and notes.

I was quite astounded at how quickly the group learned new music using this method.

I'll probably think of several more really great things that I had never learned (or had the sense to absorb) before this summer... but, for now, these are the things that stick out for me. As I mentioned, I think I got more out of this course after gaining a year's worth of familiarity with the many standard chant hymns, ordinaries and propers that we used in our schola. It made the learning process much quicker for me this summer than it would have been for me as a complete novice.

I think this course offers so much possibility for those who may be thinking about starting their own schola somewhere... to have this foundational knowledge will make a huge difference in the world of Gregorian chant in the liturgy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Chant Intensive Recordings

As you can see on the top left side, I did finally find the cable I needed to upload my recordings... The music from the Mass on Friday was very nice. All the pieces we sang are there, except for the Mass responses and the Pater noster.

One of my particular favorites was the Christus Vincit with a bit of organum added, courtesy of one of our workshop attendees and a few friends.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chant Intensive Recordings

The lack of postings lately has been due to the fact that I am still surrounded by boxes that need to be unpacked and put in an appropriate place in our new home... (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

One thing that has not yet been unearthed is the cable I need to upload my recordings of the Mass to make them available. Happily, you can still get a taste of the music we sang at the Mass on Friday afternoon, thanks to my friend over at Sacred Miscellany. Mary Jane has uploaded several of the chants we sang. Click on over and give a listen...

It was a very congenial group of folks gathered there for the workshop... the relatively smaller size of the group (in comparison to the Colloquium) made it possible to meet almost everyone and share a meal and conversation along the way. It was such fun to get to sing with friends from last year's Colloquium, as well as new ones. Several bloggers were there... Sacred Miscellany, Back When We Were Liberal, Scelata, Chironomo's Podium... and some others. It was fun to be able to put a face with a blog.

I'm getting very close to finding many things I need to feel that things are back to normal around here... after that, there will be many more postings...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Chant Intensive is intense...

Today is the last day of the Chant Intensive course here at Loyola University in Chicago. The entire week has been wonderful. The weather couldn't have been any better (nice and cool, as opposed to the weather down south). We have had a bit of rain, but mostly at night, when it didn't matter.

The course has progressed very quickly through the various aspects of Gregorian chant. We started out with a pretty basic overview of neumes, interpretation of the Solesmes editions of the ordinaries and propers, including rhythmic notations...

Along the way we have also begun to learn the basics of chironomy and have worked a lot on the solfege, modes, ear training... As you can probably guess, it has been a very packed week.

Our instructor, Scott Turkington, has been great. He makes the difficult concepts very clear and understandable, even to those of us who don't have a great deal of experience with it. I would highly recommend this course to those who want to gain a bit more depth in their understanding of chant, although maybe not so much to the absolute beginner.

The facilities here at Loyola have been outstanding. The staff here have been so very helpful and friendly. The recently-renovated chapel here at the university which sits at the edge of Lake Michigan is quite beautiful and has great acoustics for the chant.

It has been a wonderful week!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Countdown...

Although I am sure this is not interesting to many, our existence these past few days has centered around preparations for the packing up which will happen starting on Tuesday. I've successfully gotten the freezer defrosted, paintings down, holes patched and painted... last-minute discards identified and in the car for delivery to our local charity...

Along with all this home preparation goes the inevitable change of addresses... utilities turn-on and cut-off... and, since we can't keep our email address from one state to another, the many online links to our email all must be updated. For those who seldom, if ever, move -- this is a very good reason to stay right where you are.

Our food supplies are dwindling, too. We must either depart or make a grocery run soon. I'm down to quick foods for the boys and a few cans of liquid meal replacements (do you think I can shed a few pounds right before the move -- that is a happy thought). I did make muffins with almost the last bit of baking supplies left this morning.

It is time to begin getting ready for Mass... I'm cantoring twice today. Our little altar server gets to serve one last time this evening at 5:30.