How much detail should you give to a new Gregorian chanter? This was not an issue for me when I and the other members of our schola were first learning. I didn't know any detail to share, so we forged forth with only the barest of essential information with which to work. Now that I have studied for a time, understand the essentials of the Solesmes method, rhythmic markings, arsis, thesis, neume interpretation... breathing rules, etc... it is difficult for me to keep it to myself.
Even such things as hearing the difference between a minor and major third (crucial to good intonation) seem to be a bit difficult to teach initially. As we were going through this concept last night at our weekly rehearsal, I found an easy way to explain it. We simply went over to the piano keyboard and looked at the black and white keys. Assuming 'do' is a 'C', we went through the diatonic scale and found the spots where there were no black keys between (mi-fa and ti-do -- or E-F and B-C). In this way I was able to explain first of all the difference between a half-step and a whole-step and then, later, a major and minor third and demonstrate the difference in sound. The visual aid of the piano keys really helped.
So... although the sound difference isn't really yet firmly established, at least mentally the concept is understood. But, should we really be discussing this at such an early stage? I don't really know if it is a good thing or not. The reason we ventured into this topic was the difficulty we were having with hearing the minor third on the Mysterium Fidei. My initial thought was to show, using solfege, just that it was a minor third, rather than a major third... this led to the question of the terminology 'third' and then, about what constitutes a major third or a minor third... so we got a bit far afield. I also discovered that I was assuming a knowledge of music theory that shouldn't have been assumed!
I do believe this underlying understanding of the notation, solfege and of the diatonic scale is essential for anyone hoping to be able to read the notation on their own, so I think the training has value. My main concern is that I may push too much theory too fast and scare potential chanters away... any experience and opinions on that?
What we have been working on thus far:
All sung Novus Ordo Mass responses
The Kyrie is sounding pretty good (and is almost completely memorized without the music), as well as the basic sung responses for the Mass. The familiarity of the Sanctus and Agnus XVIII make them good starter chants as well. My own reduced interest in them initially made me think of bypassing them. I thought better of it, thinking that we should use what we have as a starting point. We'll clean them up, singing them with the correct phrasing and just work from there, I think.
Next week, we'll continue on with those things, trying to gain confidence in the ordinaries of the Mass. We are using Scott's method of learning new music... marking rhythmic groupings, solfege, pronunciation of the Latin, singing it in 2's and 3's... then putting it all together -- words and music. I tried bypassing a couple of steps on the Mysterium Fidei initially last night. It became immediately apparent to me how much it helps to go through all the steps. By the time we have done all those things before trying to put it together, the melody has become somewhat familiar and we have isolated the elements of the piece. Although it goes a bit more slowly with a beginning chanter, it really does work!