Sunday, July 20, 2008

Report on Chant Australia

Cotton Ward of Australia sent in the following report, which I am running without blockquotes so it will be easier to read:

Juventutem had the pleasure of US chant legend Scott Turkington, director of the Stamford Schola Gregoriania, spending two weeks in Australia for WYD – the first week spent in Melbourne doing workshops during Days in the Diocese and the second in Sydney doing workshops and daily Mass music for WYD.

Scott described the trip as "fantastic". "The best part was meeting Australians – they have a reputation for being wonderful and they lived up to it," Scott said.
As you can imagine from these comments, he was a huge hit - everyone who met him was charmed by his good nature and sense of humour.

Scott was so busy in meetings sorting out the music and rehearsing the choir that despite being in Sydney on Monday, and living in a hotel around the corner from the Harbour Bridge and Opera House vista, it was Friday before he first got a break and had time to see it.

Describing the special chant class he conducted in Sydney, Scott said: "It was a lot of fun. There was a total mix of people from everywhere but most of them were Aussies.

"The workshop was full. About one-quarter of them were Juventutem people and the other three-quarter were WYD folks.

"They started singing right away. Everyone learnt the Kyrie II.

"Then Adoro Te Devote, and Ave Maria, and Alleluia from the Gradual."

He also covered chant history, its importance and role in both the New and Old Rites.

A handout included a table of neums students could practise at home.

Scott said there wasn't any difference between chant in the US and in Australia. "That's one of the great things about it – it's the same everywhere. The Latin language unites us so everyone – whether you're Chinese, French or Australian – can sing the Kyrie and Glorias together."

The only moment of cultural confusion occurred when Scott kept asking our Aussie chant teacher, David Molloy, to play an "A" on the organ (I think to start off the Ave Maria Victoria) but, because of Scott's accent, David kept playing an "E". Scott looked slightly puzzled but got us all to carry on a couple of times until we hit such low notes we were crashing through the floorboards. When it was sorted out there was much teasing about diphthongs and how to "properly" pronounce an "A".
So when will we see Scott again? He said he'd love to come back to visit and invited us all to go to the US to do intensive two-week courses he teaches in Gregorian chant at Loyola University sponsored by the CMAA. Do an online search and you can find details of his various workshops.

Music director at St Augustine's in Sydney (where Juventutem was based) David Hinder, attended Scott's chant workshop said: "Scott's very poetic, he makes the music breathe. He conducts the music to make it flow. When he plays the organ he makes it sing. He's an outstanding musician. We were blessed to have him here."
An atheist friend of mine, who is not Catholic and has such a short attention span he usually texts people during movies, sat through 1.5 hours of Vespers and Benediction in Latin (and he had no program in front of him) and got through it by following Scott's conducting. "Who was that?" he asked. "It was great watching him. It was just right – not too over the top."

Meanwhile, our resident Aussie chant legend, David Molloy, who attended all Scott's choir rehearsals and workshop, described Scott as a "great teacher and a lovely character". David flew out of Australia today, headed for Switzerland to do a Gregorian chant study tour for a couple of weeks.

[This interview was interrupted by a bloke who had to tell Scott that his playing of a Bach piece was "the best I've ever heard". This bloke had listened to the piece many times and was blown away by Scott's version. "It was so good it was distracting." Scott apologised for it being distracting, and then they discussed some of details of the piece.]

I'll conclude with some notes made during Scott's choir rehearsals:

+Music pages should never be stapled together in the top left hand corner because then you can't easily see the notes on the second page.

+Don't share music and look onto another person's copy – everyone has to have their own music sheets.

+Don't forget to bring your music along to every practice.

+Mark *everything* the choir director says in pencil on your music so you don't forget. The more marks the better.

+Listen to the rest of the choir's voices. You're not singing by yourself.

+Practice reading the Latin words at home and really understanding the meaning of what you're singing. This makes a huge difference to how you'll sing it.

+Slow down when coming to a double bar and look at the conductor so you know when to finish the note.

+Gregorian chant is linear music – it's not horizontal.

+Chant is sung legato – glue all the words together with your voice. Don't hack it out like a marching tempo. You should be singing it like a good orator reading a poem.

+Singing Psalms should be peaceful activity – always calm and controlled and beautiful – even when you're singing about terrible things.

+For antiphons, when you're not sure how each clause ends, draw in up and down arrows to indicate how it goes.

+When there are alternating mens' and womens' parts, cross out the parts you're not singing, as it's easy to get confused and start singing the wrong bits.

+When there are numerous Latin words to squeeze into one sentence, do it by "swinging like Tarzan from one major accent to another".

+Pronounce Sancto as Sangto.

+The worst sin in Gregorian chant is to pronounce the Latin word "in" as the English word "in". It's more like "en".

+Pronounce ejus as "ay-yoos – use your tongue, it's a diphthong.

+With words such as "incubiculum", slide the notes gracefully – don't sing it like a march.

+With a word such as "semini", caress the accents.

+It's most effective to have a slight delay before an expressive neum.

+When singing a podatus that's on the accented syllable, don't fade the second note – maintain the same intensity you used for the first note.

+Be careful of the last syllable of every word – make it softer.