Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Report on "Pride of Place: Gregorian Chant in the Liturgy"

[This past September was a month of a plethora of liturgical conferences. One of those conferences was hosted by the Liturgical Institute in Chicago, part of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein. Here is a report on that conference. This is only part of the report written. To read the entire report, click here.]

by Colleen Carter


I. The Liturgies


We sang Vespers each of the three nights of the conference. Vespers was completely sung in a fairly monastic style, with Margaret and I seated on one side of the sanctuary facing Dr. Schaefer and the acolytes on the other. The psalm verses we sang in English, and everything else was in Latin. Dr. Schaefer acted in his capacity as deacon (he is a deacon of the Diocese of Spokane). We used the old form for Vespers, not modern Evening Prayer. We sang Sunday’s Vespers all three nights because we thought it would be less confusing for those participants not familiar with Vespers if we did not have to sing different psalms and antiphons every night. It seems to have worked, as everyone was singing along beautifully by Tuesday evening, although I’m not sure everyone got all the sitting, standing, and bowing right.

Morning Prayer

Fr. Douglas Martis and Dr. Denis McNamara of the Liturgical Institute led Morning Prayer for the conference participants, using excerpts from the forthcoming Mundelein Psalter. I confess I only attended Morning Prayer on one morning, both because I needed to prepare for, and because I am not at all fond of the modern version of Morning Prayer. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the attempt that they have made to make it easier for people to chant these prayers. The Mundelein Psalter uses St. Meinrad tones rather than traditional psalm tones. These tones are very easy to pick up—you can sing them almost instantly. If someone wanted to start a group of non-musicians singing Morning, Evening, or Night Prayer together, the Mundelein Psalter might be a good choice. Someone with more musical ability might be bored by the extremely simple St. Meinrad tones, and the lack of more melodic or melismatic music for the antiphons, although Fr. Martis said that a composer is working on more interesting music for the antiphons. Further information about the Psalter can be found on the Liturgical Institute’s website under “projects.”


The Liturgical Institute’s own Fr. Martis was the principle celebrant for Monday evening’s Mass. Conference participants Fr. David Austin of Carey, IL and Fr. Brian Muzas of New Jersey were courageous enough to volunteer to sing Mass on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, respectively. Another conference-goer, Mr. Gerald Chalupka of Chicago, kindly provided us with organ music for the offertory and recessional on the chapel’s handsome instrument.

The chapel at Mundelein has ideal acoustics for chant. Its rectangular shape, its marble floors and plaster ceiling, and total lack of tapestries, carpeting, or curtains of any kind combine to provide a reverberation time of what must be at least six seconds. Hymns probably produce something like cacophony in such a setting, but the free rhythm and monodic line of the chants were displayed to their best advantage. Margaret and I sang the Introit (Da pacem) each day. We received several compliments on the beauty of our rendition, but I think it was at least partly the delightful acoustics; to the best of my recollection, we do not usually sound so nice in the schola’s carpeted chapel at home. A picture of the interior of the chapel at Mundelein can be found on the history page of the seminary’s website.

The Masses were all chanted—everything but the homily was sung. The priest’s parts were mostly in English, but the Propers and Ordinaries were in Latin. The Missa Cantata book and congregational booklets published by Priory Press were used. On Tuesday morning, both the beginner and advanced workshop participants came together to discuss the first Mass. The reaction of many is best described as culture shock. Some of the conference participants had almost no previous experience with chant, and some had no experience with chant other than having grown up with it before the Second Vatican Council. For them to experience, as one person put it, “chant by immersion,” was quite as shocking and bewildering as traveling to a foreign country. Despite the strangeness of the experience, all but one reacted unreservedly positively, and the reactions became even more enthusiastic by the end of the third Mass the following morning. Wednesday’s Mass, by the way, was the feast of Sts. Andrew Kim, Paul Chong Hasang, and companions.

II. Substance of the Lectures

In the morning, there were two workshops available for the participants. Margaret and I were in charge of the session aimed at beginners, and we began with the assumption that those attending our workshop knew almost nothing about chant. We started off with reading chant notation and brief explanation of the modes, went over the tones for the Mass and the readings, and taught three sets of Ordinaries--the three that the Gonzaga schola uses for Mass: the first was the Sanctus and Agnus Dei from the Requiem Mass with Kyrie from Mass XVI and Gloria from Mass VIII, the second was Mass XI with Kyrie B, and the third was Mass XVII with Kyrie C. When Dr. Schaefer put together the materials for the Chant Mass at Gonzaga, he chose settings that he thought people would be likely to have heard or know, if they were at all familiar with chant. If three settings seem like very little for a really good schola, remember that Gonzaga's schola only sings for Sundays during the school year--the only major feast on their calendar is Easter, and they do a polyphonic ordinary for that.

Dr. Schaefer talked about the chants of Holy Week with the more advanced group of musicians. He also taught them to sing the Gradual for the week of the conference and a brave soul volunteered to sing the verse at Mass (she did very well). Beyond that, I have little idea of what they discussed.

Monday and Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, both groups met together and Dr. Schaefer lectured. Margaret and I provided occasional musical support for examples. We spent most of Monday afternoon going through Vespers so that everyone would be able to sing or at least follow along. In relation to this, we also discussed psalm tones.

In the above section on Vespers, I mentioned that the Gonzaga schola uses the old form of Vespers, and not the modern Evening Prayer. There are some practical reasons for this decision. One is that Evening Prayer is considerably different, and does not fit with the old chants. There is no official notated version; Evening Prayer, as it stands, is not really meant to be sung. Another reason for using the older form of Vespers is the one-week cycle. Our Sunday psalms are our Sunday psalms, and the schola does not need to learn new music each week to sing Vespers.

On Wednesday morning, we talked about resources for chant and also for polyphony. CanticaNova received several mentions, as did Choral Public Domain Library, the Solesmes books of course, many of which are available through GIA, and also the Missa Cantata book and other resources available through Dr. Schaefer's Priory Press. Dr. Schaefer discussed the pros and cons of the Graduale Simplex and By Flowing Waters.

Dr. Schaefer and I were somewhat disappointed in the reaction of many of the conference when asked what they thought they might take back to their parishes out of all this. About six of the 35 people had had to leave already, and I would have been very interested in what they might have had to say about it, but many of those who remained seemed to have missed the most important point we had tried to get across. Maybe we didn't stress it enough. Our point was this: don’t just sing at Mass, sing the Mass. Constantly switching between chant and normal speech is jarring and can make the chant seem somewhat out of place, and the more the choir chants, the more transitions between chant and speech there will be, and the more uncomfortable it will be for all who listen. Just adding a few chants here and there is a good start, but ultimately, it is not enough.

[To read the entire report, click here.]

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