Friday, November 07, 2008

Fantastic article in Sacramento Bee

You can tell that the reporter here, Mr. Carlos Alcala, fell in love with chant in the course of writing this astounding piece on chant at St. Stephen's Catholic Church in Sacramento, California. The key person behind the effort at this parish is the studious and dedicated chant master Jeffrey Morse.

UPDATE: There is a video to go with the story!

Here are a few gems:

Gregorian chant holds a place in popular imagination as the province of hooded monks intoning monotonous melodies along dim stone corridors.

It's not like that.

At St. Stephen's Catholic Church in Sacramento, the ancient musical form is sung by children and young men and women, a multiethnic choir of multicolored voices.

Teens sing wearing Vans or boots poking out from beneath cassocks. They sing at Masses where toddlers babble and babies wail and adults walk in and out during services.

Rehearsal is in a classroom furnished with old pews, the ceiling covered in dull acoustic tiles.

The setting is mundane, but the music is ethereal. It's ear- pleasing and eye-opening, but difficult to describe.

It resonates when the men's deeper voices are breathing the Latin phrases.

When the higher voices come in, the music undulates; it flows out like unrhythmic acoustic heat: radiant music.


What Morse's choir sings during St. Stephen's Masses is largely prescribed by centuries of tradition.

"Choristers were singing the exact same text to the exact same melody in 800 on the same Sunday," Morse said. "It grounds you in history."


The music was practically dead in the United States in the late 1980s and early '90s. Morse had to go to England to study Gregorian music. "No one wanted it, basically," he said.

Things are changing, though.

There's something of a self-help movement, experts like Mahrt and Jeffery say.

A summer chant gathering four years ago had 40 participants – mostly refugees from failing choirs. This year it had 260 – some from growing choirs, some who seek to seed new ones.

There's much more. Please read this excellent piece.

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