Friday, November 21, 2008

Local Schola Publicity

One thing that is nice about opening a schola for your parish is that the local newspaper is most certainly interested, and the result is usually an excellent story about the peculiar undertaking of singing Gregorian Chant.

This headline and story is typical of the genre: "Ancient form of music makes a come back at local churches." In ran with a nice photo spread in the Columbia Flier of Howard County in Maryland.

Here is some of the story (doesn't the Parish Book of Chant make for a great image?) but read the entire thing:

About 47 years ago, Leon Keller fell in love, as a student at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania. He was instantly drawn by a combination of beauty and serenity, which touched him deeply.

Unfortunately, he parted ways with his object of affection after graduating and, over the years, eventually lost hope that there would ever be a reunion.

But, a chance encounter last year, while visiting the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, changed all that.

The organist, Mia Coyne, randomly came up to him after Mass and asked if he would like to join a newly-forming class. Keller, taken completely by surprise, enthusiastically agreed to be a member of the group, which he knew would coincidentally put him back in touch with his long-lost love -- Gregorian chant.

"It was like divine intervention," said the St. Paul's parishioner. "Everything just fell into place."

He used to listen to Benedictine monks chanting in the basilica of his alma mater and found it extremely "beautiful and spiritual." He hadn't heard live renditions of the holy music since his college days, which left him "feeling a little disappointed" and "like something was missing" at subsequent Masses.

The classes, the brainchild of Coyne, who studied with a chant master about 20 years ago while getting her master's degree in music at Catholic University, began last fall.

"I wanted to bring back some traditional music, especially since our pope is trying to bring back more tradition and reverence to the church," said Coyne, who teaches the classes and conducts the chanters at Mass.

The participants studied the holy form of music for four months before giving their initial performance. That's because Gregorian chant, first notated in the 10th century by European monks and having roots tracing back more than 2,000 years, is very different from and much more complex than modern music.

Instead of the standard five-line notation seen today, it has four lines. The notes are square and grouped by syllables of text -- the notes of some groupings are stacked on top of each other. The class members had to learn how to sing each neume, or group of chant notes. And, language lessons were in order, because the music is sung entirely in Latin.

Coyne describes Gregorian chant as being able to "express what words cannot express."

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