Monday, January 04, 2010

Reporting from the Winter Intensive

A common question on day one: How many neumes do I need to learn in order to sing chant?

Well, you don't need to learn them all, but you need to learn the basics: the punctum, the dotted punctum, the podatus, the clivis, the torculus, and the porrectus. There are combinations of neumes and expressive neumes: the scandicus, the pressus, the quilisma and of course the salicus and episema. And if you haven't heard about it already, you'll discover a controversial little mark called an ictus. Simple so far? More than you had bargained for?

Not only will you need to be able to decipher these little "pictures" so that they are immediately recognizable to you, you'll also need to do know how to make musical sense out of them in relation to each other. You'll need to understand something about the rhythm of a chant: if a line of music doesn't have meaningful forward motion, it is not music at all - but notes on a page without any life of its own.

If you can't do all of this, chant may as well stay in a book on the a library shelf, a scholarly journal, or behind archival glass in a rectory living room.

The goal of the CMAA Winter Chant Intensive at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Charleston, South Carolina, is to teach beginners the rudiments of Gregorian notation; Its goal is also to take intermediate and advanced chanters to a new level of mastery of the art. Either way, its ultimate goal is to reinvigorate a knowledge and love of Gregorian chant in our minds and ultimately in our liturgies.

To paraphrase a Rogers and Hammerstein song, "there is a very fine place to start: the beginning." Some knowledge is better than no knowledge. Chant is for interested lay men and women, choir members, music directors and the religious. It is for the young and old. It belongs to all of us. It belongs to the Church.

But chant can also consume a little of your time, or a great deal of time and become a major part of your vocation or avocation. Most Chant Intensive participants find themselves somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

A sold out class is always good news, but this time around, the best news of all is this: there is substantial difference in the makeup of this winter's group. Three fifths of the participants in Charleston are priests or seminarians. A more promising gender imbalance one could not see

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