Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Clear Creek Abbey Chant Weekend

Clear Creek Abbey, Hulbert, Oklahoma
On the weekend of October 19-21, Clear Creek Abbey hosted its annual Chant Weekend. Taught by their choirmaster, Br. Mark Bachmann, it was an excellent chance to learn or review the basics of singing Gregorian chant.

I arrived on Friday afternoon just in time to check in and get a quick bite to eat at Bethany House (the quarters for visiting women) before going over to the Abbey for Vespers with the monks; this was followed by introductions, an instruction session on the singing of Compline, and the singing Compline in the upper church.

Br. Bachmann took us through the basics of the Gregorian staff, the pattern for singing the Divine Office, and the basics of the simpler neumes. When we left the abbey to go back to our respective guest quarters, it was pitch dark on the secluded grounds of the abbey – very conducive to a good night’s rest for an early start on Saturday morning.

Not wanting to miss anything, I rose early to go to low Mass at 7 am at the Abbey, after which I returned for a quick breakfast at Bethany House before our 8:30 class. The peace and silence of attending low Mass with the monks gave a wonderful start to the day. Watching the monks at the various altars offering the Mass was something like watching a sequenced choreography. Observing their prayers, gestures, the assistance of the servers for each priest… especially for those of us from dioceses where no regular Extraordinary Form liturgies are available, was an amazing experience.  

Note: For the men staying at the abbey, attending Lauds with the monks before low Mass is also possible; women are requested to refrain from entering the abbey until after the morning Angelus bells are rung, according to custom.

Morning view from the Abbey after Low Mass

Breakfast at Bethany House was a treat, including churned butter from the monastery, fresh eggs from their own coops, honey from their hives, and bread from the abbey kitchen. After a quick breakfast, it was on to the abbey to begin the day’s classes.

Many attending the course were local to the area, including families who moved specifically to be able to live near to the abbey. Others traveled from within Oklahoma to attend; a few, like myself, had a bit of a longer journey to get there.

Class session in the lower level.
The morning chant session continued with gaining familiarity with the chant notation, and expanding our knowledge of the chant and how to sing it, especially for preparation for the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary at 11:30 am. The weekend continued with a break for lunch and instruction punctuated by breaks, culminating again with Vespers and Compline. During one of our breaks on Saturday, I had the chance to browse the gift shop and make a few purchases, including some of the monastery cheeses to take home. Their handmade beeswax candles have the most heavenly smell, reminding me of the words from the Easter Vigil Exultet about the “work of bees.” I couldn’t resist purchasing some of the icons made by the monks as well.

St. John the Baptist icon
The weekend sessions included an explanation of how chant notation on the four-line staff developed from the early markings on the manuscripts, as well as a history of how chant developed in the Church, and a history of the work done by the monks of Solesmes.

With each new chant, we learned 1) correct Latin pronunciation, as well as the translation of the text, 2) speaking the solfeggio for the melody, 3) singing the solfeggio with the melody and 4) singing the Latin text with the melody. During this short course, Br. Bachmann gave us a nice foundation in understanding the neumes (groups of notes, sung on a single syllable of text), rhythmic markings, the meaning of the bar markings (quarter bar, half-bar, full and double bar lines) and an understanding of the shape of the melody for each chant.

Br. Bachmann is a masterful teacher, easily adapting to the varying skill levels of the attendees to make it an enjoyable course for all.

Saturday Mass in the upper level.
Again on Sunday, I attended low Mass at 7 am, followed by a quick breakfast and more class time with Br. Bachmann. We finished learning and preparing the chants for the closing Sunday Mass, and then proceeded over to the Oratory (the old monastery), where the closing Sunday Mass for the course was held. Many of the local residents were also in attendance. Mass was lovely, with outstanding altar servers from the local community assisting a monk from the abbey as he celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Following Mass, the class participants enjoyed a nice lunch at St Martha’s, the guesthouse for married couples and families, just a short walk from the Oratory. Soon we all said our goodbyes and returned home, having enjoyed a wonderful, peaceful weekend with the monks of Clear Creek and learning more about Gregorian chant.

This weekend course is an ideal way to learn the basics of how to sing Gregorian chant in an absolutely beautiful setting, experiencing the wonderful Benedictine hospitality. The abbey offers this course each fall. Make plans to join them next year!

Construction on the Abbey continues year by year...
Work continues on the Laus in Ecclesia course. For more information on the course, see their website here:

Clear Creek Abbey is located in Hulbert, Oklahoma, not far from Tulsa. For information about making a visit to the Abbey, visit their website at

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