Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Chantin' in Alabama ...

I really must put down some thoughts on the past weekend before it's too long. Six parishioners attended the Gregorian Chant workshop put on by the St. Cecilia Schola of St. Michael's Catholic Parish in Auburn, AL. We drove in Friday night, a leisurely 6 hour drive, arriving at the Marriott (great rates, Dogwood!) in Opelika. A gaggle of Chinese businessmen stood outside the reception area, and one almost mowed us down speeding down the drive in a rented Hyundai! The next morning, while fiddling with the radio while driving to the church, I stumbled upon a station broadcasting in Mandarin! In Alabama! Oh the conspiracy theories one could hatch! ... But, I digress.

The workshop was awesome, held at the "cupcake parish" (I kid you not, it looks like a cupcake. The interior is round, and they're making the best use of the space they can. Of course, it looks nothing like this round church. But hey. The acoustics were fantastic. There were some 75-100 people attending, young as well as old. The workshop was led by Scott Turkington, a well known musician and chant scholar from Stamford, CT.

As some of y'all know, Gregorian Chant was part of my journey into the Catholic Church ... I'd taught myself to read the traditional 4-stave notation years ago. The relative scales were very easy and intuitive to grasp after years of training in Hindustani classical (which also uses relative scales, based on the singers vocal range). I must say I'm not at all used to reading music in solfeggio (do-re-mi-fa-sol-lah-ti), since I tend to use the Indian nomenclature in my head! ("Sargam" sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni). I think the workshop was a little frustrating to some of my companions, but learning chant without any background exposure to it, doesn't come in a day. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The best part was actually singing, in a proper liturgical setting, the traditional music of the Latin rite. In addition, we did some polyphony (which most of those who'd attended the polyphony workshop on Friday were a heck of a whole lot more proficient at than me!) during Mass, including Palestrina's stunningly beautiful "Sicut Cervus" (text based on Ps. 41/42 -- "Like a deer longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you O Lord").

One thing that I was a little worried about was that there would be active hostility towards other forms of music current in the church today. While it was quite obvious that most folks there would love to see chant restored to its full glory in the liturgy, I was quite pleased to see a charitable spirit prevail. I, despite all my love of chant, do not think one can simply impose this onto the liturgy after a 40+ year hiatus. Nor do I think that would be desirable. Yes there's much that is in bad taste, but the reforms and the vernacular give the liturgy an admirable flexibility and an adaptiveness that can be of great evangelical service. But that's another conversation.

During Lent we're introducing a few simple chants into the liturgy at our parish. I'm quite excited about this!

Definitely read the full report of the workshop at the Cecilia Schola's website.

1 comment:

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Gashwin writes:

I think the workshop was a little frustrating to some of my companions, but learning chant without any background exposure to it, doesn't come in a day. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

As one of those companions, I was thoroughly prepared to sing in one foreign language--Latin. I had no idea we'd be singing in two foreign languages simultaneously!--Latin and solfeggio (thanks for the spelling.)

It took a bit to figure out that this is what I do intuitively--I just don't yet have the facility to do it "out loud." Being an alto I'm a great fan of relative pitch. I hadn't known that chant notation allowed for that freedom (having never seen anything besides Western notation.)

The music was wonderful, I agree. I noticed some startled looks of recognition from older members of the cupcake congregation as the music began before Mass.

NB: In Protestant circles, it's common to hear ministers talk about preaching "the whole counsel of God." Learning some of this music is allowing me to sing from "the whole songbook of God." Not a bad outcome from a rainy Saturday.