On Thursday evening, I was asked by Fr. Richard Biggerstaff, the new parish Priest of St John the Evangelist, Horsham to run an introductory session in Gregorian Chant in their parish. I was terribly nervous, I have never taught outside my own parish before. Where do you begin teaching about 2000 years of music? Would I inspire people or send them running for cover looking for the latest Marty Haugen Mass?
There was a good group of parishioners in attendance of all ages and they sang extremely well. We started with some warm up exercises to familiarise everyone with the names of the neumes, Doh, Ray, Me etc. and then I talked briefly about Sacrosanctum Concilium and ‘that’ article that is so widely quoted and so rarely applied, that plainchant should be held ‘pride of place’ in the liturgy. We then moved onto looking at Mass XVIII, and then the Simple Tone Alma Redemptoris Mater. I used the excellent ‘Beginner’s Book of Chant‘ from St. Michael’s Farnborough Abbey as a resource. I tried to get the group familiar with the importance of singing ‘in the half voice’ an expression l was helpfully taught by Fr Sean Finnegan a few years ago. Trying to create the purest sound possible with no vibrato, no big voice and imagining that the sound is produced from the resonators in your head rather than bursting out from the mouth. I tried to keep the focus primarily on the importance of the text . I always start by reading the text aloud so the group become familiar with the rhythm of the words before we start to tackle the notes or neumes.
I really enjoyed the evening. It flew past so quickly and sadly we never got to sing Puer Natus in Bethlehem or look at Gloria XV. I found the teaching incredibly rewarding. It is a great indicator of how much you know and more importantly how much one still needs to learn. It is frightening how easy it is to rattle off the responses of the Mass from week to week without ever really considering their meanings or their origins. Needless to say I dashed back to swot up on the Sanctus…
I have been asked to run another session in January. If you live locally then please come. It will be on Thursday 26th January at 7.30pm. We will be looking at some of the music for Candlemas.