It is an unequivocal delight visiting St Cecilia’s Convent on the Isle of Wight and experiencing the heavenly sound of this buoyant community singing at Mass or the Divine Office. It is another joy entirely to be able to sing with the sisters.
We, that is my schola, Schola Scholastica have been back on ” the island” these past two days once again being tutored by the choir director Sister Bernadette. Today after a particularly insightful session on Latin accents – yes l can now tell my arsis from my thesis – Sister and Candy, our group leader, decided it would be fun if we had a jam session/concert with the sisters. So this afternoon after lunch, virtually all the community, including Mother Abbess joined us in the parlour for some singing and general merriment. We started with a combined Abbey/Schola choir version of Greig’s Ave Maris Stella, each of the parts covered on both sides of the grill. There is something unspeakably moving about standing side by side of the grill with a novice, someone who admittedly l am already awe struck with because she has only recently given her life to God, joined together for that moment singing the same words and the same notes.
Following on from the polyphony, Martina, our fabulous soprano, who trained at the Royal Academy, sang Gounod’s Ave Maria accompanied by Sister Elizabeth on the piano who only
last month took her solemn profession, as . Leutgeb treated everyone to some invigorating Bach on the Viola and then it was over to the sisters band …! They are called the Pax Cordis Jesu band, after the name of the monastery, they play Irish reels, and they are fantastic. Recorder, piano, flute, violin and the Bodhran.
From the secular back into the sacred, we joined forces with some of the sisters for a rendition of Franck’s Panis Angelicus, and then the entire community came together with us to sing the hymn to Saint Scholastica which not surprisingly they knew a lot better than we did. We all finished with the Ave Regina Caelorum, And all of that in half an hour. And so we had to say goodbye to the community until after Easter -they are allowed no personal contact outside the convent during Lent.
I have said it before but the community at St Cecila’s are extraordinary. It is not surprising that whilst vocations to the religious life are dramatically dwindling in most monastic houses, St Cecilia’s is full of life, energy and most importantly prayer.