Candlemas Missa Cantata

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Tomorrow at 6.30pm there will be a Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary form for Candlemas, or The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary by it’s proper name. Unusually, the 10.30am will be a low Mass tomorrow, but then it is not very often Candlemas falls on a Sunday.

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It’s five years since our first ever Missa Cantata and it snowed heavily on that day. Our choir that evening consisted of myself and four others and l think l had barely sung a note of Gregorian Chant before then. I recall that it took me several weeks to learn the Adorna Thalamum, the antiphon for the Procession, and l had pages of crib notes about when to sing what.

Do come tomorrow night if you can, especially if you don’t usually go to a Latin Mass.  If you are familiar with Gregorian Chant and want to sing with us, then we are rehearsing in the presbytery from 4.15pm tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.  Also, pray we have no snow or any other extreme weather event.

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Vacancies for female singers

It’s been a while (infact so long, l couldn’t remember the log in for this site. )   The choir are still going but we are desperately in need of another soprano or an alto. I think we must be the only choir which has lots of men, particularly basses and not enough women. If you are a good singer, l’m afraid it is essential that you read music to a reasonable ability. You don’t need to be able to read square notation – l can teach you that. We sing a range of ‘traditional’ liturgical music. A typical Sunday is a four part motet (usually unaccompanied Renaissance) – this Sunday we sang Palestrina’s Alma Redemptoris Mater, and all the propers either in English or Latin depending on practice time, a couple of hymns and the Ordinary in Latin, usually Mass VIII or Mass XVII. We practice from 9.30am every Sunday and sing at the 10.30am Mass. When we can, we fit in an evening practice but those are few and far between at the moment due to my work commitments. So if you want to sing the traditional music of the Mass please email me on stmarymagdalenchoir@googlemail.com or put a comment in the box.

We’re back

It’s been a while but we are finally back singing at the 10.30am. We started back last Sunday after more than a well-earned break, infact it was virtually a Gap Year (thanks to my extensive holidaying practices.)

So what’s new? (You may be asking..)

Our numbers have swelled slightly. I am blessed with a new Soprano and a new Tenor, the latter who also conveniently plays the organ; the organ has been tuned; and the dust has been swept away (temporarily) from the organ loft.

I am trying a couple of different things this term/season.

Firstly, in a bid to give the congregation a break from singing too many hymns l have ditched the Communion hymn so we are now down to two hymns, an opening and a recessional. We did away with the ‘Gifts of this and that’ at the Offertory a long time ago and whilst our congregation love singing one of  three Communion hymns they know and love (O Bread of Heaven, Sweet Sacrament Divine and Soul of my Saviour)  it is quite evident, they would much rather be praying after receiving the Blessed Sacrament  than having to root around looking for their tatty old hymn book.

The opening – We sing two or three verses of an appropriate hymn as the celebrant and the servers process to the altar. This week we sang Praise to the holiest. We then sing the Introit either in Latin or English. Today we sang Richard Rice’s Simple Choral Setting in four parts. I know a hymn and an Introit is a compromise and the ideal is the Introit on its own but it does work. Hymn tunes set to the Introit text tend not to work very well in our parish so this is the next best thing – both! In Advent and Lent we do only sing the Introit. In some parishes l know, they sing the Introit before the bell is rung and then a hymn is started as the celebrant processes. Not ideal because then the Introit is not part of the Mass.

We have started singing Kyrie XI along with the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Missa di Angelis. We are not the sort of parish that can switch straight from Mass VIII to XI without some degree of difficulty. If there was no break during the summer there would be long enough to teach the parish Mass XI but with only six weeks or so to Advent it is tricky. Next week we may swop the Agnus Dei to XI. I really don’t have a problem with singing different bits of Plainsong Masses – with the exception of Mass I “Lux et Origo” it is generally considered that the Masses were all composed at different times anyway.

The Gradual we are singing to a psalm tone in English from the Lalamont Propers. This is a brilliant resource from Corpus Christi Watershed which covers every Sunday in the year. The congregation can sing the Antiphon responsorially if they wish.

Our Alleluia is very unimaginative and we are still on the Paschal Alleluia. Just too much to think about changing the Alleluia melody.

Credo III

The Offertory Antiphon is taken from the Lalamont Propers, again in English. The choir then sing a Motet or a Plainsong hymn which reflects the theme of the Offertory Antiphon; today we sang the divine Jesu Dulcis Memoria allegedly written by Victoria. We don’t always have a good balance of SATB so the music tends to be dictated by who is available from week-to-week. (Last week we sang Grieg’s Ave Maris Stella set for SSA female voices.)

The Sanctus and Agnus Dei were Mass VIII

At Communion we have sung the Communion Chant from the Graduale Romanum alternating with psalm verses for the last two weeks. These chant settings are brilliantly transcribed by Richard Rice and can be found on the Musica Sacra website. These are ideal for Communion because there are so many verses that you can keep singing them as long as required. In the past, l have been guilty of spending the least amount of time on the Communion chant usually because it is the last thing we practice.  Now, by only singing one piece of chant per Mass from the Graduale Romanum it gives us more time to concentrate on studying the text and working on the all-important shaping of the music. The Communion propers at the moment run in a sequence from  Psalm 118 which of course is the longest psalm in the psalter. They are incredibly meditative ‘meditatio mea est‘,  and l think the more they are sung they become more personal and intimate. Last week’s ‘In salutari tuo‘  reiterated the importance of Communion as the sacrament of hope as we sang ‘et in verbum tuum speravi.’ This week’s was more of a plea asking God to remove all scorn and contempt from me for we have ‘nam‘ ‘truely’  kept his commandments. They really are so beautiful – what could be better than to speak to the Lord directly through chant and song after receiving the Lord.

Finally it is a loud Recessional hymn for the end and an organ voluntary.

This amount of music l have described is about our limit. We only have an hour to practice before Mass and realistically we spend most of that time practicing the Introit, the Motet and the Communion Proper. The rest needs to be fairly straightforward and sight-readable, hence the reliance on some Psalm tone Propers. My tip is always it is better to sing one thing well then several things badly.

Finally, if you are interested in joining us then do drop me a comment. I am afraid that you have to be able to read music and sing to a reasonable standard. If you are only interested in singing Gregorian Chant, our next Missa Cantata is for All Saints on 1st November and this will be in the extraordinary form so let me know if you want to come along.

Fr James Bradley on music and the liturgy

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Fr James Bradley is holding two sessions in Crawley on how sacred music can be revived in our sacred liturgy, a subject very close to my own heart. The first was last Thursday, the second this Thursday at 7pm, the evening begins with Mass at 6pm.  Fr James has written on his blog about the topics he covered in last week’s session.

Unfortunately l cannot go to either but one of our choir did go to the first session and came back enthused by the evening, although she did add that he everything he said we pretty much already do. (Phew!)

Here is Mary’s review:-

I thought you might be interested hearing about  a workshop I went to last Thursday at The Friary in Crawley, given by ordinariate priest Fr. James Bradley, entitled  ” A More Noble Form: Sacred Music for the Parish”.
The evening began with mass at 6 p.m. when about thirty of us sang it to the Missa Simplex.
Fr James then introduced himself to us and us to sacred music,  the value and importance of music in the mass and the wonderful gift music is in the life of the church.
He went on to explain that the ordinary and the propers of the mass could be sung to different chants such as the Missa Simplex by everyone; choir, congregation and children.  That the propers were all set out in the liturgy for every day of the year, which made it  easy to follow and could be downloaded from the internet.
We then discussed which hymns could be used for the offertory and communion if the propers weren’t sung, keeping to the theme of the day.
Fr. James’ enthusiasm is infectious and his idea that in singing this music we are indeed participating more deeply in the worship we offer to Almighty God.   I’m looking forward to this weeks session “Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy” when I hope we might go into the chant in more detail and perhaps sing some as well.
If you can, do go and support Fr James. We need more sessions like this in our diocese. It always astounds me how many people have never heard of Propers and how many people think that congregations turn up at Sung Masses just to sing hymns. I also think it is interesting that those interested in Gregorian chant tend to be Latin Mass attendees. It belongs in both forms, really!!

Monastic Chant Forum at Quarr Abbey

It has certainly been a long time since l last wrote anything on this site but l suddenly feel compelled to share my experiences of an absolutely wonderful week on the Isle of Wight surrounded by lots of extraordinarily inspirational and talented people. I was thrilled to be able to attend the Chant Forum hosted at Quarr Abbey, jointly organised by Fr Brian from Quarr, Sr. Bernadette at St.Cecilia’s and Fr Benedict from Pluscarden.

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The five day course headed up by music maestro Joseph Cullen along with the Gregorian Chant and early Polyphony academic Giedrius Gapsys, was attended by Benedictines from across the country from Pluscarden down to Ryde.

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There were representatives from Douai, Ealing Abbey and Alton Abbey, some of the sisters from Wantage who recently joined the Ordinariate were in attendance, as were some prodigiously talented lay people, including violinist Paul Livingston (straight from the conference in Rome), he is also James Macmillan’s right-hand man at St.Columba’s in Glasgow; the soprano Jennifer Smith, the piano scholar and Quarr oblate Phillip Fowke, the director of music at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, the Gregorian chant director at St. James’, Spanish Place, Neville McNally, the man behind all the Gregorian chant courses held at St. John’s Cathedral in Portsmouth and so on, oh and me… I sound as if l’m showing off being surrounded by such people, and l suppose l am in a way, but what always strikes me when people are brought together through faith and through a love of singing about our faith, is to discover how incredibly humbling it is to see how equal we all really are in the eyes of the Lord.

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So, more about the course.

When we were sent the schedule, the days appeared terrifyingly long. For those not used to the daily vigor of Monastic life, like me, the timetable seemed impossible to fit into one day. Vigils at 5am (l didn’t, but in my defence l did get up early to fit in some of my own work), Lauds, Mass, lessons, Coffee, more lessons, Sext, Lunch, None, more lessons, possibly a talk, more lessons, Vespers, even more lessons, and we hadn’t even got to supper and Compline yet.

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And when we weren’t praying, singing, learning and so on, we were eating and l’m rather pleased to report that we did an awful lot of the latter especially as the Abbey food was fantastic.

Joseph ‘no dipthongs thank-you’ Cullen took everyone through the paces of vocal technique trying to get everyone to sing ‘dry’ t’s (as in tutti frutti), to pout lots, to sing Ee-ay as much as possible (you can practice singing Kyrie Eleison) and to try and eradicate over-syllabic singing, think of congregations singing the Pange Lingua, it’s text lumped together in sections like concrete blocks and you know what it sounds like.

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Giedrius Gapsys, focused on the often baffling subject of the theory of Octoechos (that’s the eight modes), including looking at the Archaic modes; semiology (that’s all the red and black ‘graffiti’ in the Graduale Triplex.) He also looked at the development of notation from before Guido D’Arrezzo and the ancient practices of singing Gregorian chant. Giedrius could pick out Mode VI formulas adapted from a transposed archaic modes found in a Mode I piece in a snow storm. Ars bene modulandi is all l am saying on the matter.

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We had a talks on the history of the church at Quarr and also a fascinating talk on the history of the former Cistercian Monastery located next door to the current Quarr Abbey. You can imagine the surprise of the average day tripper seeking solace in the ruins of an abbey destroyed in the dissolution of the monasteries, when they saw this lot traipsing through the long grass of the site.

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The highlight of the week has to have been to be able to participate in the sacred liturgy at Quarr, and to sing the office, a great honour indeed, especially for those of us from the ‘singing an octave higher’ species.

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The new Prior at Quarr, Fr Xavier said after two days we were all just starting to sing well together as a choir; he thought another thirty years singing together each day, and we would make the perfect sound.

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More photos HERE

Pope Francis and liturgical renewal

Dr Macmillan has written a fantastic piece on Pope Francis and the need for simplicity in the liturgy

The new papacy of Francis has brought great joy and renewal to the Church and a huge wave of goodwill from non-Catholics. What will this new Pope bring to our sacred liturgies, which are the beating heart of the Church’s philosophy of love? Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith and Communities attended the inaugural papal mass in Rome and spoke of the way that Francis’ simplicity resonates with people and singled out “his concept of humility, simplicity and going back to values.”

 

What does a ‘poor and simple church’ need in its divine praises? Is there humility in the Americanised, over-the-top, sub-Broadway pop music, dripping with sentimentality that now infests so much of our liturgy? Is there simplicity in the me-me-me, here-am-I –Lord egotism of so many of our dreadful modern hymns? How does the upholstered, fatuous and banal secularity of so much of Catholic contemporary ‘praise music’ succeed in ‘going back to values?’ 

The dawning of a more austere period in the Church’s mission requires liturgical music of a more austere and simple design – a music that humbly deflects attention from ‘the music ministry’- a music that is based in Catholic heritage and values – and a music that sounds both Catholic and sacred. The good news is that we have this already, and it is the music that Pope Benedict has been urging us to rediscover over the last decade – chant.

Music for a sacred ritual needs to project sacredness. In the liturgy “sacred” means “the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful.” Gregorian chant gives an elevated tone of voice to the texts of our sacred praises, conveying the special character of the words and of the specific holy nature of what is being enacted and undertaken. The chanting of the holy texts raises them up from the mundane and presents them “as on a platter of gold”, in the words of Fr Josef Jungmann. Gregorian chant is unlike anything from the everyday world but conveys the clear impression that there is something uniquely holy in the actions of the liturgy. Gregorian chant is holy.

 

Gregorian chant is universal as it is supra national and thus accessible to those of any and every culture equally. It rises above those musics which are either associated only with localized cultural experience on the one hand, and operates separately from those other musics which are associated with high, artistic, classical derivation and aspiration on the other. Therefore it is essentially anti-elitist and simultaneously pure. Gregorian chant is for all.

 

So what was sung on Divine Mercy Sunday for the enthronement of Pope Francis at St John Lateran?

CHANT!!!!!!!   and some other bits (mostly noted for their simplicity)

The Mass sheet is downloadable HERE

The most noticeable factor about the music was indeed its simplicity, give or take the odd Italian operatic aria (or was that the Responsorial Psalm? – one  can never distinguish  when the Sistine Choir are singing.)  The music was the sort of stuff that should be sung every Sunday in parish choir across the world and infact with the Diocesan choir belting out some of the music, the inability to listen to the organ etc, it did sound like a typical parish Mass. The Missa di Angelis, Credo III, Propers, simple Latin hymns, the Paschal Alleluia etc etc. We should be looking to the simplicity of the Papal Masses and copying them. No over-dramatic polyphonic Ordinary. Instead we heard the simple chanting of the Verbum Domini; the Bidding Prayers oration and response sung in the simple Latin chant tone, simple Latin hymns with uncomplicated harmonies. Most of the music including the Communion antiphon were produced on the  Mass sheets so all the congregation could either join in or follow the choir. I even rather liked the opening hymn sung before the Quasi modo Introit. Jubilate omnis terra by Fr Marco Frisina, apparently sung at the beginning of the Canadian World youth day in 2002.

If you want to hear more from Fr Marco:

Shopping around this Easter

Our local rag The Argus ran a story yesterday exclaiming that Brighton’s label as the ‘Godless city of Britain” –  l think we came second to Norwich – was rather shockingly not the case this weekend. According to the minsters quoted, including our own publicity-shy Parish priest, apparently people actually went to Mass rather than spend the weekend in Primark.

A busy church

A busy church

“Congregations spilling out of the front doors into the street and cars lined up bumper-to-bumper on pavements outside churches may not be the image that people associate with the UK’s God- less City.

Easter Sunday outside St Mary Magdalen’s

But the weekend’s Easter celebrations are a clear indication that Christianity is alive and kicking in Brighton and Hove.

Ministers have told The Argus that it was standing room only in their churches as many came to devotedly mark this most important of Christian festivals.”

The Argus ran this story in the middle of the paper, it’s headline story however was Worst Easter ever for Sussex traders. 

Probably not seen in a church near you

Probably not seen in a church near you

So basically it was a good thing that we all went to church, but shame on you for not popping into the shops afterwards. You can’t win really.