‘Gaudeamus Omnes in Domino’ at Ealing Abbey
Eagerly awaited and meticulously planned, a Gregorian Chant Workshop was held at Ealing Abbey over the weekend of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15th and 16th August 2015. Members of the Ealing Abbey Lay Plain Chant Choir were joined by several visitors from other parishes in a comprehensive programme of preparation for the mass under the excellent leadership of Christopher Hodkinson, Director of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge.
Learning new techniques to relax the body and mind and to optimise our voices, we all firstly engaged in a number of physical exercises. Deep breaths were taken, joints were shaken, vocal chords were tuned up and then we were ready to sing.
The workshop on Saturday was principally focused on the chants for the mass. So without delay, we dived into the Sanctus which gave Christopher some idea of our abilities and skills as non-professional singers. He soon discerned that we were very reliant on our sheet music and encouraged us to sing the melody from memory. This proved to be a challenging but not impossible task, and as a result, a lightness of pace was introduced that made the result more pleasing to the ear.
We practised long and hard and Christopher pushed the singers to produce their best. He taught us how to pitch our voices, how and when to take our breaths and what to emphasise in song. He reminded us that this was particularly important in Gregorian chant where the meaning of the chant is primary and needs to be sensitively supported by the music. Trying several different combinations of singers, Christopher opted for male and female sections with a small number of each as cantors introducing the chants. This worked particularly well in the church.
In addition to our musical rehearsal for the Assumption mass, we were able to practise and sing the Office of Sext. After the first day of the workshop, a number of us also attended the Latin First Vespers for the Assumption in the Abbey Church, sung by the Benedictine community.
Christopher talked to us about the history of the development of Gregorian chant, showing us how the musical notation grew over time. He also set the context for the Solemnity of the Assumption in order that we understood the purpose of the chants we were practising.
With the detailed work which Christopher had undertaken with us on the Saturday, mass on Sunday 16th August was a most wonderful experience for us all, both musically and spiritually. Christopher conducted and sang with us, and now we very much look forward to working with him again!
On behalf of the Ealing Abbey Lay Plain Chant Choir