Ealing Abbey Lay Plainchant Choir

Study retreat at the Abbeys of Quarr and St. Cecilia, Isle of Wight.

Singers living within reach of Ealing Abbey are fortunate in having as their choir director the Reverend Dom Peter Burns, OSB. The choir meets for rehearsals on Wednesday evenings and sings the Mass from the Gregorian Sunday Missal one Sunday every month in the Abbey Church as well as on other occasions. The choir is an Associate member of the Schola; members participate in Schola events, and occasionally have the benefit of a workshop directed by Christopher Hodkinson.

Early this year Fr. Peter proposed to arrange a chant study weekend based at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight. Choir members were enthusiastic, and took up all the available accommodation at Quarr. The men dined with the community in the refectory, a vast room designed for use by the entire community of Solesmes when they were exiled from France a hundred years ago, whilst the women ate in the adjoining guests’ dining room. Abbot Xavier Perrin welcomed the group soon after their arrival and spoke about monastic life at Quarr, and its place in the history of plainchant, and finished with a description of the Office of Vespers, which we then attended. Abbot Xavier explained that the elaborate chants to which we sing the Propers at Mass all derive from the psalm tones sung at the daily Offices. Blessed with a superb singing voice, illustrating how the chant proclaims the word of God, the Abbot guided us through various pieces of chant upon which we had been working, getting us to listen to eachother, and giving us more confidence and ability as the weekend progressed.

On the Saturday morning we drove to the Abbey of St. Cecilia to attend Terce and Mass, sung faultlessly by their large community under the direction of St. Bernadette Byrne, who then spoke to us about monastic life at St. Cecilia’s and its place in the history of the chant. Like the Abbot, Sr. Bernadette is a superlative singer, ably demonstrating to us how the chant must bring out the meaning of the sacred texts from which it flows. Time flew by, and 1½ hours of her expertise left us longing for more.

For Sunday morning’s Mass the Abbot graciously invited the Ealing choir to sing parts of the service, Fr. Peter joining their Schola for the more complex Propers. Everyone from the Ealing choir felt inspired and encouraged by their experience over the weekend, and left keen to put into practice what they had learned in the beautiful surroundings of Quarr Abbey.

Grey Macartney