Ealing Abbey Lay Plainchant Choir

Chant workshop (17/18 November 2018)

The descriptions most used by some of the  17 participants, after Sunday Mass at Ealing Abbey, were ‘uplifting’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘challenging’, ‘inspiring’, ‘opening our horizons’ and ‘privileged’.  All agreed that Philip Duffy is a superb teacher who succeeds with gentle determination in producing a worthy performance from a choir eager to broadcast the message from the sacred texts clearly through the sublime music of the chant.

Philip began the workshop by taking the choir through the Kyrie Fons Bonitatis and the Gloria from Rex Genitor and through the Propers of the 33rdSunday of the Year. These are composed in a variety of Gregorian modes, which gave Philip an opportunity to demonstrate the scales and distinctiveness of of the different modes. In the afternoon, the choir, having had little experience of psalmody, sang through Psalm 33 set to various tones – though it found the pointing of the Liber Usualis somewhat challenging. Even more challenging, albeit highly enjoyable, was a foray into two songs composed by Hildegard of Bingen. Far easier, were the measured rhythm of the 15th century Credo Cardinalis edited by Mary Berry, and the sequence Veni, Sancte Spiritus as it might have been lustily sung at a Pentecost procession. Musically action-packed, the afternoon concluded with the beautiful troped Sarum version of the Salve Regina.

Next morning Philip polished the choir’s performance of the Sunday Mass, before conducting what everyone felt was a commendable performance. Following the ancient tradition of sending cantors from Rome, to teach the chant to those in the most distant provinces of the Holy Roman Empire, the great benefit of having skilled teachers – such as Philip – is that their guidance will accrue as a permanent investment in the choir to be applied to all its repertoire in the future.

Grey Macartney: 06-12-2018

New Director

When Christopher Hodkinson announced to the Trustees that he had accepted a full-time post in the USA and would have to stand down as Director of the Schola Gregoriana, we realised that we might have difficulty in finding a successor in time to take over forthcoming events in our 2018/19 calendar. It seemed therefore providential that, after many years in France, at the Conservatoire National in Angers, as Director of L’Academie Vocale de Paris and Organist at the Abbey of Solesmes, Iain Simcock should once again be available in the UK, having just moved to Herefordshire. The Trustees were delighted to find that Iain was prepared to help and to offer his services to the Schola immediately.

Julian Berkeley: 21-07-2018

See profile of Iain Simcock

Battle Abbey Carol

Music lies at the heart of a major re-presentation of Battle Abbey, which explores the life of the medieval monastery. One of the pieces of music visitors to the abbey will hear is a late medieval carol.

A chance find by English Heritage historian Michael Carter of the words of this carol, jotted down by a monk at the back of a prayer book from the abbey, led him to explore what it tells us about the monks’ lives at the end of the Middle Ages. Meanwhile musician Christopher Hodkinson, was given the challenging task of setting the carol to music. Go to our Links page and follow directions to the English Heritage site where you will be able to read a fascinating account of the reconstruction and hear a clip of Christopher’s arrangement.

The Liturgy of the Hours at Oxford

‘Seven times a day will I praise thee’

The Schola was made very welcome on the weekend of 11th-13th August at St Stephen’s House, an Anglican theological college tucked away in a peaceful enclave on the outskirts of Oxford. Our purpose was twofold: to immerse ourselves in the monastic experience of the Divine Office, albeit for just an extended weekend; and to commemorate the centenary of the birth of our founder Dr Mary Berry.

We were led by a magnificent triumvirate of Christopher Hodkinson, Philip Duffy, and Father Guy and – as is customary on these occasions! – we became very quickly embedded in a cycle of rehearsal, singing the liturgy, and instruction, which was the pattern for a deeply moving and enjoyable experience, to be remembered and savoured for a long time.

Mary Berry was particularly in our thoughts and prayers this weekend, with the opportunity to hear from those who had been fortunate to know her, to learn from her, to be inspired by her – a poignant blend of admiration, humour, together with a commitment to ensure that her work would flourish. This was perhaps the crucial message that, while Mary had ‘run the race and kept the faith’, she had now handed the torch to us to continue the all-important work of promoting plainchant and ensuring that it was done well; this is the best memorial that we can provide. In addition, Fr Guy led us in a Requiem Mass for the repose of Mary’s soul whilst later on Sunday afternoon we sang at a Vespers and Benediction at the delightful St Birinus in nearby Dorchester-on-Thames. Mary’s grave is tucked away in a peaceful corner of the graveyard, and we finished there with prayers and a most moving Sarum version of the Salve Regina.

Requiescas in pace, Mary …

The Schola at St Stephen's House

As in a monastic setting, the Divine Office was our structure for the weekend, from Matins at 6.00am for those who were brave enough to rise early (many did!), through the various Hours permeating the day, to Compline at 9.00pm. To enhance the ‘Retreat’ aspect, Christopher provided us with additional helpful readings for use during times of reflection and prayer, whilst during rehearsals we endeavoured to live up to Mary’s expectations in terms of performing plainchant to the best of our ability. We were certainly led well in this regard – Christopher’s scholarship sits lightly on his shoulders, but gives a most reassuring authority that our endeavours are focussed in exactly the right direction (although I must confess the advice to ‘clench the buttocks’ for additional vocal support is new to me – clearly buried in the treatise of some medieval writer that I haven’t come across yet..!). A similar drive for perfection was evident in Philip’s leadership – patiently (with a most efficient rehearsal style) coaching us to do our very best (but how does he stay so charming and positive when we’ve forgotten about a quilisma for the umpteenth time?!). To help us place the Office in proper context, we were guided by Fr Guy’s wisdom – there isn’t space to detail all of that here, but it was helpful to be reminded that the Office was meant to be recited by the whole Church together in song (the singing being intrinsic), whilst the very word ‘Psalm’ implied a sung text. It was striking to consider the concept of the antiphony back-and-forth as mirroring the rhythm of human life, transcending merely human thought. It was indeed possible to feel in St Stephen’s church the sense of Fr Guy’s comments –

The singing of the Office contributes to the whole welfare of the whole Church; the Holy Spirit is praying in us as the Office is offered to the Father’.

Seven times a day will I praise thee…

Alan Gardner

Previous Newsletters