St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, in Woodstock, Georgia, held a sacred music workshop on November 15-16, 2007. It was attended by 70-80 singers, who came to learn the basics of Gregorian chant and polyphonic music, and prepare a special liturgy for the vigil Mass on Saturday night.
It was organized by choral director Bridget Scott and organist Mike Ostro, and directed by Arlene Oost-Zinner, who taught chant, and Jeffrey Tucker, who taught polyphony. Oost-Zinner and Tucker, from Auburn, Alabama, both lectured on the topic of sacred music and took questions on the subject of a parish music program.
This parish was a bit different from other workshops in that there is already a schola in place that had been learning neumes and singing some ordinary chants. This was a help in permitting the directors to move more quickly through the material for the remaining three-quarters of the participants who had no previous exposure. These people came from outside the parish and around the diocese of Atlanta.
The music packet had been distributed in advance. It is what set the boundaries of what was to be taught over a day and a half. All goals were achieved. The workshop schola sang ordinary chants from the Kyriale without the aid of accompaniment. The women’s schola sang the Introit and the men’s schola sang the Communio. The entire choir sang a motet (O Esca Viatorum, music by Isaac) for prelude, and two additional motets for offertory and communion (O Bone Jesu by Palestrina, and O Salutaris by Josquin), as well as the chant hymn Anima Christi. The Mass ended with a recessional in English that everyone sang with vigor.
The organizers of the event were struck by the dramatic change of behavior on the part of the people, who have been habituated to casual visiting before and after Mass. But with the prelude choral music, the worship space became solemn and quiet in preparation for the introit, which took on a special solemn tone.
Among those who came to the workshop were other scholas in the area that are just getting started in singing the propers and ordinary chants. The participants left with a renewed desire to work hard for sacred music and take their responsibilities for singing very seriously. The directors of the workshop were especially complimentary toward the role of the pastor, Fr. Larry Niese, who has provided support to the parish schola and has encouraged progress toward the sacred in the life of this parish.
On November 9th and 10th, just over 100 singers participated in a chant workshop at the Church of St. John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. Scott Turkington of Stamford, Connecticut, acclaimed Gregorian chant expert and teacher, provided a thorough introduction to chant performance according to the classic Solesmes method—the workshop’s primary focus. First, Turkington taught the group to sing a Kyrie from memory, then he introduced the basics of singing and reading square notes and clefs, the names and functions of neums, chant rhythm, the church modes, and psalm tones. He also provided an overview of the material contained in the Liber Cantualis, which served as the workshop’s primary textbook.
On Friday evening, David Lang, Master of Music at St. John the Beloved, gave an organ recital of works based on chant melodies, drawn exclusively from the 20th century repertoire. The pieces covered a wide range of the liturgical year and chant modes, and demonstrated a variety of organ colors and moods. A schola drawn from workshop participants introduced the chant on which each piece was based, and, for Maurice Duruflé’s Prelude, Adagio and Choral Variations on ‘Veni Creator Spiritus,’ sang verses in alternation with the organ.
On Saturday, Fr. Franklyn McAfee, Pastor of St. John the Beloved, gave a lecture entitled, “To Sing Is the Mark of a Lover,” in which he compared those who sing chant to people who have fallen in love. Mere words are not sufficient to express their love, which must be exalted by the addition of music.
The workshop concluded on Saturday with the participants singing the full chant Mass ordinary and other chants as part of the parish’s Sunday Vigil Mass. The Mass propers were sung by the schola.
Response was enthusiastic, and St. John’s plans to make the workshop an annual event. Readers in the northern Virginia area should watch the Arlington diocesan newspaper and the CMAA website for an announcement of next year’s program.