What to Do after the Intensive

By Oost-Zinner, Arlene | Sacred Music, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

What to Do after the Intensive


Oost-Zinner, Arlene, Sacred Music


Studying the chant for an entire week can be an alarming experience. After five straight days of classes from morning to night, your head is spinning. You arrive back home and find yourself having a hard time adjusting to civilian life--you feel a jet lag of sorts and a sense that you can no longer read modern notation. In fact, your world as a musician has been turned upside down. Nothing will ever be the same.

You might have attended because you are curious about the chant, and wonder at its prayerful sound. Or maybe you were already proficient in reading Gregorian notation but wanted to learn more about the Solesmes method and its rhythmic peculiarities. Most likely you attended so you could become a more effective director of chant in your parish.

You've been through a grueling but rewarding week. But the long days of counting and solfeging in class were only the beginning. Now you have to keep it up--which means systematic study on your own.

Understanding the Basics

The CMAA chant intensive teaches the the Solesmes method. Why? Because it works. It helps you teach your singers to sing together and make a beautiful sound. No one denies that there are other approaches to learning and singing chant. Scholarship in the discipline continues, and it will do you well as a musician and conductor of the chant to keep abreast of the latest.

But the lessons you learned at the Chant Intensive provide you with the essentials to get things going. Think of the Solesmes method as a framework --like the frame of a bicycle. The frame is designed and calibrated and pieced together for one reason--to allow the bicycle's two wheels to turn at the same time, and move forward.

Chant Master?

Your next rehearsal is only two days away, and you want to implement what you have learned with your schola.

You will be able to do this--bit by bit. Do not rush it. It will happen in time and on its own. The knowledge and skills you have acquired haven't gone anywhere. But they do need time to grow and develop. Like a newly baptized Catholic, you are filled with the spirit--at least that of Dom Mocquereau and the Solesmes method. The class was only the beginning.

Don't assume you will be able to recall, much less explain everything to your schola right away. Be prepared for a little backsliding from where you were when you closed your Parish Book of Chant on the last day of the intensive. It takes more than just a few days to internalize the treasures that have been revealed to you in class; and it takes weeks, months, if not years, to make them part of your own pedagogical repertoire.

Commit to two things every day:

1. Keep up on your solfege. Whether you are in the position to introduce a work of chant to your schola for this Sunday's Mass or not is irrelevant. Establish a habit. Take one of your textbooks--the Gregorian Missal, or the Parish Book of Chant, for example. Open it to any page and solfege through a chant or two. Even fifteen minutes per day will make a difference. Just make it part of your work day if you are a music director, or part of your lunch hour if you work elsewhere. Set this time aside for solfege alone. Do not take any calls. It is an investment in your own skills and in good liturgy.

2. Sing through the modes, all eight of them, at least once a day. Quiz yourself on their finals and dominants. Why not do this while driving to and from work? It is a lot safer than talking on your cell phone. It might look or sound strange to the police officer stopped to your left at the light, but it is unlikely that it will result in his giving you a traffic citation.

Preparing to Teach a Chant

Even though you think you are new to the chant, you are still more familiar with it than your singers are. You've been through boot camp and know the rules. They are looking to you to lead them. Do yourself and them a huge a favor by preparing carefully marked copies of the chants you will be teaching during rehearsal. …

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