In Pace in Idipsum Dormiam et Requiescam

By Skeris, Robert A. | Sacred Music, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
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In Pace in Idipsum Dormiam et Requiescam

Skeris, Robert A., Sacred Music

I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep.

Jesus Christ the Lord of life and death called to himself on January 18, 2010 at 9:00 a.m., in LeMans in west central France, his faithful servant Mademoiselle Denise Lebon, directress emerita of the International Academy of Sacred Music Schola Saint Gregoire and holder of the Pontifical Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, aged four score years and seven.

Born on June 23, 1923 at Flers, twenty miles west of Argentan in the department of Orne, Lower Normandy, in the diocese of Seez, Miss Lebon at an early age developed an ardent love for the divine liturgy and its music, particularly for its Gregorian chant. As a youngster she sang in her parish choir, and a brief article in the newspaper Ouest-France attracted the attention of the teen-aged chanter to the existence at LeMans of a school offering formation in Gregorian chant. The Schola Saint Gregoire, at the suggestion and with the assistance of Solesmes choirmaster Dom Joseph Gajard, O.S.B., had been founded by Mademoiselle Suzanne Bellin in 1938. The courses were taught orally, but as war was imminent in the late summer of 1939, young Denise requested that the lessons be sent to her home in typewritten form. And thus on Christmas Eve of that year, she received her initial lessons, thus becoming the first pupil of the correspondence courses for which the Schola was later to become famous.

After completing the courses, Miss Lebon went to live with the Bellin family at LeMans, after 1948 in the Schola quarters. In the years which followed, she dedicated herself freely and completely to the service of the sung prayer of the church, teaching courses at the Schola as well as in monasteries and schools, correcting papers, and meeting every need as it arose. At that time there were between three and four hundred correspondence students as well as 150 to 180 teacher trainees at the weekly summer courses held annually in July. In 1950 Miss Lebon successfully passed her examinations at the Institut Catholique in Paris and received her chant teacher's license through the Gregorian Institute, whose faculty at that time included Henri Potiron and Auguste LeGuennant, among other Gregorian luminaries. Denise Lebon likewise received her Ward Method teacher certification at this time, under Odette Hertz in the Centre Ward France where one of her fellow students was Theo Marier.

In due course, the sixties arrived, and with them the brutal abandonment of Gregorian chant in liturgical practice, which totally disrupted the rhythm of paedagogical activities at the Schola. Daily life became very difficult, and Miss Lebon found it necessary to take an outside part time job to make ends meet.

The seventies were no less difficult. In 1972 Dom Gajard passed away, and then in 1975 Miss Bellin was in her turn called to an eternal reward. During the final weeks of her life, on the occasion of the Gueranger centenary commemorated at LeMans and Solesmes, the author of these lines, at that time also a Councillor of the C.I.M.S., had the opportunity of celebrating Holy Mass for her and her collaborators Denise Lebon and Lucile Demanche in the chapel of the Schola.

Denise Lebon succeeded Miss Bellin as Directress of the Schola at a time when the church was experiencing the closing or elimination of many institutions and agencies of Gregorian formation. And yet, in the midst of such obstacles and with the aid of divine providence, Miss Lebon continued to hold out, in total devotion to the apostolate, almost as though she were a member of a religious order.

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