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Historians of music probably reject the rivalry shown between Salieri and Mozart in the popular play and film Amadeus. However it makes for a good story. Salieri recognises the pure genius of Mozart, and in the play and film is often portrayed as being mocked by God through Mozart’s gift for music. Salieri prays to God to be able to be a great musician but always sees himself as but a shadow of Salieri. I feel a lot like that tonight. I hear beautiful music sung by others, that sounds much like the voices of angels from heaven, but all I can manage is to sound like a seagull squawking over of chip at the seaside.
I already know some will read this and disagree with what I’ve written, but I know that there is a vast difference than being able to mimic sounds like a well trained parrot, but I also know that that parrot spends the rest of it’s time squawking. The trouble is when I see a note on the staff, I can hear it in my head but it doesn’t come from my lips the same. I feel frustrated when people say ‘listen’ and ‘sing it back’, as if it’s that easy, and I can’t. Though it could be worse, I could perhaps not be even able to hear and appreciate good music. So best be thankful for the small things in life.
Schola Cantorum, the Gregorian Chant Choir I have mentioned previously, will be singing at the morning Mass at St John’s Anglican Cathedral on Sunday the 22nd July at 9 am. If you have not heard Gregorian Chant in its rightful context, the liturgy of the Church, then this will be your opportunity to do so. With some practice before hand, and a lot of God’s Grace, I might even get to join Schola for my first Mass. I’m busily learning the various parts of the Eucharist at the moment in preparation.
I attended my first practice session with Schola last night. It was excellent. I came away feeling enlivened by the experience. It would be easy to be put off in the initial period of learning how to be part of this unique style of prayer and worship; it is of course more than simply being a part of a ‘choir’. Learning to read and pronounce Latin correctly, while deciphering chant notation and getting your voice to end up on the right pitch, all at the same time feels how I imagine it would be to take control of a helicopter (which requires exceptional coordination skills). In other words, a very daunting and perhaps overwhelming task for the novice. If the goal were not worth it, to chant the most beautiful sacred music, the journey would be a futile exercise. As one experiences, as I briefly did in the workshop on the weekend, the inner spiritual resonance of the music within one’s soul, there is the realisation that the journey is indeed worth taking, for the goal is indeed worth it. Unfortunately I’m off on Sunday for a locum up north and then a few school missions and another locum, so it will be a while before I will get back to another practice, but I certainly look forward to it.
This Sunday I attended a workshop on Gregorian Chant, facilitated by Tony Vaughan, and others, from Brisbane’s Schola Cantorum. I have a few CDs of Gregorian Chant, some classical and one or two more contemporary. There is something intensely haunting and spiritual about this music; perhaps I’m stating the obvious given its religious heritage. However, what I mean is that the chant draws you into a space which is different than I’ve experienced with say hymns or choral music. It is a kind of inner-self-space. Not too dissimilar to what I would say I experience in a Taize prayer service. It is a quietly contemplative space, the space where one can hear God.
The chant is at one level simple. There is no complexity of the music when compared to some choral works. And there is no need of accompaniment with large orchestras. Yet, with a few techniques called organum (which gives the chant a polyphonic sound by someone chanting at a prefect fifth or fourth to the rest of the group), and ison (a continuous note is held by one part of the group whislt the other continue the main chant) the chant develops depth and character. This greatly enhances the ‘drawing’ capacity of the chant.
It was an intensive workshop, covering in a very short period of time, the history of chant, deciphering chant notation, reading and pronouncing latin, and practice with putting it all together in a short chant session in the Church we were at.
Its only been the last few years since I’ve felt comfortable singing, thanks to the supoprt of friends, and in particular Betty Beath who spent time helping me develop my voice and confidence. I still find choral and part singing difficult and it will be ages before I would feel truly confident in a choir. But I enjoy singing. I discovered on the weekend that Chant offers a great deal for me. It does not have the same level of complexity as choral music yet has equally so, if not more, a level a inner-spiritual-awareness. It gives me a space to develop my voice and confidence while chanting the most beautiful pieces of religious works.
I plan to attend practice sessions also facilitated by Tony and Schola. And who knows, when I’m more confident and able to grasp more of the fundamentals of chant I may pluck up the courage to try out for Schola.
Oh, and one thing that was especially beautiful on the day, during our practice sessions some of the children also went off and learned their own pieces. We got to hear them when we all gathered in the church later in the afternoon. Angelic is all I’ll say about that.
Scholar will be running another workshop later in the year, perhaps October, I recommend it, give Tony an email and get him to add you to his contacts to let you know when it will be.