Thursday, June 9, 2011

Teaching Priests to Chant

Welcome to this edition of "New Translation Thursday."

I wanted to comment a bit more on my experience with the priests of the Davenport Diocese earlier this week.

On Tuesday afternoon, Fr. Paul Colloton and I led workshops on singing the chants of The Roman Missal. I was charged with focusing on the chanting of the orations and dialogues. This was my first time in teaching the solemn tone and the simple tone in the Missal. The priests engaged wholeheartedly in the workshop. I wanted to be sure to address the questions that had arisen earlier regarding priests who sincerely believe that they can not sing. These priests were honest enough to raise their hands when I asked the question, "How may of you sincerely believe, or have been told, that you cannot sing a note?" I asked for a few volunteers and asked them if they could share with us what we had referred to earlier in the day as their "one good note." Every one of these priests proved to the others gathered that they could find their "one good note" and then they demonstrated the ability to sing an oration using that note, and without wavering from the pitch. For others who sang that "one good note," I worked with them in suggesting that they mimic me as I started on their "good note" pitch, then moved to a minor third below the pitch, using the words "Let us pray." Those who tried this sang the interval perfectly. It was at this point that I told them that they needed to believe in their ability to chant on these two tones and that they would be able to chant the orations and the dialogues. This was a revelation to many of these men, some of whom had been told way back in grammar school that they were "tone deaf."

So much of chanting the prayers, for these priests, has to do with self confidence issues. They often feel vulnerable and sometimes enbarrassed because they believe that they just can't do it. I hope that our little workshops helped to boost their confidence.

One of the priests in attendance suggested that there be a decision made on a diocesan level regarding the tones. He thought that it might be a good idea for the diocese to decide on using the simple tone for the chants, at least for the first two years. That way, he explained, priests could work together on singing the tones and that at diocesan celebrations, the worshipping assembly would know the responses to the simple tone. I thought that this was an admirable idea.

I know I have said it before, but it does bear repeating. The clergy of the Davenport Diocese really worked very hard during those two days. They were critical of some of the newly translated texts; they were delighted at others; and they approached their work of preparation honestly and with lots of zeal.

It will be interesting to follow their progress as the implementation unfolds.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Charles Culbreth said...

What an important service to the Church, Jerry, good on ye, mate.
Out here, Paul Ford's had tremendous success along the same lines at priestly convocations with the tepid and timid.
After a couple of days, nearly all of such priests are convinced that they can do it! I hope they heed Paul and your advice that they must do it!

Chironomo said...

Our success here with our priests at their convocation was very much the same. Many don't sing because they have been told that they can't, or are not as "good" as those "singing priests" (a few of which here obviously had to choose between a vocation and a career on Broadway and decided on both...).

I have found that what you are describing is very accurate and a rather curious phenomena. Our Pastor will sing the orations and always ends up on the same pitch (F#) as the recitation tone. It is "his" note. If an attempt is made to change that pitch he will struggle a bit until he can get back to F#.... I have coined the term "imperfect pitch" to describe it...

I am so glad to hear that the predictions of widespread rejection and opposition are turning out much as I supposed they would.