2010 Conference Wrap-up

March 23, 2010

For two days, chanters from five states gathered at Ave Maria University for Musica Sacra Florida’s second annual Gregorian chant conference.

Conference attendees included schola directors, singers who chant on a regular basis, people for whom this conference was their introduction to chant, high school students, college students, seminarians, college professors, parish music directors, retirees, priests and religious. Attendance at this year’s conference was nearly double last year’s.

On Friday, March 19th, participants settled into their rooms at the Xavier Conference Center on the AMU campus and headed to the first session of the afternoon, a talk by Keynote Speaker Jeffrey Tucker on the spirituality of Gregorian chant. Mr. Tucker discussed the spiritual fruits of hope and humility that come from singing chant. He also addressed impact that these fruits have on us when working for better liturgy and music within our own parishes. He shared that he found his place within the renewal of sacred music not in the initial place he sought it (teaching other people to sing Gregorian chant), but in helping others understand the structure of the Roman rite itself, as well as advocating for the improvement of sacred music in various other spheres. All this, Mr. Tucker explained, was the result of the humility that Gregorian chant teaches its singers. One need not learn the entire Gregorian oeuvre, nor assume responsibility for playing all possible roles in the renewal of sacred music. Instead, a heart open to the will of God, especially when encountering obstacles with courage and patience, is what is necessary.

Jeffrey Tucker address participants on the first day of the conference

Following the opening address, four smaller “break-out” sessions were presented, representing an expansion in the offerings of the conference from the previous year. Fr. Brian T. Austin, FSSP, presented a session entitled “Chant for the Celebrant” in which he taught participants how to sing the orations, the Epistle and Gospel, as well as the Preface of the Holy Cross according to the ancient solemn tones. Dr. Susan Treacy taught an introductory session on Gregorian Chironomy. In this short course, she discussed arsis and thesis in the older Solesmes style of singing, as well as the placement of arsis and thesis in a melody, based on the guidelines given in Gregorian Chant Practicum by Theodore Marier. Dr. Jennifer Donelson presented an introduction to neumatic notation for participants who were new to singing from the chant books. Participants learned solfege, neume names, and the basics of the older Solesmes style of placing the ictus within the chant. These skills were put into practice by solfeging, count-singing, and placing the ictus in Parce Domine. Another session was given by Dr. Timothy McDonnell in which he addressed the role of music in the extraordinary form of the Mass.

Dr. Jennifer Donelson answers a question during the “Introduction to Neumatic Notation” session

These sessions were followed by sung vespers in the extraordinary form for the feast of St. Joseph in the Ave Maria Oratory with Fr. Brian T. Austin, FSSP as celebrant. The service, organized by Fr. Austin and Mary Jane Ballou, was sung by Dr. Timothy McDonnell, Jeffrey Tucker, Dr. Michael O’Connor, Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB, Jeffrey Herbert, Dr. Larry Kent, Dr. Susan Treacy, Dr. Jennifer Donelson, Bridget Eames, Elizabeth Gessner, and Isabelle Roman. Ave Maria community members joined conference participants and singers in praying vespers and singing for benediction immediately following the Divine Office.

The first evening of the conference concluded with a meal and libations in the town at the Queen Mary pub.

Early the next morning, lauds were sung according to the formula proposed by Dr. William Mahrt at the previous summer’s CMAA colloquium (a score is accessible by clicking here.) Led by Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB, members of the schola at the Tridentine Mass at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, FL (Dr. Jamie Younkin, director, Pedro Martinez, Mimi Weidert) joined Dr. Edward Schaefer, Dr. Susan Treacy, and Dr. Jennifer Donelson in singing the service.

The first of four rehearsals for the day began with participants singing in either the beginning schola under the direction of Dr. Susan Treacy, or in the advanced schola under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Donelson. Both scholae included both men and women, and both prepared music for the Saturday before First Passion Sunday according to the extraordinary form of the Mass.

Saturday afternoon rehearsal in the advanced schola

Punctuating the rehearsals in the morning was an address by Dr. Michael O’Connor of Palm Beach Atlantic University. Dr. O’Connor linked the Hispanic roots of Floridian culture with the chant traditions of the Iberian Peninsula. His presentation highlighted the different versions of the Marian antiphons (Salve Regina, etc.) used by Hispanic composers of the late 16th century as cantus firmi for polyphonic compositions.

Dr. Michael O’Connor fields questions about Spanish chant melodies

Following another rehearsal and lunch, Jeffrey Tucker discussed the place of Gregorian chant in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, especially following the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. He outlined five issues he saw in the life of the parish music program, including lack of knowledge of the Roman rite and lack of ability to execute well the music necessary for the Roman rite.

Attendees gather in preparation for a lecture

The afternoon concluded with a Mass in the extraordinary form for Saturday before First Passion Sunday, celebrated by Fr. Samuel Weber, OSB. Conference participants chanted the propers from the Graduale Romanum and the AMU chamber choir, under the direction of Dr. Timothy McDonnell, sang Felice Anerio’s 4-part arrangement of Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli as well as Durufle’s Ubi caritas at the communion.

Dr. Susan Treacy directs the beginning schola cantorum during rehearsal

This year’s participants commented on the hope given to them by the number and variety of attendees at this year’s conference. Others complemented the variety of sessions available this year, as well as the high quality of each of the sessions. Also notable this year was the wonderful setting provided by the town of Ave Maria and its wonderful conference center and staff.

The organizers of the conference wish to extend their gratitude to conference faculty, attendees, and all others who contributed to making the conference a success.

The Ave Maria Oratory, where vespers, benediction, and Mass for the conference were held

Photos by Dr. Larry Kent, Mrs. Patricia Taylor and Mr. Alejandro Selin