Sunday, June 14, 2009

Schola Gregoriana Hobartiensis: a Retrospect

While filing papers this evening I found my old Gregorian chant folders from my years as a member of the Schola Gregoriana Hobartiensis Spiritus Sancti ("the Schola"), from 1995 until 1999 - from when I learnt of its existence from a member, Bronwyn (please pray for her - she has a hole in the heart), to when I left Hobart for Melbourne, though I remained a guest member when in town...  

The Schola had been founded some years before by Bede Dunne, an accomplished musician and chant expert who had been conducting church choirs since before the Council; he is now very old, blind and frail (pray for him and his dear wife Joan, herself unwell), and in the past few years the Schola as I knew it, with its Benedictine ethos, died a natural death, though its latter function of providing music for the monthly Missa cantata has been continued by a new choir arising phœnix-like under new leadership with a new membership.

When I joined the Schola, its raison d'être was to chant Vespers roughly monthly (and occasionally other paraliturgical devotions, such as singing the Litanies of the Saints on St Gregory's day at the Cathedral, though that was before my time).  Once Fr (now Bp) Jarrett organized to begin monthly Latin Masses, he prevailed upon Bede to change our purpose to singing at these Missæ cantatæ, although in effect this meant the end of our orientation toward the sung Office.  

Despite this, the Schola maintained a monastic spirit: our weekly practices always began with the chanting of the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, with versicle and collect, and concluded with sung Compline according to the Monastic Rite, observing due ceremonial.  I remember that my role (later taken by Ben) was to chant the lectio brevis - but one night, at the mention of adversarius vester Diabolus, who goeth about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, Yvonne mischievously made a comic clawing gesture toward me - I couldn't sing my part straight-faced for a year afterward!

At one stage, Bede, in an access of fervour, even designed cream habits for us Gregorianists to wear, complete with scapulars embellished with a design signifying our Schola... owing to the embarrassment some of us felt at thus appearing in public (and in one newspaper article), these costumes were quietly laid aside.

But to return to my beginnings, chant-wise: the first liturgical function at which I sang with the Schola was (Monastic) Vespers of the Ascension, which was held at St John's, Richmond - site of our recent pilgrimage - back on Sunday (yes) the 28th of May 1995; as I recall, there was Benediction to follow, and Fr Hayres was only too pleased to preside.  According to my surviving copy, I was to intone the first antiphon, Viri Galilæi, and later the Magnificat antiphon O Rex gloriæ; still their tunes are in my head, as some of the first chant that ever I learnt.  It's strange to think that was fourteen years ago...

The weekend of Friday the 2nd to Sunday the 4th of February 1996 was used for a Gregorian chant workshop: Terce, Sext and None according to the Monastic Rite for Saturday and for Sunday, plus first Vespers of Septuagesima, all practiced hectically then sung in the church of St Canice - and there was much else...

Vespers of St Matthew, at St Matthew's, Pontville (1998); of the First Sunday of Advent at the Cathedral (1998); St Cecilia's Day at St John's, Glenorchy; various Sundays after Pentecost (such as in late October 1997 at the Cathedral again); Vespers of the Dead, which we sang at our practice venue, the parish hall of Sacred Heart, New Town; the fourth Sunday of Advent, according to the Roman Rite, at Corpus Christi, Bellerive (1997); Passion Sunday; the second Sunday after Easter; the third Sunday after Pentecost, or "within the Octave of the Sacred Heart", sung at Sacred Heart with Fr Jarrett presiding...

We even sang - and sang, and sang - unusually for us, mainly in English, at Sr Catherine Maria's eremitical consecration at St Francis Xavier's, South Hobart.  I can still hear Bede referring to "I am the Bread of Life" as having "a fairground tune"!

About the last Masses I find myself having sung were those of the Epiphany, and of a Sunday after the Epiphany, in early 2001.  But there were many others: Septuagesima 1996; second Sunday of Lent, 1996; Fourth after Easter, 1996; Trinity Sunday, 1996 and 1998; sixth and tenth and nineteenth and twenty-third after Pentecost, 1996; Advent Sunday, 1996; second Sunday of Advent, 1997 and 1998; Candlemas, 1997; third Sunday of Lent, 1997; Low Sunday, 1997; fifth after Easter, 1997; Corpus Christi, 1997; seventh and eleventh and sixteenth and twentieth after Pentecost, 1997; All Souls, 1997; fourth after Epiphany, 1998; first Sunday of Lent, 1998; Palm Sunday, 1998; third after Easter, 1998; fifth and ninth and fourteenth and eighteenth after Pentecost, 1998; All Saints, 1998; Sexagesima 1999; sixth and tenth after Pentecost again, in 1999...

During Bede's absences overseas or, increasingly, due to ill-health, Em would step in as choir-mistress pro tempore, but she was always first among equals, helping us master simple psalm-tones; Bede it was who would make our heads go round in circles as he carefully expounded the secrets contained in the adiastematic notation transcribed from old manuscripts into the Graduale Triplex, while we struggled to hit the right note!  We learnt many useful terms, such as celeriter, quilisma, epizema, and so forth world without end.

The Schola, when singing Mass, tended to restrict itself to attempting the proper Gregorian Introit, Offertory and Communion, plus perhaps the Alleluia (but not its verse); the Gradual was too difficult usually, and if time were short or our skills unequal, we would psalm-tone much of the Proper.  However, Bede would also give us interesting things to attempt, such as singing the Alleluia in organum, a fifth or an octave apart, producing a magnificently barbarous sound.  Since the people knew it, we nearly always sang Missa VIII - de Angelis - and Credo III.

From getting to know Ben and Jane, who came along to our early 1996 workshop, joined up and ended up giving me lifts to our practices, I gained an enduring friendship; the missal I take to Mass was a gift from them - it had belonged to Ben's mother Kathleen, a convert who had raised him and his brothers in straitened circumstances, and a staunch member of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales: May she rest in peace.

I also remember in particular Kevin, a most humble and kindly older man, a secular Franciscan, who some years after perished in a house fire: Requiescat in pace.  I still remember sitting in the sun room reading Lauds with him one morning when we were attending a Gregorian chant intensive weekend workshop leading up to Pentecost in 1998, which we kept at Deloraine, again with Fr Hayres, that peripatetic priest (now retired), himself a noted astronomer, musician and ex-Olympic swimmer.  That weekend we sang the Proper chant at the Novus Ordo parish Mass, and then Vespers with Benediction in the evening.

You learn useful things in choirs: such as, "You're never louder than when you're wrong."

Absit omen!

2 comments:

Mark said...

I really enjoyed this post; what beautiful memories. I hope our Schola has such a long and happy existence.

DB said...

Came upon your post while looking for Bede Dunne who was the best teacher and mentor I have ever had. Hobart High 50th reunion of the last intake, is planned for next year, but unfortunately it seems that it will be too late for the 'Venerable Bede'