Oh, the memories I’m having this week!
Two years ago, after seeing an ad in the parish bulletin, some parishioners at our local parish church got together and embarked on the most crazy project imaginable–bringing the tradition of Sacred Music into the life of our parish by starting a Schola.* So, Our Schola is going to have its second birthday this weekend–I can hardly believe it!
Do you feel called to do the same thing? Is there a voice in your heart nudging you to organize or support a movement towards Sacred Music in your parish? It can be done! I hate to say “If we could do it, anyone can!”, but it’s literally true–of the six of us who started singing together, only ONE had ever had any experience in a choir as an adult. We had no idea what we were doing, but God blessed us and led us step by step where we needed to go. He will certainly do the same for you if He is calling you to the Sacred Music mission fields!
Although you will be working together in charity for God’s glory, your schola WILL face all kinds of blocks, discouragement, and difficulties in the future: and we certainly have! But when you are doing the Lord’s work, that “comes with the territory,” and He will sustain you through it. Also know this: you can’t imaging the fun you’re going to have singing together for weeks, months, and years. It takes a special group of folks with a unique blend of perseverance, quirkiness, and orneriness to embark on this project, that’s for sure!
Advertising and Organizing: Start Here
Make a plan:
- Read, reread, and memorize these two articles:
The Blueprint: Sacred Music in Your Parishand How to Start a Garage Schola. Do everything that the authors say, in the order given–particularly the praying part! We took the plan as our starting point and have been working it out for the last two years. The plan works, and it is broken down into refreshingly simple parts so you will learn what to do right away.
Music & Technique
- For a beginning guide to the new world of Chant, how it’s written and how to read and sing it, you’ll want to read and print An Idiot’s Guide to Square Notes. (Under the “General Use” heading on that page.) It allowed us to hit the ground running.
- A big part of what makes the chant sound so beautiful is the clearness of the pure vowels of the Latin language. If you know any Spanish, this will be a snap. Here’s a simple guide to (Church) Latin pronunciation: Ecclesiastical Latin Pronunciation Guide.
- For your beginning repertory start with the papal document Jubilate Deo from 1974 which includes the basic repertoire of chant EVERY CATHOLIC man, woman, and child is supposed to be able to sing. There are some amazing treasures in here.
- After you are comfortable with the chants from Jubilate Deo, get your schola started pieces from the Parish Book of Chant. The In Paradisum and Jesu Dulcis Memoria will likely become favorites!
Chant in English
Simple English Propers
- In our times, there is sadly much resistance to our Church’s sacred language. In response to the need for sacred music in English, gloriously there have sprung up and abundance of options for singing chants in English (which is then called Vernacular Plainsong instead of Gregorian Chant). When singing for Mass we rely on these Simple English Propers for the music for each feast day’s Introit (Entrance), Offertory, and Communion chants–they are indeed simple, and very beautiful. You’ll still need to know how chant works, though, in order to be able to use them!
In the paragraphs above I have given a very quick overview of our Schola’s go-to resources for the past two years–there’s more, but this is what I think you need to get a schola started. If you have any questions, please contact me! I would love to offer tidbits from our experience if it would help you. You’ll see about this Sacred Music stuff–it’s crazy, it’s fun, and it will absolutely take over your life!
* The word “schola” is short for the Latin phrase “schola cantorum” which means “school of songs.” St. Gregory the Great (for whom the term “Gregorian Chant” itself is named) started organizing these schools of song to train singers who would be able to better assist at Holy Mass.