Hello, Hervé here. I am a catholic singer who tries and let the Roman Gradual work on him. As a result, I have experienced positive transformation in my prayer life, in my understanding of liturgy as well as in my singing voice and musicianship.
To paraphrase the first statement from the excellent article from Mark Daniel Kirby on liturgical chant, my chant resumé is “proletarian, communautarian and quotidian“, it is not academic, or institutional. Academia, or the institutions most commonly associated with the US Catholic Church do not seem to give liturgical chant the “pride of place” that the Vatican II Council gave to it.
Letting the Roman Gradual work on me, like all good apprenticeships, also encourages me to do my homework.
Prayer life: practicing the Roman Gradual showed me the importance of the psalms in the Catholic liturgy. The path from singing the mass to praying the psalms through compline seemed like a natural one. I am certainly no expert on the psalms, but I now know they are a gift that will keep on giving if I keep praying them. Daily.
Better understanding the liturgy: The “directors” I met did not give very convincing answers when asked why the Roman Gradual was ignored by most parishes. So I decided to take (so far) 60 hours of on-line classes with the Liturgical Institute. I highly recommend those classes. Why could not every Church music minister take at least the FREE 5-hour class “Introduction to the Sacred Liturgy”? That seems like a very low bar to me. How about just the “directors” taking it? We would save a lot of time towards a better implementation of the Vatican II Council instructions on Sacred Liturgy if classes from the Liturgical Institute were better known in our choir lofts…
Voice and music
Singing religious music is not new to me: as a soprano soloist with the Paris boys choir (I am the third soloist in this video), I toured the world, and sang over 300 concerts, Masses and/or TV shows between 1975 and 1978. We were taught solfeggio, but after three years, I still could not sight read music.
After the boyschoir years, i stayed away from organized singing for about 20 years, graduating in business, not music. Then, in the mid-90’s, I started singing in choirs again. I studied voice privately, worked on music theory by myself and did improve my musicianship enough to spend a few years singing in professional opera companies as an AGMA chorister (see below) and as a paid section leader in Methodist and Episcopal church choirs. But new music still meant quite a bit of rote learning for me…
…then in 2012, after returning to the Church, I bought my first Gregorian Missal, and started to learn singing from it, getting familiar with square notes. After 3 years of working with square notes and modality, my musicianship improved much more quickly than it had in the previous 35 years… I realized how dependent on the sound of instruments I had been to solidify my insecure sight-reading, and broke that dependency. I finally understood the link between breath control and phrasing, inherent to chant. I have not had a voice lesson in years… Finally, I was able to sight-read anything and perform after a short review any chant from the Roman Gradual. It only took 6 intervals after all.... Then modern notation became a lot easier to read as well. Re-starting with chant, I followed the historic progression of music theory: from the breath to the phrase, to the proportionality (intervals), to the lines on paper, finally to the rhythmic theory needed in modern ensembles. No the reverse they tried to teach me as a child.
My resumé, in short? I believed what the Church documents had to say on music and I followed their instructions… Now I am able to see how many musicians preferred other paths, and how much this has damaged music in our liturgies…
Thank you for reading. I hope you found this “resumé” helpful.
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