Monday 14 December 2009

Term Card, Hilary Term 2010

We have a busy and exciting line up of Masses this term.

First Week
Thursday 21st Jan, 7pm, Feast of St Agnes
St Anthony of Padua, Headley Way, Headington

Third Week
Tuesday 2nd Feb, 6pm,
Candlemas: SS Gregory & Augustine, Woodstock Road.

Fourth Week
Saturday 13th Feb, 11.30am,
Votive Mass of the Martyrs of England and Wales
Our Lady of Light, Long Crendon.

Fifth Week
Wednesday 17th Feb, 6pm
Ash Wednesday, SS Gregory & Augustine's.

Sixth Week
Saturday 27th Feb, 11.45am
LMS Pilgrimage (Ember Saturday of Lent)
Shrine of Our Lady of Caversham.

Eighth Week
Monday 8th March, 7.15pm
Newman Society Termly Mass (Feria of Lent)
Oxford Oratory

Friday 12
12th March, 6pm
Feast of St Gregory, patronal feast for SS Gregory & Augustine.

End of Term Masses

The end of term has been exceptionally busy and I have been behind posting up photographs. What is worse is that the camcorder used to capture the singing has stopped working - with an inaccessable video on its hard disk.
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Requiem, with the blessing of the catafalque, at the chapel of Milton Manor. More photos here.

We have had a very successful last few weeks, singing at a Requiem at Milton Manor, and then the First Friday of December at SS Gregory & Augustine. Since the end of term a group composed of schola members, plus a member of the St Gregory parish choir, sang at a special Mass at SS Gregory & Augustine to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the ordination of Fr John Saward.
Fr Saward has been a great supporter of the schola over the years and it was a privilege to sing at this Mass of thanksgiving. It was followed by a party with the parishioners in the parish hall.

Our termly dinner - or lunch - took place after the Milton Manor Mass, when we went to Didcot for an excellent meal in the new branch of Cibo there, with Fr Simon Leworthy, the celebrant of the Mass, and the serving team.

Next term's term card is shaping up nicely and will be posted up soon. This term has represented a great step forward for the schola, with the addition of polyphony and important input from Philip Duffy's day of training. We have never sounded better.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Plainsong and Medieval Music Society conference

We have been notified of the 2010 conference of The Plainsong and Medieval Music Society to be held in The Old Library, Pembroke College, Cambridge on Saturday 13 March. The conference will feature presentations of research by current graduate students, followed by a roundtable on careers in Medieval Music.

They are calling for abstracts. Full details on their website.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Chant Course with Nick Gale

Booking is now open for a three-day chant course (9th to 11th April 2010) with Nick Gale, the Director of Music at St George's Cathedral in Southwark. Active members of the Schola Abelis can attend the course for free by special arrangement, but the course is open to all. For more details see here.
Chant class

Saturday 21 November 2009

Presentation of Our Lady

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We sang for this feast in St Anthony of Padua, of modern church in Headington (see here). The propers, Salve Sancta Parens, are the same as for Votive Masses of Our Lady; our polyphonists sang the Missa de Beata Virgine by Josquin des Prez.
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Saturday 7 November 2009

Two Chant Masses

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We've had a busy week: on Monday we accompanied a All Souls at the Oxford Oratory, and on Friday evening (yesterday) we accompanied a Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart in SS Gregory & Augustine's, for the regular 'first Friday' Mass. Both were purely chant (no polyphony), for different reasons. We'll be doing more polyphony later in the month.

The organ loft at the Oratory. We had thirteen singers on Monday, including Fr Anton Webb of the Oratory.
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Here's a video of the Gradual and Alleluia of the Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart. These are difficult pieces composed specially for the Mass in the 1920s, under Pius XI, who reformed the Mass and Office of the feast. Older editions of the Liber Usualis have different propers for the feast, which was approved for certain dioceses in 1765 and added to the universal calendar (the Friday of the week after Corpus Christi) in 1856.

The Offertory, a particularly tricky one.

2009 11 06_4819_edited-1

For more on these Masses, see the LMS Chairman blog.

Sunday 25 October 2009

LMS Oxford Pilgrimage 2009

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The first Mass of the academic year was yesterday; it was the Latin Mass Society's annual pilgrimage to Oxford, in honour of the Catholic Martyrs of Oxford. This was the occasion for a splendid Solemn Mass in Blackfriars, and a very impressive procession through the streets of Oxford to the site of the martyrdoms of 1589. So addition to singing at the Mass, we sang the Great Litany, the Te Deum, and other things, on the procession, and finally accompanied Benediction.

Below is the choir loft at Blackfriars, with our polyphony group singing Byrd's Four-Part Mass.
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Here is the Introit, Kyrie and Gloria.

The Gradual and Alleluia.

The Offertory and a polyphonic motet.

Sunday 4 October 2009


This is the website of the Oxford Gregorian Chant Society, the Schola Abelis. The Society exists to sing Gregorian Chant and Renaissance Polyphony to the highest possible standards in the setting for which this music was composed: the traditional liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

This term we are singing in a Catholic Hall and in three Catholic parish churches around Oxford, and an historic Catholic house, Milton Manor, whose private chapel dates from before Catholic churches could be built openly. The Masses are organised in association with the Latin Mass Society.

The OGCS consists of an all-male schola for the singing of the chant and a mixed choir for the polyphony. Membership is by audition but all are encouraged to have a go. Few people coming to Oxford have significant previous experience of singing Gregorian Chant, in particular, so we don't expect you to have!

As well as singing at seven Masses in the course of the term we have a day with Mr Philip Duffy, an associate of the Schola Gregoriana who was Director of Music at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral for thirty years. He has done a number of workshops at Oxford in recent years.

Our student singers are paid a stipend of £15 per Mass (with associated practices). Membership is also open to non-students and to people of all faiths.

Contact us to join:

President: Richard Craddock, Somerville
Secretary: Paul Kolb, Queen's
Treasurer: Andrew Crawford, Blackfriars
Senior Member: Dr Joseph Shaw, St Benet's Hall

Term Card, Michaelmas 2009

Practices are every Wednesday, 8.15, Queen's College

2nd Wk Sat 24th Oct

Pilgrimage in honour of the Oxford Martyrs
Blackfriars 11am followed by procesion and benediction.

4th Wk Mon 2nd Nov
All Souls (requiem) Oratory 12.15

4th Wk Fri 6th
Votive of the Sacred Heart (First Friday), SS Gregory & Augustine 6pm

5th Wk Sat 14th
Master Class with Philip Duffy

6th Wk Sat 21st
Presentation of BVM, 11am St Anthony of Padua, Headington.

7th Wk Sat 28th
Requiem 11am Milton Manor, Didcot

8th Wk Fri 4th Dec
St Peter Chrysologus (First Friday) SS Gregory & Augustine 6pm

Saturday 29 August 2009

Bartolucci on the Solesmes Chant revival

There is a fascinating interview with Monsignor Domenico Bartolucci, Maestro Emeritus of the Sistine Chapel, admirer, friend and collaborator of Benedict XVI on Rorate Caeli. The whole interview is worth reading; it mainly deals with the liturgical reform following Vatican II, which Mgr Bartolucci witnessed as an exceptionally well-informed and well connected individual. There is a section on the chant which deserves particular attention on this blog.

Maestro, what role does music play in this process?
It has an incredibly important role for many reasons. The affected “Cecilianism” to which certainly Perosi was no stranger, with its tones that were so mild and enticing to the ear had introduced a new romantic sentimentalism, which had nothing to do, for instance, with the eloquent and solid physicality of Palestrina. Some extravagant deteriorations introduced by Solesmes had cultivated a subdued gregorianism, which also was the fruit of a pseudo-restauring passion for the Medieval ages, which were so popular in the nineteenth century.

The idea of an opportunity to recuperate the archeological vein, both in music and liturgy, of a past, from which the so called “oxen centuries” (seculi bui) of the Council of Trent separated it ….. in short an archeology which has nothing at all to do with Tradition and which wishes to restore something which maybe never existed, is a bit similar to certain churches restored in the “pseudoromantic” style of Viollet-le-Duc.

What does it mean, Monsignore, when in the musical field you attack Solesmes?
This means that the Gregorian chant is modal, not tonal and not rhythmical, it has nothing to do with “one, two, three, one, two, three”. We should not despise the way people sung in our cathedrals and replace it with a pseudo-monastic and affected murmuring. A song from the Middle Ages is not interpreted with theories of today, but one should go about it as it was then. Moreover the Gregorian chant of another historical time could also be sung by the people, sung using the force with which our people expressed their faith. Solesmes never understood this, but we should recognize the learned and large philological work executed on the old manuscripts.

What is this 'subdued gregorianism' he condemns? It is the theory you will find set out in pre-conciliar school texts as well as scholarly books, developed by the monk of Solesmes Dom Mocquereau,which attempted to interpret the chant in terms of groups of two and three notes. This interpretation is still indicated in the standard Solesmes editions of chant by small vertical lines, the ictus, which gives the 'up' beat of a group. The shoe-horning and distortion of the chant this required is remarkable, and it has been rejected in academic circles and with most chant practitioners as well.

Solesmes is credited with the revival of chant, which (they claimed) had fallen into decay after Trent, by a massive project of manuscript research and the creation of new editions, and theories of interpretation to go with them. However Bartolucci seems to be claiming that the stilted interpretation they ended up giving the chant was part of the reason for its downfall, and in its rejection of the then-current practice in favour of a historical reconstruction is guilty of the 'archaeologism' condemned by Pope Pius X.

It should be noted that the new wave of Chant revival uses a more fluid approach to interpretation, with a greater respect for the text being sung. Bartolucci seems to be demanding also something more virile and forceful, in contrast to 'pseudo-monastic and affected murmuring'.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Corpus Christi video clips

Here they are at last. I've been having some trouble with Gloria TV but my persistence has been rewarded.

Introit Cibavit eos, sung by all.

The Gradual and Alleluia, sang by a smaller group of cantors. We also (all) sang the Sequence, but the camcorder couldn't cope with the sound of the organ which accompanied it.

The Offertory, Sacerdotes Domini, sung by the cantors.

The Communion, sung by all, in alternation with the verses of Psalm 22.

The Introit and Communion verses are, in fact, antiphons for psalsm, although the psalms are usually not sung any longer. It is still possible to sing them, however, and at communion there is usually time. The correct psalm (in the correct psalm-tone) for each Introit and Communion is given in a book 'Versus Psalmorum et Canticorum' (1962) which can be downloaded for free from the Church Music Association of America here, and bought hard copy (2008 reprint) from them via Lulu here.

The custom of singing the psalm with the communion verse seems an admirable one to me, and it has long been followed in Oxford; it is also done commonly at St Bede's Clapham Park and at the St Catherine's Trust Summer School - and no doubt other places as well.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Corpus Christi and Termly Dinner

Corpus Christi at the Oxford Oratory was our last Mass of term, and of the academic year. The Oratory church is the largest at which we sing, and Masses on Holy Days can attract a congregation of a hundred. As has become the custom, this was the occasion of some First Holy Communions. Mass was celebrated by Fr Jerome Bertram Cong Orat.
After Mass we had our Termly Dinner, which I suppose can be at lunchtime, at the Old Parsonage, just over the road from the Oratory.
Video clips to follow. More photos of the Mass here.

Thursday 11 June 2009

First Friday of June

This was Whit Friday, the Friday after the Feast of the Ascension (Whitsun). It was an Ember Day. Here is the Greater and Lesser Alleluia, and the Sequence. The Sequence and the second of the two Alleluias are the same as for Whitsun; they are repeated every day of the Octave until Sunday (which is Trinity Sunday).

The two Alleluias are sung by our cantors, but the full schola sings the Sequence.

Saturday 30 May 2009

Mass at Mapledurham, Vigil of Pentcost 2009

Today we had a Sung Mass at Mapledurham House. I didn't have my camera or camcorder with me (for a change!) but we had a schola of 11, including our coach Adrian Taylor, the chapel was filled to capacity (which is forty people!), and it was a wonderful occasion. Mass was sung by Fr Simon Leworthy FSSP, who is based in Reading.

The weather was glorious. We had lunch in the nearby 'Pack Horse Inn' and returned to the house for a tour. It was a Catholic house continuously through penal times, and is still occupied by descendants of the Blount family who owned it then - the Eystons. Mr John Eyston having inherited it at the age of four, has spent a lifetime in a painstaking restoration. It is open to the public on Saturday afternoons in the Summer, and is worth a visit.

So you have something to look at, here are a couple of photos from my mobile phone, and a link to some much better one of our Mass in this chapel last year.

Thursday 28 May 2009

More videos

Lesser Alleluia, Virga Jesse & Greater Alleluia, Ave Maria

Offertory Beata est Virgo

Communion Unde huic, followed by the hymn Ave Maris Stella

Sunday 24 May 2009

Chant Training Day

On Saturday our annual public Gregorian Chant Training Day took place. The first of these was led by the late Dr Mary Berry; since then they have been led by Mr Philip Duffy.
Chant day6
Having a public event such as this is intended to stimulate interest in the Chant, especially among local Catholic singers, as well as providing an opportunity for Schola members to experience a nationally recognised Chant expert.

We rehearsed the hymns of Benediction (we attended the regular Benediction on Saturdays at 11am) and the Votive Mass of Our Lady, Salve sancta parens, with the variations for the Easter Season, with Mass IV. We had sung most of the chants before and Mr Duffy was able to focus on the interpretation.

A matter of particular interest in Tempore Paschale is where to stress the word 'alleluia'. Alleluia is added to many of the chants in the Easter Season, so we sang it again and again. The syllable marked as stressed is the third - allelUia - but Mr Duffy explained that there is a secondary stress on the first: ALlelUia. Or better, the second and the final syllable are de-emphasised. You can hear how we sang alleluia after a day of Mr Duffy's instructions!

The day concluded with Sung Mass at 3.30pm, accompanied by the participants, celebrated by Fr John Saward, who had very generously hosted the event in his church and hall.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

'Catholic congregational music a laughing stock'

James MacMillan, the Catholic composer, has sent a message to Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who just been elected Chairman of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and is being installed as Archbishop of Westminster tomorrow. It is about Church music. He says:

Liturgical "activists" have used the vacuum after the Council to push their own agenda of de-poeticisation, de-sacralisation, and a general dumbing down of the Church's sacred praise. Pope Benedict is determined to confront the problem. The faithful are fed up with sloppy practice, inappropriate, terrible music and the gradual drift away from Catholic standards in the liturgy. My hope is that Archbishop Nichols will give a clear lead in the pursuit of profundity in liturgy. This means a recognition that there were terrible mistakes made in the past few decades that have made new Catholic congregational music a laughing stock.

See The Times.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Worcester College Sarum Vespers

We've been alerted to this event.

Join the Worcester College chapel community, on Wednesday 27th May, at 9.00 pm,
for a reconstruction of sung Vespers of the medieval Office in honour of St
Augustine of Canterbury. This will be the latest in a series of such services
which feature performances of medieval liturgical music, much of which has not
been heard since the Reformation, transcribed from local sources. On this
occasion the service is from the Denchworth Antiphonal, a manuscript used at the
parish of St James, Denchworth, near Wantage, which has many connections to the

Several items from the early modern Denchworth parish library, now deposited in
Worcester, will be on display, including a chained volume and a commonplace book
for the use of the incumbents 'for ever'. This is a unique opportunity to see
some volumes perhaps intended for practical use in an early modern parish.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Ambrosian Chant

A former Oxford chant singer (just before the formalisation of the current schola as a University society, in fact) has been spending time in Milan, and sends me this video which demonstrates Ambrosian chant notation. Fascinating stuff.

Perhaps the current Secretary would be able to demonstrate the chant of the Premonstratensians in a similar way? We should always bear in mind that we we do, with the Liber Usualis, is basically in the 'Roman' tradition, which is simply one of the traditions of Chant in the Latin Church, to say nothing of the Greeks, Armenians and other Rites!

Saturday 2 May 2009

St Joseph the Workman: the Schola Abelis on song

This feast was created in 1955 as an antidote to the May Day events organised by Socialists and Communists. Here is us singing the Introit,

and the Greater Alleluia and Alleluia.

Since this is Friday of First Week, in University terms, we had very limited rehearsal time so we decided to sing Mass VIII, 'Missa de Angelis', which has a bad reputation in Gregorian Chant circles for being overused, and, because of the period in which it was composed, it is said to be influenced by Baroque musical style. The same is true of Credo III, which we also sang. Still, everyone knows these pieces, so minimal preparation is required. And the proper chants of the Feast of St Joseph the Worker fall rather into the same 'late' category, only more so!

They still sound pretty good if they are sung well.
St Joseph5
We sang St Joseph the Workman last year, when it also fell on a First Friday; last year it was displaced from 1st May by the Ascension, and was celebrated on May 2nd.
St Joseph6
Here's the Offertory (pitched a little high!), followed by the hymn Caelitum Joseph.

and the Communion:

Monday 27 April 2009

Chant colloquium

As part of the Graduate Students' Colloquia Series, there will be a lecture given on plainchant. Here are the details:

"Gregorian Imprints: Solesmes, Regensburg and the Battle for a French Plainchant", given by Katherine Ellis

Tuesday of 5th Week (26th May), 5.15pm

Denis Arnold Hall, Faculty of Music

Students, staff and general public are all welcome to attend. Refreshments beforehand and discussion afterwards.

Monday 6 April 2009

Term Card, Trinity 2009

Here are our events for this term:

1st Week
Fri 1st May: St Joseph the Worker (First Friday)
SS Gregory & Augustine, 6pm

4th Week
Thurs 21st May: Ascension
Oxford Oratory, 12.15pm

Sat 23rd May: Chant Training Day with Phillip Duffy
SS Gregory & Augustine, from 9.30am
Votive Mass of Our Lady, 3.30pm

5th Week
Sat 30th May: Whitsun Eve
Mapledurham House, near Reading, 11am

6th Week
Friday 5th June: Whit Friday
SS Gregory & Augustine, 6pm

7th Week
Thurs 11th June: Corpus Christi
Oxford Oratory,12.15pm

Practices are on Wednesdays, First week to Seventh Week, at 8.15 in Oriel unless indicated.

To join us please email

Tuesday 10 March 2009

First Friday of March

Last Friday was our last Mass of Hillary Term, the First Friday of March, which was the Friday of the First Week of Lent. Mass was sung by Fr John Saward in his church, SS Gregory & Augustine. Notice the 'Lenten array' which now covers the reredos and the panelling on either side: it is a large, patterned purple curtain.

Each day of Lent has its own Mass in the Traditional Missal. Outside Lent the Mass one gets on a given weekday will either be a votive Mass, a ferial Mass (ie the repetition of the previous Sunday Mass) or (most likely) the feast of a saint. During Lent there are Masses (ie a full set of propers and chant settings for them) for each day. Important feasts and votive Masses can still be said, of course, but these Lenten Masses are of great antiquity and beauty.

Fr John Saward accordingly said the Mass of the Friday after the First Sunday of Lent, which is in fact the Ember Friday of Lent. Like many days of Lent, this makes use of the Tract of Ash Wednesday. All the other propers, however, are unique to this Mass.

At the offertory we also sang the beautiful hymn to the Holy Name of Jesus, Iesu dulcis memoria, since First Friday Masses are a devotion to the Sacred Heart.

At communion, after the communion antiphon 'Erubescant, et conturbentur' we sang the Lenten prose, 'Attende Domine'.

Thursday 26 February 2009

The liturgical music essential to an understanding of the liturgy

If we sing what the Church wants us to sing, the nature of the music presents the words to us in such a way that helps us to understand them. Another very interesting post on the New Liturgical Movement by Jeff Tucker:

Lent is a fantastic example of this, and this Sunday in particular, when the propers intrigue us with their form and structure. The Introit is joyful, and the Tract is too, but it is shockingly long, while the Gospel itself is short. The propers are uniformly from Psalm 90, which his highly unusual, and this happens to be the same Psalm that the Devil quotes during the period of temptation.

See the whole post.

Monday 23 February 2009

Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge

This is the schola founded by the late Dr Mary Berry, who directed the first Gregorian Chant Training Day I organised in Oxford. We have established mutual links and they have asked me to mention a very interesting-sounding event:


Saturday 18 April 2009 at 7.30pm

Cantors of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge


Music from the Templars’ Jerusalem Breviary

Saturday 21 February 2009

Mass at Milton Manor

On Saturday we had a splendid Mass in the delightful 18th Century 'Gothick' private chapel of Milton Manor, which was consecrated by Bishop Challoner and has been occupied by the Catholic Barret (now Mockler-Barret) family ever since.
The chapel was quite full and the schola sang from an upper room which has wooden shutters opening into the chapel.

Mass was followed--as always at Milton Manor--by refreshments offered by the ever-hospitable Mockler-Barrets, after which we went for lunch in a nearby pub.

Here are two videos recording our singing:

the Offertory, Felix namque est:

the Gradual and the Tract, sung by selected members of the schola:

See the Oxford LMS events blog, where there are more photographs.

Friday 13 February 2009

Residential Chant Coure

A brand new and very exciting development is heralded by the announcement by St Catherine's Trust of a residential Gregorian Chant course to be directed by Nick Gale, who is the Director of Music at St George's Cathedral in Southwark. It will run Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, 26th-29th March, at Ardingly College, near Haywards Heath in Sussex.

All the active singers of the Schola Abelis will be able to attend this course for free, thanks to the schola's benefactors. For the general public the price is £50.

Please contact me to secure your place on this unique course. There is simply no similar opportunity in the UK to spend time on chant over three days:

For more details, see Oxford Events, which also announces the annual 'Chant Training Day' organised by the local Latin Mass Society, and directed by Mr Phillip Duffy, former Director of Music at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (ie the Catholic one). This is a one-day event, which will take place at SS Gregory and Augustine on Saturday 25th May.

Again, the Schola Abelis has an arrangement with the organisers and active singers will not have to pay to attend. Please note it in your diaries!

Rip up those carpets!

There is a fascinating post by Jeff Tucker about church accoustics in The New Liturgical Movement.

Carpets kill the chant. Trying to combat the effect of carpets in churches by installing more and better loadspeakers and so on obviously won't help the Chant either - amplification can only be used effectively by pop-style music. One reason it is going to be difficult to revive the Chant - or any music in accordance with the Church's enormous and wonderful tradition - is carpets. They will make it sound awful.

Rip them out!

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Saturday 31 January 2009

Saturday practice and lunch

Today we had a session with our professional coach, Mr Adrian Taylor, in preparation for Candlemass. Our practice was followed by lunch in the Senior Member's house.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Chant pdfs

The Church Music Association of America have been scanning and making available free to the public an increasing number of extremely useful chant books and one-off bits and pieces. They aren't set out all that clearly on their website (scroll down and look on the right sidebar) so here they are. No doubt there will be more as time goes on. They are all pdf files, many of them extremely large.

Saturday 17 January 2009

Term Card Hillary term 2009

As usual we will meet on Wednesdays at 8.15 in Oriel (in the Music Room: please ask at the lodge).

Our events this term:

3rd Week, Monday
2nd Feb (6pm): Candlemas
in the Church of SS Gregory and Augustine

5th Week, Saturday
21st Feb (11.30am), Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary
in the private chapel of Milton Manor House

7th Week, Friday
6th March (6pm), First Friday (Ferial Mass of Lent)
in SS Gregory and Augustine

Our venues this term:

SS Gregory & Augustine, 322 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 7NS

Milton Manor, near Abingdon, OX14 EN