WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Michael Ho and Kevin Napora discuss aspects of a Gregorian vocal.
EDMONTON – For centuries, Gregorian chant remained at the heart of Church music. Then the style of music mostly fell into disuse after the Baroque period, before experiencing a revival in the 19th century.
Now Gregorian chant is seeing a local resurgence thanks to a new choir at St. Agnes and St. Anthony parishes.
Under the leadership of Fathers Paul Moret and Eduardo Escober, a Gregorian chant choir, comprised of about 15 men from the two parishes, was established in January. Also helping with the choir is music coordinator Debbie Sackiw.
Gregorian chant is essentially vocal music. The text, phrases, words and syllables can be sung in various ways. The most straightforward is recitation of each syllable to a single tone.
Luke Laurence, a choir member, said Gregorian chant has been all but lost since the Second Vatican Council.
"The Church has always been talking about this rich heritage of Gregorian chant, and it's been in all the encyclicals, but it hasn't really happened yet," said Laurence. "It's nice to see it starting, and it would be good to see in other parishes too, and not just an anomaly."
An impetus for the choir was the request by some parishioners for more sacred music, such as polyphony, at Mass. With the establishment of this choir, Laurence's hope is that other parishes continue in this same spirit.
The twin parishes have a few choirs. Their charism is sacred music, and every month the chant choir hopes to sing at a Saturday evening Mass at St. Anthony and a Sunday morning Mass at St. Agnes.
"We are a new choir, so we just did our first weekend. We'll sing one weekend a month because there are other choirs in the rotation," said Laurence.
Based on limited feedback from parishioners, Laurence said the choir was well received and those who commented extolled the beautiful sounding music.
Since early January, the choir has been practising every Monday evening at St. Agnes Church. A dozen men were at the March 19 rehearsal, singing Vide Domine and Sanctus. Bass, baritones and tenors merge to generate a distinctive sound.
Gregorian chant doesn't necessarily need to be sung in Latin, but most of the melodies are written in Latin.
"It's nice to sing such lovely music. It's very conducive to prayer, so it's nice to be part of the Mass. It changes the whole mood of the Mass actually," said Laurence.
Also active in the new choir is Alexander McCune, a convert to the Catholic Church who has spent his life immersed in music. He has played the piano since childhood, in classical, jazz and many other styles, and expanded onto the pipe organ in recent years.
McCune studied choral and orchestral conducting in Ontario with Maestro Uwe Lieflander, and sang with the Sacred Music Society. Returning to Edmonton last year, McCune is already involved in five choirs, among other musical endeavours.
"There is a great movement in the Church to bring back that music so that we can worship with all of the Church, not just the Church of the '70s, '80s and '90s, but the Church from 100 AD to the present day - the entire Church," said McCune.
Gregorian chant has been around for centuries, but continues to be adapted for the modern Church. He noted that a new Gregorian chant, Gloria, was written for the new Mass translation.
"A Mass could include a piece from 2012, a piece from Mozart's day in the 1700s and a piece from 800 AD, a Gregorian chant. It's all part of the Church's experience," said McCune.