The angelic beauty of Gregorian chant comes to Texarkana soon for a special two-day event at Texarkana College and Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
On Friday, Oct. 27, at the Stilwell Humanities Music Hall, Lowell Davis of the St. Basil's School of Gregorian Chant in Houston, Texas, presents a 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. lecture that covers the history and basic theory of Gregorian chant.
Then the next day, Oct. 28, Davis leads a workshop on singing Gregorian chant from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. If you've ever wanted to try your voice at this sacred sort of music, now is your chance. The public is invited to these events.
"The Friday lecture is part lecture and then part exercises about the elements in the lecture," said Davis, executive director of the Gregorian chant school. He'll discuss the chant's history and its role in worship and rites (Roman, Greek and others).
In discussing chant, Davis will explore how it's a sung expression according to the rhythm of the text in a spoken format. "You look at the text, and you get a sense of the text in a rhetorical presentation," he said, noting that the difference with almost all of modern music is that it is, instead, based on a measured rhythm of the beat.
Also on Friday night, he will discuss how sung expression works itself into creating a unity of experience. Even though there are cantor solo parts, they're all basically introductory, explained Davis. The role of that single cantor is to set a tone and pitch, set the dynamic and the diction.
"So the choral expression in chant is the largest composition of chant that there is in the corpus," he said. On that Friday, participants will learn a bit of how to express the word in a sung manner, but do so together. In this way, someone can gather the profundity of the text with feelings like agony or joy, for example.
Davis explains that chant has evolved from something simple to be very complex. With a thousand years to work on these texts and a strong emotive content, the form evolved into high expression.
"You simply intensify, or you work on developing, all of the nuances that's in that text," he said.
One of the intriguing aspects of Gregorian chant is that most monks sang from memory, and they could not be a member of the monastery until they could sing all 150 psalms by heart, Davis explained. This was true with nuns, too.
"They had to be very tenacious and persevering," he said, noting they'll work on four chants: non-rhythmic narrative, non-rhythmic poetic, rhythmic poetic and the hymn in Latin.
"We're going to spend a lot more time on the notion of the unity of the pitch, unity in the tone, unity in the diction, unity in the dynamic," Davis said.
He said he's not assuming any religious affiliation with regard to that Friday evening lecture, but on Saturday part of the day-long workshop will include exploring the religious meaning of the texts. It will provide a widening understanding with the context of faith involved.
At the end of the day on Saturday, they will sing at a vigil mass. That's what it all leads up to, the Gregorian chant teacher said.
Both days should offer an exploration of what chant is so capable of doing, said Davis, in the choral or congregational experience. It's expressing the word so profoundly that "you go beyond just the music, you go elsewhere, so to speak," he said.
Davis believes in the power of unity possible through chanting. It's a common experience of that text as felt by everyone together. It's not a collection of people who just happen to be doing things together. It's more than that. And also, by hearing the word of God, this is how we come to believe, he says.
"Chant is a unifying experience because we're united in that text and that common experience is not a contiguous experience," Davis said. "We have to hear it together."
(The lecture is free. The Saturday workshop is $25, lunch included. To sign up for the workshop and for more information, contact Marc-André Bougie at 903-823-3229 or [email protected] or Dee Dee Harrison at [email protected] or 902-832-3360. Sacred Heart Catholic Church is located at 4505 Elizabeth St. in Texarkana, Texas.)