Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Scholas for the Traditional Mass

I am currently preparing for the first ever (as far as I know) meeting of Directors of Chant Scholas associated with the Latin Mass Society. We will be joined by a number of people keen to promote Gregorian Chant in either 'form' of the Roman Rite, including members of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge and the Association for the Latin Liturgy. We will be addressed by Colin Mawby, the well-known former Director of Music at Westminster Cathedral, organist and composer. The Latin Mass Society has the promotion of Chant as one of its charitable 'objects', and we are hoping to do more in this direction.

I have already learnt a great deal about the current situation, since participating scholas have kindly filled in a short questionnaire. I have focused attention on non-professional groups singing at the Traditional Mass, as of particular interest to the LMS. The first question one may ask is, where are these scholas now? Here, errors and omissions allowing, is the answer. The Angels are peripatic scholas, and the King David icons represent scholas who sing only at a particular church.

View LMS Chant Scholas in a larger map

The usual profile of these scholas can be summarised as follows. About half are composed of fewer than ten singers, sometimes as few as three; others have as many as 18 'regular' singers, though fewer would be present at a given Mass. The great majority sing the standard chant texts from the Liber Usualis, though a few use simplified versions as well. The chant tends to be sung by men only; about half also sing polyphony, which requires female voices as well. About a quarter of them sing (nearly) every week; the others sing as infrequently as once a quarter. The great majority are peripatetic, singing at a number of churches accross a diocese, though a few are attached to a specific church. About half of them have no official name - they are simply ad hoc groups of singers. Only two, out of the nearly twenty scholas I have identified, have a website: one is my own Oxford schola, and the other is the Rudgate Singers of York. Through these scholas it would seem that we are in touch with about 150 singers in total, although it is hard to gauge the degree of double counting (with the same singers being in more than one schola).

What of professional groups? The cost of professional singers puts them out of reach of all but a very few churches. The Cantores Missae sing once a month at St Bede's, Clapham Park, and the Brompton Oratory and the Birmingham Oratory use use their own choirs for both forms of the Mass on a regular basis.

Overall, this is not a situation in which the Chant can be said to be flourishing. What one can say is that it is being kept alive all over the country thanks to the superhuman efforts of unpaid enthusiasts with the opportunities afforded them by the Traditional Mass. We are determined both the help these existing scholas, encourage the formation of new ones, and also to raise the profile of Gregorian Chant in a more general way with training opportunities open to all.


  1. It sounds very encouraging to be having such mutual cooperation with groups such as the ALL. I wonder what your view is on having non-catholics singing in such contexts, as often happens with professional choirs? Since choirs would traditionally be an extension of the clergy (and I note you have often sung in cassock and cotta yourself) perhaps having non-catholics, and dare I say women, has a danger to the integrity of the Rite? Just thoughts and not strong opinions by any means...

  2. Joseph Shaw10:18 pm

    Well we can't let the best be the enemy of the good! The fact is that polyphony with little boys, for example, is beyond us at the moment. And doubling up chant singers with polyphonists makes a stict distiction between schola and choir difficult. But the all-male schola as an extension of the clergy, like altar severs, should be kept in mind as an ideal. That's what we do at the SCT Summer School for example.

  3. Joseph: thank you for this, and for including the Edinburgh Schola. I'll be in touch separately.

    Matthew: possibly right; our Schola does not have any women. It's for technical, musical reasons, but you could easily make the same connection as you make with Altar Servers and them being types (prefig.) of the Priest.