Jeremy Summerly, Sterndale Bennett Lecturer in Music and Head of Academic Studies, Royal Academy of Music, London
There was a palpable sense of excitement as people found themselves on a fascinating journey of discovery – re-discovery in some cases – at the all day Gregorian Chant Workshop at Our Lady of Lourdes in Wanstead. Under the expert and boundlessly enthusiastic guidance of Nick Gale, Director of Music at St George’s RC Cathedral in Southwark the world of chant was brought to life and given a fresh relevance to the modern liturgy with Nick’s enormously practical suggestions for its use.
This workshop was organised by the Essex and East London Area of the Royal School of Church Music so it attracted an ecumenical participation with the fifty attendees evenly split between Roman Catholics and Anglicans, as well as a Church of Scotland minister. Nick Gale carefully selected the chants to teach us from the Catholic and (Catholic) Anglican Use liturgies, further underlining the potential universal appeal of this timeless music. This created its lighter moments during the day with everyone – regardless of denomination – joining in a rousing rendition of Christus Vincit, including the line ‘Summo Pontifico et universali Papae, vita’ (To the Supreme Pontiff and universal Pope, life).
As well as tackling some settings of the Mass, including the Ambrosian Gloria and Mass XVIII, we mastered several hymns and chants suitable for Advent and Christmas for both the Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgies. By the afternoon session ‘Rorate cæli desuper’ and ‘Puer natus in Bethlehem’ were being performed polyphonically in the church with a reasonable amount of confidence. We rounded off the day with a selection of chant from the Catholic Anglican Use liturgy for Midnight Mass.
The abiding memory from the day for all those who took part, however, will be the clarity of Nick’s teaching, full of knowledge and passion about how Gregorian Chant should be performed but never dogmatic. He was engaging from the first moment to the last, bringing every phrase alive and shining a new light on this great music.
Hosting the day at Wanstead was a masterstroke too as we could sit in a church where a new organ is being built, the striking new organ case already in place in the centre of the gallery at the rear of the church. This helped create a feeling of renewal and appreciation of the crucial function of music in enriching the liturgy.
In addition to the inspirational Nick Gale, many people contributed to the success of the day, including Roderick Sime, the Director of Music at Wanstead and Fr Pat Sammon for kindly hosting the day and Duncan Patterson (for RSCM) and Shirley Timmins (for the Diocese of Brentwood) for their planning, support and work in promoting it and attracting such a large and appreciative participation.
David Worsfold – Journalist and course participant
OLEM - Abergavenny, September 2010
Lancaster Cathedral ,26 June 2010
The main benefits of the workshop were a rekindled enthusiasm for singing the chant as well as we possibly can, and a clear sense of how to go about that – even if we are still a long way off – and much higher aspirations and standards to strive for. Everyone found the workshop inspirational and challenging, in the most positive sense.
Andrew Plasom-Scott, Director of the Schola Gregoriana of Lancaster Cathedral
Residential Chant Course and Retreat, The Oratory School, Reading, 9-11 April 2010
was such a success that it has been adopted by the newly-formed Gregorian Chant Network as its flagship training event. The GCN was founded with the support of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, the St Catherine's Trust and a number of other groups to promote Gregorian Chant. While most training events are one-day events, the GCN Retreat was an ideal opportunity to have a three-day event with Mass, Vespers, Compline, Benediction and, this year, a procession, laid on. While minimising administration costs it benefits both the singers and those attending the Retreat, since the singers are able to accompany the liturgy. The course was more than twice the size of last year's, with over 30 singers. Nick Gale, the Director of Music at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, was again the Course Director, but this year he was joined by his colleague, Mark Johnson, the Master of the Academy of St Cecilia. This enabled them to divide the singers into the more and less experienced for some sessions.
Including the singers, a total of 150 people attended the Retreat this year. It is by far the biggest residential event in the Usus Antiquior calendar in the UK. Mass and Compline on the opening day were accompanied by the Lay-Clerks of St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, under the direction of Nick Gale, who sang a polyphonic Mass setting by Giovanni Croce and Easter and Eucharistic motets by William Byrd. At Compline they sang a 6-part polyphonic Regina Caeli by Robert White. For the rest of the Retreat the singers on the Chant Course sang the Mass propers and Ordinary, supported by the faithful, and with Vespers and Compline. Marian hymns and the Litany of Loreto were sung during the procession
Taken from the St Catherine Family trust website
Nick Gale, with the assistance of his Southwark colleague Mark Johnson, led an inspirational three-day course for the newly-founded Gregorian Chant Network at the Oratory School after Easter. Nick's approach was an eye-opener for those who've not seen it before, freeing the chant from some of the artificiality of early twentieth century interpretations, making for a more fluid and expressive performance. Nick led a large and very mixed group (about 30 singers) with great sensitivity and humour, and the feedback from the participants has been tremendous. Nick made a very good impression on some of my Oxford University Schola members, and we have asked him to come back to his Alma mater to give the Schola our own workshop early in Michaelmas Term.
Dr Joseph Shaw, Oxford University
Saturday 23 January. Our Lady of Sorrows, Bognor Regis.
The Gregorian Chant workshop held in the Parish of Bognor Regis with Barnham and Slindon was attended by 55 enthusiastic singers from across the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton and from two nearby Anglican parishes. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day which culminated in a Missa Cantata attended by over 200 people.
Nick Gale is the perfect teacher making the daunting task of singing Latin chant easier than most people imagined. He is relaxed, friendly, encouraging but also very informative. I now have the confidence to introduce chant, both in Latin and the vernacular, into our services. I had previously read several books on the subject of Gregorian chant but I learnt more from the workshop and from actually singing the Mass.
I hope to be able to invite Nick back again but, in the meantime, there is his excellent CD to use as a reminder.
Liz Lucas, Course Organiser
Saturday 14 November. St Anselm's Church, West Hill, Dartford.
The chant day was better than my wildest dreams and surpassed all my expectations. It was wonderful to hear this muic being sung in our parish after so many years. And to hear our Tickell organ being played so wonderfully by Nick. Our priest was overwhelmed and has asked Nick to return as soon as possible to do a follow up workshop on the singing of the Divine Office. I know there were people there from other parishes who are now intent on requesting workshops for their own communities. I hope this will be the begnning of something that will spread throughout the Church and I hope we can welcome Nick back in the very near future.
St Anslem's Parish, Dartford
1 November 2009: Our Ladye and St Michael, Abergavenny
Picture it: a Missa Cantata in the Old Rite is scheduled, only for the Parish Priest to discover that the much -loved and hard-working organist and choirmaster, who very very rarely absents himself, just has to be away that weekend. Many in the choir do not read music, but frequent practice and the choirmaster' cajoling have given them a whole range of polyphonic pieces, old and not so old, to suit parish liturgy needs..... but apart from some 'popular' plainchant, they are terrified of square notes...... Aaarrrggghhh! What to do?.... I hear the cavalry.... welll no, it's just Nick Gale on a motorbike. He spends a couple of hours with the said choir, teaches them what's needed for Mass the next day, but also takes away their fear and, by a miracle, gets them to enjoy square notes, quilismas, episemas.... and they sing it with gusto, and look forward to doing more!
Many thanks Nick.... it goes to prove that ordinary folk can do extraordinary things when encouraged !
Revd Dom Thomas Regan OSB
The feedback from choristers of Our Lady and Saint Michael's church who attended the Gregorian Chant Workshop led by the inimitable Nick Gale has been rewarding indeed. Nick has awakened a desire to sing chant which in many had lain dormant. Others who had not sung Gregorian chant have developed a hunger to explore further the possibilities now that they realise that none of it is beyond us.
"I love it now" a lady chorister commented "and before I'd always dreaded it. It's surprising what a good explanation achieves".
The choir sang at the Sunday morning Parish Mass of All Saints Day following Saturday's Chant Workshop, and were able to sing the Proper of the Mass for All Saints as well as much of the Ordinary.
To Nick a big "Thank You" from us all, and we look forward to your return early in 2010.
Gwyn Williams, Parish Organist and Choir Master
A refreshing choir practice: it made Gregorian Chant come alive in a new way. We've started the Abergaveney Children's Choir this week - a new venture - and made use of some of your "warm up" activities. The children particularly liked the "I owe you 10P" exercise! Thank you.
Janette Disson & Odette Hutchison
Very informative and rewarding. The most notable feature was how much faster the chant can be sung compared to what we are used to: this helped me to breate properly. I hope that you'll return to Abergaveney soon.
I’m one of the Sopranos and to be honest I’ve never like plainchant before and was doing this under sufferance really! It’s always seemed like a dirge before but you made it alive and flowing – fantastic. ‘Ahh, now I get it!’
6 November 2009: Coloma Convent School, Croydon
Thank you for the inspirational workshop you provided for our Year 7/8 Plainsong Choir. You managed to successfully blend technique and repertoire in two well-paced sessions. The girls both learnt from and enjoyed the experience and we now have much to build on as we prepare for Advent.
Director of Music Specialism
Coloma Convent Girls' School, Croydon
21 November 2009: Brentwood Cathedral
Nick Gale’s Gregorian chant day with the choir of Brentwood Cathedral had both an academically historical perspective and a practical liturgical focus which gave the choir and cathedral music staff invaluable insight and fresh ideas for performance practice and pastoral application. Nick was perceptive in identifying the singers’ needs and his leadership enabled the choir members to learn and work as a whole. Nick’s knowledge and experience, coupled with his evident love of this special music, infused the day’s work - a worthwhile, and hugely successful, venture.
James Devor, Asst. Organist, Brentwood Cathedral
I found the course on plainsong given by Nick Gale a real inspiration. Nick is a consummate teacher. Not only did he give us the knowledge of how to sing plainsong, he also gave us an insight into the origins and history of the chants which made them mean so much more as we learnt them. The afternoon finished with sung Vespers for the Feast of Christ the King which took place in the Cathedral. With Nick as cantor the service was a great success. The singing may not have been perfect but the service was prayerful and meaningful, a very fitting end to a memorable day’s work.
The day was inspirational and it moved me to arrange for my own parish, Our Lady of Grace and St Teresa of Avila to sing Vespers at a combined service for Churches Together in Highams Park, which took place on the first Sunday in Advent. Comments came back to me from members of our own and other congregations saying how much they had enjoyed the music and how for many it had been a new and spiritual experience.
Director of Music, Our Lady of Grace and St Teresa of Avila Church, Chingford.
16 May: Chant Day, St Mary’s & St Ethelburga’s
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your course on Saturday. It was not only enjoyable but extremely informative and it helped me a great deal. Apart from all the information and insights, it was a really enjoyable day and clearly everyone else was clearly riveted by it all. Your manner was just right and it was a great pleasure to hear you sing it and demonstrate etc. In fact, that of course projects even more than it is possible to explain in words. It was quite a revelation actually ignoring the dots and doubled notes on quilismas to discover the beauty of those high phrases that was actually latent in the text and music. And I loved your point about not using the notes in terms of rhythm. It really brought a great deal off the page..
Andrew Wright, Director of Music, Brentwood Cathedral and Diocese
What I personally enjoyed was the insight you gave us into the chant as living music. In spite of Vatican II insisting on Gregorian Chant for seminarians ("cantum gregorianum discant!") we were not taught how to read the notation. You helped us see beyond the notes. In Ken Russel's Delius film from the 60's, Delius characterises Gregorian Chant as "dull, dull, dull". I expect it was made dull in his day. If he had heard the chant properly sung, as on Saturday, he could never have said this. Of course, part of it is that this music is meant for use, not for listening to. As the Oxford Declaration put it, it is sung theology.
Fr William Young, Parish Priest of Barking
26 - 29 March: Residential Chant Course, Ardingly College, W Sussex
Nick Gale’s direction of our first residential chant course was a resounding success. While successfully piloting us through three Sung Masses, two Complines, and Vespers and Benediction, Nick introduced us to the subtleties of the Graduale Triplex. While this was completely new to nearly all the participants, Nick’s teaching was both accessible and inspirational. The freeing of the chant from its common overly metrical interpretation was a revelation to us, which bore immediate fruit in our singing in the liturgies of the course. We will all now look at the chant in a new way, and look forward to opportunities to explore this approach even further. We all learnt a enormous amount about the nature of the chant, which we will be able to take back to our various scholas around the country.
29 February 2009: Christchurch Cathedral Dublin
Dr Joseph Shaw, Chairman of St Catherine’s Trust & Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales
Quotations from course participants:
"Nick Gale’s chant workshop day was an enormous success here in Dublin. Christ Church Cathedral was the venue and, at the end of the day, Vespers was sung with our cathedral choir singing from the East end of the nave, while the other workshop participants formed a schola at the West end. Nick’s explanations of the different ways of interpreting chant notation, and his suggestions for liturgical use have acted as a significant catalyst to us all to make far more extensive use of chant in worship. Planning for Holy Week this year has been transformed and I know that the combination of our cathedral’s wonderful acoustic and far more varied and exciting liturgies will bring the triduum to life. I would heartily recommend Nick to anyone who wants to discover the wonderful possibilities of performing chant.”
Judy Martin (Director or Music, Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin)
"Nick spoke with clarity and authority. One of the most impressive elements of the workshop was his ability to cover a lot of ground quickly. There was also a good deal in his presentation that was of use and interest to a broad cross-section of listeners: from the beginner to the talented amateur; from the bright student to the professional singer.
He combined enthusiasm and warmth with a brisk no-nonsense approach. He proved equally adept at delivering the academic and didatic part of the workshop as he was in directing the purely practical aspects."
Peter Barley (Organist & Master of the Choristers, St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin)
“A great experience”
“Having never sung any Gregorian Chant, this was challenging and interesting. I learnt a lot”
“Enjoyed it very much and learnt a lot. I’ve never sung Gregorian Chant. Nick Gale was great and it was also lovely to sing with the choir in the cathedral”
“Very informative, enjoyable and prayerful. A lot packed into the day and well worth while”
“Today added a great deal to my knowledge of Chant”
15 November 2008: St Simon Stock, South Ashford
"The parish was delighted to welcome Nick Gale for a day of tuition on Gregorian Chant in November. The organist from Faversham parish also attended. None of the choir at St Simon's would claim to be accomplished singers but Nick proved that they seriously underrated themselves. All of them - ladies as it happens - were impressed by the accessible manner in which Nick revealed to them the beauty of the chant as well as demonstrating that they could do it!
The day finished with a sung votive Mass of Our Lady in the Extraordinary Form. Together with our choir members, some of whom wrote thanking me for inviting Nick to come, I wholeheartedly commend Nick's project to other parishes."
Fr John Boyle (Parish Priest)
24 May 2008: Dominican Convent, Falls Road, Belfast
"When presented with the brief of directing a day-long Chant Workshop for a group of mixed ability singers Mr Gale provided a series of options, and advised on which would be best suited to our needs. The result was a well thought out, creative and stimulating day; enjoyed as much by the eight year old trebles as it was by elderly ladies of the parish choir. Nick Gale's teaching style is direct and very encouraging and the content of his presentations evidently came from a deep working knowledge and love of Gregorian Chant. I cannot recommend him highly enough."
Eamon Manning (Director, Schola Gregoriana of Belfast)
Click here for to see the schedule
8 December 2007: St Georges Cathedral
28 July 2007: Kolner Dom
17 June 2007 - Academy of St Cecilia Chant Day
"I know of your wonderful work!
Thank you for all you do."
Jeffrey Tucker, Church Music Association of America