onsdag 6 mars 2013

Four decades of Catholic music - 2

In the autumn of 1975 I started a PGCE course at Digby Stuart College at Roehampton. This was a Catholic College, with the redoubtable Sister Dorothy Bell RSCJ as head. It had been founded as a secondary school for girls, by two Victorian upper class ladies who had joined the Sacred Heart Order. It is the original of the Convent of the Five Wounds referred to in Antonia White's autobiographical novel Frost in May.

The Victorian Gothic chapel had been destroyed in the Second World and replaced, probably in the 1950s, by the rather dull concrete structure in the picture. By the time that I arrived, the post-Vatican Two reforms were in full swing. The students, then mostly in their early 20s, were keen on guitars and folk masses in English. I was about fifteen years older, like most of those in the group, and we complained to our tutor, who was fully in agreement with our sentiments. This led, somehow, to a meeting being set up with another of the nuns, a Sister Margaret Byrne. I have an idea that she may previously have had some kind of responsibility for music in the convent. She told us, very firmly, that if we did not like the music and the liturgy it was up to us to do better. And then she offered to teach us to sing Gregorian chant. Well worn copies of Plainsong for School were handed out and we were told that we would be expected to sing the Requiem on Remembrance Sunday, including the Dies Irae.

That went off quite well and it was about the same time that Dr Mary Berry had established the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge. Mary Berry had been a Canoness of St Augustine but the order had problems after the Second Vatican Council, so she got herself a teaching post in the music department at Newnham College, Cambridge. That brought her into contact with the monks of Solemnes, who, under the direction of Dom Eugene Cardin, were studying the ancient manuscripts in the monastery libraries of St Gallen and Laon, a project which eventually resulted in the publication of the Graduale Triplex.

The Schola began by running weekend course at Cambridge colleges, starting on Friday evening and ending after lunch on the Sunday. Sr Byrne had got hold of the information and suggested that we might go on one of the weekend courses, in fact the second in the series, in March 1976, at St John's College These included the singing of Vespers and ended with a full sung Latin Mass on the Sunday morning, at a time when these events were starting to become rare. The celebrant was Dom Alberic Fowler ODC who had been in Iraq for a while.

They were convivial occasions but since they inevitably on the expensive side, Mary Berry soon began to travel around the country and give Saturday courses, as well as five-day residential courses at other, less costly locations. For her, it was the beginning of an arduous, late-life career which continued almost until her death in 2008 at the age of 89, having been honoured with a CBE.

At Digby Stuart College, we succeeded in persuading the reluctant Jesuit chaplains to celebrate a couple more Latin Masses in the course of the year, but what we were trying to do was against a tide running strongly in the opposite direction.

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