Monday, August 4, 2008

Moving On

As many of you already know, my professional commitments will be taking me to the south of England from September.

Although I will not be 'selling up' in Newcastle and I plan to return to the north east regularly, I do not feel it is fair on anyone for me to try to continue to run the Schola whilst spending the majority of my time in London.

I am very proud to have been involved in founding the Schola in 1993 and to have been its director for 15 years. I am enormously grateful to the many singers who have supported me over the years and for the wonderful opportunities I have had for 'bringing the Chant' to so many places in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle.

Brinkburn Priory has always been a special place for me and for the Schola. We sang at the very first Brinkburn Festival and we have sung at the annual Mass that has been held there for more than ten years now. This year's Mass on Saturday 20 September therefore seems to be an ideal occasion for my farewell as Director of the Schola.

For the future Dorothy Allen has kindly agreed to act as contact and co-ordinator for the Schola. Dorothy can be contacted by email ( The regular commitments for Sung Masses: first Sunday of the month at Longbenton and third Sunday of the month at Gateshead will continue.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Schola Plans

First Sunday of each month: Sung Mass at 6pm at St Peter and Paul Longbenton.

Third Sunday of each month: Sung Mass at 12 noon at St Joseph's Gateshead.

Details of occasional Masses can be obtained from Dorothy Allen (

Mary Berry RIP

Mary Berry, the UK's leading authority on Gregorian Chant, has died at the age of 90.

Mary Berry studied at Cambridge University with Thurston Dart as well as going to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. In 1970 she received her doctorate from Cambridge after submitting a thesis on the performance of Gregorian Chant in the late middle ages and the 16th century, and afterwards became a Fellow at Newnham College.

In 1975 she founded the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge for the study and performance of Gregorian chant. The Cantors of the Schola are a group of young, largely professional singers and have performed and recorded extensively under her direction, often working from primary sources. The Schola was one of the first ensembles to perform (and certainly the first to record) music from the Winchester troper after research by Mary Berry and others made the music accessible from the manuscripts.

She travelled widely to promote the teaching and singing of Gregorian chant, and organised and participated in many workshops and courses. She was a particularly keen advocate for the use of Gregorian chant in its proper liturgical context. Her two introductory books, Plainchant for everyone and Cantors: A collection of Gregorian chants, encourage people to learn the chant, and are often recommended to beginners in the field.

In 2000 she was awarded the Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, and in the 2002 New Year Honours she was awarded the CBE.

I sang with her twice: once for the thousand anniversary celebration at Durham Cathedral and once at a Latin Mass Society weekend in Manchester. She was an excellent teacher, an inspiring conductor and a huge character.

Requiescat in pace.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Ater last year's 'quiet' Holy Week, this year was quite the opposite: I reckon I spent nine hours singing in four days!

Firstly it was wonderful to be able to sing the whole of Tenebrae on each day of the Triduum. Yes it takes a long time but the music is beautiful and the total effect quite mesmerising. Special thanks to Dorothy Allen for providing the impetus for this and to Fr Michael Brown for providing the venue (SS Peter and Paul Longbenton) and for his priestly presence.

Secondly I was delighted to be able to sing for the Good Friday Liturgy (Missal of Blessed John XXIII) at SS Peter and Paul Longbenton. There was a good turnout of singers and we sang a good portion of the Improperia and the Crux Fidelis. Such wonderful music: the mournful tone of the Improperia and the subtle change to the Crux Fidelis with its note of triumph of the Cross.

Finally we sang for a Sung Mass for Easter Day at St Joseph's Gateshead. Special thanks to the "Jarrow Men" (you know who you are!) for suggesting that we sing the Mass "Lux et Origo" and providing such abundant and refulgent tone. I thought the Regina Caeli might take the roof off.

This was the best Easter Triduum I have had on Tyneside for more than 15 years.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Tenebrae is the name used for the particular way of reciting the offices of Matins and Lauds during the Easter Triduum. The name comes from the Latin word for darkness because these offices traditionally were anticipated and sung the evening before, ending with all the lights extinguished.

The two offices are sung straight through, one after the other. The psalms are interwoven with responsories, meditations on the great themes of Holy Week. These responsories have been set to wonderful polyphonic settings, most notably by Victoria and Gesualdo, but the original chants are themselves very beautiful. In addition there are readings from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, sung to a haunting tone which may even date back to chants from the ancient Jewish temple, and extracts from the writings of St Augustine and St Paul.

After each of the fourteen psalms one candle is extinguished of fifteen that stand on a special stand called a hearse. During the Benedictus the six altar candles are also put out leaving just the one candle alight. After the Christus factus est is sung that candle is then removed from the hearse and hidden behind the altar. The choir bang their books, representing the chaos in on the earth deprived of the light of the world. The final candle reappears and Tenebrae ends.

It is exactly twenty years since I sang my first Tenebrae as part of the famous "Glover Holy Week" in Durham. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to be able to sing it again. I am pleased to see from the NLM blog that there is a growing revival of interest in Tenebrae. We do not seem to have set Tyneside on fire for it quite yet but at least we have made a start.

Singing in Italy

I have recently returned from a pilgrimage to southern Italy, taking in Sicily, Naples and Rome.

After a night in Palermo, we set off driving through mountainous scenery with roads lined by citrous trees to the ancient city of Agrigento. Here we visited the Valley of the Temples, a series of remains or reconstructions of temples from the period when Sicily was occupied by the Greeks. Some of these temples were stunning. I was asked by our pilgrimage leader to provide a 'spiritual moment' and so on the steps on the best preserved of all the temples the "Concordia" I sang the Kyrie eleison from the Mass Orbis Factor.

The day we spent travelling from Naples to Rome proved to be one of the highlights of the trip as we visited Monte Cassino, a Benedictine Monastery founded by St Benedict himself. It is set high in the mountains and was badly damaged during fighting towards the end of World War II. Happily it has been almost completely and very beautifully restored. We arrived to find the place shrouded in mist, which produced great atmosphere. We had our prayer service in the chapel of St Benedict and St Scholastica, which is decorated with stunning mosaics. I sang the Salve Regina to the solemn Benedictine chant. I was pleased to note that the High Altar in the main basilica is arranged for the celebration of Mass ad orientem, complete with big six and crucifix.

The highlight of our first full day in Rome for me was a Mass for our group at St John Lateran. Fr Bruce Williams OP celebrated (ad orientem) in a chapel to the north east of the High Altar with beautiful wood carvings of saints. It was wonderful to have our own Mass in this great basilica, the Pope's cathedral. During communion I sang the antiphon Tu es Petrus, which I chose considering the venue, considering that we had seen the Pope that morning and that it was the feast of St Gregory the Great.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Talk about Polyphony

I gave a talk at the Church of St Mary of the Rosary, Forest Hall at 7.30pm on Tuesday 26 February. The title was "More than One Voice - the Development of Polyphony in Liturgical Music 1300-1600".

I illustrated the talk with recordings of music by Machaut, Dufay, Josquin, Palestrina and Victoria and even included an extract from Pftizner's opera "Palestrina".

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sunday Mass at Longbenton

I am very happy that we now have a regular slot singing for the monthly Latin Mass (Missal of Blessed John XXIII) at the Church of SS Peter and Paul Longbenton. This Mass started in December and there were one or two teething problems (lack of a choir gallery; noisy heating v no heating) but they seem to be being ironed out.

The Church is a bit of a barn dating from the 1960s but it does still look like a Church and has a usable High Altar with a Tabernacle behind it. The acoustics are good for singing. There is an organ, which although electronic, has two manuals and pedals and both our organists are happy with it.

The attendance, whilst not large, has been steady and has included not only regular Latin Mass people but also people from the parish, which is very gratifying to see.

On Sunday (Quinquagesima) we sang the Mass "Orbis Factor" and the Rossini Propers apart from the Offertory, which I sang to the Chant from the Liber Usualis. Peter Locke played the organ, accompanying the Ordinary of the Mass and providing organ interludes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Walter Webster RIP

I am very sorry to report the death this morning of Schola singer Walter Webster.

Walter and his wife Sheila were both popular and respected singers in Catholic choirs in the North of England. Walter had been for many years a leading tenor in the choir of St Mary's Sunderland (rated by some as the best mixed-voice choir in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle) and had also sung with the Rudgate Singers and the Latin Mass Choir at St Dominic's Priory.

In recent years Walter sang regularly with the Schola, making a valuable contribution with his wealth of experience and still strong tenor voice. He was a choir master's delight: reliable, musical and doing as requested!

His funeral (a Sung Requiem according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII) will take place at St Patrick's Ryhope at 10am on Thursday 7 February.

Requiescat in Pace.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


This year we sang the Mass of the Epiphany at the Church of SS Peter and Paul, Longbenton.

The Introit and Alleluia were sung by the Schola to chants from the Liber Usualis. The remainder of the Proper of the Mass was sung by the Schola to chants arranged by Carlo Rossini.

The Ordinary of the Mass was sung antiphonally using Mass VIII and Credo III.

At the Offertory the Schola sang (in four parts - a capella) the Epiphany version of “Adeste fideles” which includes the verse:-
Stella duce, Magi Christum adorantes,
Aurum, thus, et myrrham dant munera.
Jesu infanti corda praebeamus.
(Lo, star-led chieftains, Magi Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold and myrrh.
We to the Christ child bring our hearts’ oblations.)

At the end of Mass all sang the hymn “As with Gladness Men of Old”.

After Mass we were all given a piece of blessed chalk to write the inscription 20CMB08 on or beside the front door of our homes in order to bless our homes and those who live there. The letters stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat (May Christ bless this house) and also represent the initials of the names tradition ascribes to the Magi (Caspar Melchior and Balthazar).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Solemn Pontifical Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral

I made a day trip to London today to attend the Latin Mass Society's Annual Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

This was a special event this year as, for the first time, it was a Pontifical High Mass (at the faldstool), celebrated by The Rt Revd John Arnold, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster. Bishop Arnold also preached about the significance of remembering our loved ones who have died and passing on what we have learned from them to others, while remembering that as Catholics we can also unite ourselves in prayer with those who have gone before.

The music for the Mass was Victoria's 6 part Missa pro defunctis of 1605, one of my favourite pieces of liturgical music and one of the highest points of Renaissance polyphony. The choir was not the regular choir of Westminster Cathedral but a group called "the Westminster Cathedral Choir Special Service Choir". They were very competent and included women's voices. They could have done with maybe twice the number of singers to cope with the cavernous acoustic of the Cathedral and the remote place from which they had to sing.

Congratulations Mr President!

I am delighted to report that Leo Darroch, occasional singer with the Schola, has been elected President of the International Una Voce Federation.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Summorum Pontificum Study Day at Ushaw College

I was delighted to be invited to be a speaker at the planned Study Day for Priests at Ushaw College on Wednesday October 24th. Here are the details as they were announced.

Summorum Pontificum
A Study Day at Ushaw College, Durham,
the motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI.
Wednesday 24th October.

10.00 am: Opening prayer.
10.00 am to 11.15 am: Rev Dr. Alcuin Reid : An introduction to & study of the motu proprio.
11.15 – 11.30: Coffee break.
11.30 am to 12.30 pm: Questions & discussion on the motu proprio.
12.30 pm: Informal Lunch in the college dining room (general mingling and conversation).
1.15 pm to 2.30 pm: Fr John Emerson, FSSP, on the traditional priestly orders (and the co-existence of both forms in a parish?).
2.30 pm to 3.00 pm: Ian Graham, Founder of the Schola Gregoriana of Northumbria on singing the Mass (and to be a diocesan contact on music for priests).
3.00 pm to 3.10 pm: Coffee break.
3.10 pm to 3.25 pm: Leo Darroch, Secretary of the International Federation Una Voce (giving a brief update on the situation around the world).
3.25 pm to 4.00 pm: Open Forum Questions on the events of the day to all participants and making arrangements with any priests who would like further contact.
4.00 pm Closing prayer.

I am very sorry to hear that this event has been cancelled due to lack of support from the clergy. The organisers had put in a lot of work but priests were either not interested or had things to do that they considered to be a higher priority. It is very disappointing.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Brinkburn Mass

Yesterday was the annual Latin Mass (celebrated according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII) at Brinkburn Priory in Northumberland. It is always one of the highlights of my and the Schola's year and yesterday was no exception.

Earlier this year I had conceived the idea of using the Propers from the Byrd Gradualia, combined with a Chant Ordinary. The Rudgate Singers sang the Byrd Propers for Our Lady's Birthday and Byrd's "Ave Verum" at communion. I am very grateful to Mike Forbester for organising this. The Schola led the singing of Mass IX ("cum jubilo"). The contrasting but complementary music worked extremely well together. I was very happy with the results and many of the congregation offered praise and thanks afterwards. Peter Locke ended off the celebration with a brilliant Prelude and Fugue by Bach.

The Celebrant of the Mass was Fr Michael Brown, who has been an essential element in the Brinkburn Mass since its inception more than ten years ago. It was good to see Fr Emerson FSSP, who had travelled down from Edinburgh bringing his two regular singers with him.

The weather was glorious and to sing and experience this magnificent music as sunlight flooded into the Priory was an enormous privilege.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Practice as Prayer?

There is a very good piece by Michael Lawrence on the New Liturgical Movement Blog. Here is an extract:-

The process of learning a piece of music is an organic one, much like watching a plant grow. So, to say that only the "finished product" is capable of rendering praise to God is a bit like saying that a child cannot praise God, but his father can. Or it is like saying that the beauty of a sapling does not praise God even if the beauty of a tree does. Without saplings there would be no trees; without children, no fathers. Without the daily effort of practicing, there would be no musical performance worth listening to.

It seems to me that practicing and performance are all a part of the same work, and so the act of praise begins the moment the musical score is cracked open for the very first time. It is not the mistakes and the bumbling around that take place during the practicing that offer praise, but rather the persistent daily effort to attain the ability to sing or play a piece of music in a manner that is truly worthy of divine worship. It is an act of devotion that comes from the musician's awareness that God is deserving of the very best. Sacred music is a sacrifice of jubilation, as the Psalmist called it, and not a self-serving act of showing off.

We musicians should therefore resolve not to bury the talents we have but to nurture them each day and to keep in mind as we practice that what we are undertaking is no mundane, purely necessary task, but rather the first whisperings of the loud praise we shall later offer at the altar of God.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Summorum Pontificum

The long-awaited Motu Proprio has finally arrived! Published on 7 July, it seems to do pretty much all that could reasonably be expected. It states clearly that the Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 must be given due honour and it is permissible to use it for the celebration of Mass as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church. The Missal of Paul VI is described as the ordinary expression of the Lex orandi of the Latin rite.
Article 2 gives an unrestricted right to any priest to use the Missal of Blessed John XXIII in Masses celebrated without the people. Article 4 says that such Masses may also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted. Don't you just love Vatican drafting...
Article 5 puts an obligation on parish priests to respond to requests from a stable group of faithful who request the Missal of Blessed John XXIII.
The Motu Proprio comes into effect on 14 September.
Whereas the Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei" of John Paul II left provision of the traditional liturgy very much the in the hands of the bishops, this new document transfers that down the chain of the hierarchy to priests. This is a great opportunity for them but also a great responsibility.
On the question of nomenclature, I am not too keen on the use of the words 'ordinary' and 'extraordinary' to differentiate the two forms of the Roman rite. I think I prefer 'the Missal of Blessed John XXIII' and 'the Missal of Paul VI'.
To celebrate the publication of the Motu Proprio we sang the Te Deum after Mass according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII at St Joseph's Gateshead on Sunday.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Ite Missa Est

Today we introduced a new 'traditional' element into the Sunday morning Mass at Forest Hall.

The formal ending of the Mass consisting of the words ‘Ite missa est’ (‘Go, you are dismissed’) answered by ‘Deo gratias’ (‘Thanks be to God’) follows the final blessing in the Novus Ordo. The use of ‘missa’ in the sense of dismissal is very ancient and may be as old as the Latin Mass itself; it certainly dates from at least the 4th century. In fact the very term ‘Mass’ (missa), is taken from this phrase.

A number of melodies for the Ite have survived. In the Edition Vaticana, most of the Ite chants are identical to the Kyries in each Mass setting thus creating a noteworthy musical unity. This tradition of adopting Kyrie melodies for the Ite, whilst not as ancient as the Ite as an element of the Mass, had developed by the 14th century.

We followed that tradition today by singing the Ite Missa Est set to the same music as the Kyrie, which was from Mass VIII (Missa de Angelis).

Monday, April 9, 2007

Easter Sunday

We sang for Easter Sunday Mass at St Joseph's Gateshead. There was a good turnout of singers and many congratulated us on the sound we made. I felt it was a very succesful and uplifting climax to Holy Week.

We were very fortunate that Peter Locke was able to be with us both to sing and to play the organ. During Mass he played music from Georg Muffat's "Apparatus Musico-Organisticus" and at the end he played Bach's brilliant Piece d'Orgue. A joyous way to top our celebration of Easter!

Easter Triduum

There was no call for my or the Schola's services over the Triduum so I was rather left to my own devices.

I decided to listen to Gesualdo's Tenebrae Responsories as they are set - for the mornings of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. He set all 27 responsories and the music is notable not only for his distinctive harmonic world but also for his vivid word painting and sudden, sometimes shocking, dramatic and musical turns.

Gesualdo was an extraordinary character who straddled the 16th and 17th centuries. An Italian nobleman, he murdered his wife and her lover when he caught them together. He then hung their bodies on the front of his house. He is also thought to have murdered his son, whose paternity he doubted. Towards the end of his life he became a recluse, it is said hiring handsome young men to whip him. His music is as unusual and exotic as was his life.

In the afternoons I listened to the Goodall recording of Wagner's "Parsifal", act by act. A mystical and strange work dealing with the great themes of Christianity, the music is of enormous passion, depth and power.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Byrd's Gradualia

At the opposite end of the spectrum of liturgical music from the fine work of Carlo Rossini are the two "Gradualia" of William Byrd, published in 1605 and 1607.

Byrd was one of the greatest English polyphonic composers, born about 1540. He is probably best known for his three Mass setting (for 3, 4 and 5 voices) and his "Great Service": settings (in English) of the major texts for Anglican Matins and Evensong.

His Gradualia provide elaborate polyphonic settings of Mass Propers, in particular a full set for all the Masses of Our Lady.

I have heard these Byrd setting used once liturgically, in the chapel of University College Durham. The choir also sang a Byrd setting of the Ordinary of the Mass and the result was, frankly, a bit too much. It was rather like eating a meal at which there was chocolate in every course.

I am keen to use the Byrd Propers however and think that this could be done by combining them with a Chant Ordinary. This would be something of a reversal of the normal contrasting music for Mass - Chant Proper and polyphonic Ordinary - and would be an interesting experiment. I have already discussed it with one of my polyphonic collaborators as a possible project for 2007.

For anyone wanting to hear these Byrd settings of the Proper, The Cardinall's Musick directed by Andrew Carwood have undertaken a large project recording Byrd's music and extracts from the Gradualia can be found on those recordings. I am listening to their CD "Laudibus in sanctis" (which includes the full Proper for Marian Masses of Paschal Time) as I write this.

Rossini Propers

I have just bought a copy of the reprint of these Propers of the Mass, published by the Neumann Press.

Let me first of all clear up the name: this is the work of the Revd Carlo Rossini in the 1930s, not Gioacchino Rossini, the great opera composer of the early nineteenth century. If you were hoping for elaborate coloratura and long crescendos you will be disappointed!

What Carlo Rossini provides is a simple setting of the Proper for every Sunday of the year and every major Feastday, based on the Gregorian Chant psalm tones. The music is set out in modern notation and the words clearly pointed underneath the music. Different psalm tones are used for different parts of the Mass and for different seasons.

Of course the ideal is to sing the whole of the Proper to the chants from the Liber Usualis, but this is a terrific resource for less experienced singers or a group who have limited time to learn and practise some of the more complicated chants.

Having sung in a choir that sang the whole Proper every Sunday to psalm tone 8G, Rossini's work provides a more sophisticated yet simple to learn way of singing the Proper.

I am not ashamed to say that I plan to use it myself! For anyone wanting to have a Sung Mass but worrying about what to do about the Proper - here is the answer.

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Octave of Christmas

I was very pleased to be able to attend a Traditional Latin Mass on every day during the Christmas Octave (mainly thanks to the efforts of Fr Michael Brown).

We sang for the Midnight Mass at Christmas and on the Feast of the Holy Innocents (with singers joining us from Yorkshire and the Lake District for the latter). We completed the Octave with a Sung Mass today, the Feast of the Circumcision. We sang the lovely Vespers hymn Jesu Redemptor omnium at the Offertory and the Veni Creator at the end of Mass.

Why the Veni Creator?

The Enchiridion Indulgentiarum 2004 says:A Plenary Indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who are devoutly present in a Church or oratory for the singing or recitation of the hymn Veni Creator on the first day of the year, imploring divine assistance for the whole of the coming year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Midnight Mass

We sang Midnight Mass at Fr Brown's Church, St Mary of the Rosary Forest Hall. Due to restrictions imposed on Fr Brown by the local bishop this was technically a 'private Mass' (so no publicity - not even mentioned on the parish newsletter) but it still attracted 60 people.

My aim with the music was to make it 'user-friendly' so that anyone not a regular at the TLM would still find things they found familiar. We started with two carols, which were followed by the blessing of the crib. We then sang the whole of the Proper of the Mass (only using psalm tones for the Gradual and Alleluia verse). The Ordinary of the Mass was Mass VIII (de Angelis) with Credo III (both sung antiphonally between Schola and people). At the Offertory we sang Adeste Fideles and at Communion Adoro te Devote. The Mass ended with a roof-raising rendering of Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

One or two mistakes aside, a happy and successful occasion.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Great Antiphons

Christmas really is approaching: today is the 17 December and the day appointed for the first of the Great "O" Antiphons.

As we were singing at St Joseph's Gateshead this morning I was able to sing the first Great Antiphon "O Sapientia" during Communion.

There is a good commentary about the Great Antiphons here:-

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Taking the Chant to Forest Hall

I have received an invitation from Fr Michael Brown, Parish Priest of St Mary of the Rosary Forest Hall, to introduce some Chant into his Sunday morning Novus Ordo Parish Mass.

We had experimented with this during 2006 but it never became regular and it was not a huge success. I certainly had underestimated how far the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI have taken liturgy and music in an average parish church away from traditional ways and the principles of Vatican II.

Fr Brown has suggested that we try to have a "Chant Sunday" once a month and we have agreed on the first Sunday of the month. A few parishioners have expresed an interest in joining a Chant group and I hope we can build on that.

My plan is to start with something very simple, probably just the Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Mass XVIII. I then hope, during the year, gradually to introduce more Chant elements, including at least some of the Proper.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006


We were able to get off to a good start for the new liturgical year with a sung Mass for the First Sunday of Advent at St Joseph's Gateshead. This was something special as it was the first time that Fr Adrian Dixon, Parish Priest of St Joseph's, had celebrated a sung Mass in the traditional rite.

I do not intend to review the event as if it were a performance; suffice it to say that I was very happy with the way things went. There was a good turnout of Schola singers (including Mike Forbester who runs the Rudgate Singers) and Peter Locke was there to play the organ and sing with the Schola.

We sang the Introit, Alleluia and Communion, using psalm tones for the other parts of the Proper. The Ordinary of the Mass was Orbis Factor. At the Offertory we sang the beautiful Advent Responsory Rorate Caeli and at Communion we sang Adoro te Devote. We ended the Mass with the great Advent hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel".

We owe the existence of the Sunday Mass at St Joseph's to the time when Fr Michael Brown was Parish Priest there: it was he who started the Sunday traditional Masses. We are very fortunate that Bishop Dunn and Fr Dixon have allowed the Mass to continue and that Fr Dixon himself is now regularly celebrating the Mass.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Who Is That Ian Graham?

Ian Graham is one of the founders of the Schola Gregoriana of Northumbria and is now its director.

I was born in Alnwick in Northumberland, where I attended the Duke’s School, acquiring some good practical experience of choir training from Aileen Willcox, the school’s music teacher. It was more G&S than Gregorian Chant in those days! After school I won an exhibition to Christ Church Oxford. I was fortunate enough to be there at the time when Simon Preston was organist and choir master at Christ Church Cathedral and regular contact with the music making in the Cathedral awakened in me a deep and abiding interest in high quality liturgical music.

After being awarded a degree in Jurisprudence, I moved to the Middle Temple in London on a Harmsworth Exhibition and Astbury Scholarship to study for the bar. After qualifying as a barrister, I returned to the northeast and now practice as a barrister based in Newcastle, specialising in criminal work. I also sit as a recorder on the Northeastern Circuit.

My first encounter with performing Chant came at the Anglican church of Christ Church Shieldfield in Newcastle, but I never really got to grips with “Briggs and Frear” (I think that’s what it was called).

My first serious experience of Chant came with the “Durham Holy Week” in the late 1980s. This was a wonderful if highly eccentric event, in which the traditional (pre-Pius XII) ceremonies of the Easter Triduum were celebrated in the debating chamber of the Durham Union. It was here that I met Richard Hoban, from whom I learned more about Chant singing and how it works than from anyone else. Richard and I became good friends and his death at the age of 33 I still feel as a terrible loss.

Another big influence on my knowledge and understanding of Chant is Dr Mary Berry. Although I was never one of Dr Berry’s “singers” I was able to sing with her at the 1000 year celebrations of Durham Cathedral and also at a Chant weekend in Manchester organised by the Latin Mass Society. I own all her Chant recordings and am an associate of her Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge.

Away from liturgical music my other great passion is opera, particularly the great romantic operas of the nineteenth century. My musical heroes include Reginald Goodall, Joan Sutherland, Rita Hunter and Carlo Bergonzi. Of musicians still active today I have immense respect for Antonio Pappano, music director of the Royal Opera House, and I adore the singing of the brilliant Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Brinkburn Priory

This is one of the loveliest ecclesiastical heritage sites in the North of England and has a very special place in the history of the Schola. Every year since 1995 an annual Latin Mass has been celebrated at the priory with music led by the Schola. The priory is set on the banks of the River Coquet, in the midst of beautiful Northumberland countryside and is a place of intense peace and tranquillity.

The priory church is the only complete surviving building of a monastery founded as a house for Augustinian canons in the twelfth century. Its original dedication was to St Peter, later modified to include St Paul. The house was never a large one and by the fourteenth century numbered only some twelve canons. In 1536 the monastery was dissolved and its buildings fell into ruin. Careful restoration work in the nineteenth century, instigated by Brinkburn's then owner Cadogan Hodgson Cadogan, restored the church building. This work involved the rebuilding of collapsed walls, the replacement of the roof and floor tiles and even the insertion of stained glass windows and an organ. Unlike some 'restorations' of the Victorian period the work at Brinkburn was carried out in a sensitive and restrained manner.

The building as it now stands is very close in layout to the church as it would have been when completed in the early 1200s. Later changes were minor and most of those were additions rather than rebuilding. The church is considered a fine example of northern transitional architecture and incorporates elements of both Norman and Early English styles.

One of the many remarkable qualities of the building is its wonderful acoustic. This was noted by Paul McCreesh, Director of the Gabrieli Consort. He has used the priory for recording some of his liturgical reconstructions and in 1993 he founded the Brinkburn Music Festival which has brought musicians of international standing to Brinkburn.

It was following an invitation to the Schola Gregoriana of Northumbria to sing at the first of those festivals that the idea was conceived by the singers of the Schola, along with a diocesan priest interested in traditional liturgy, of using Brinkburn for an annual Traditional LatinMass. Permission was obtained from the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle and from English Heritage (who now look after the priory) and that annual Mass continues, more than ten years on.

It has been a great privilege to be able to fill this beautifully restored piece of history once again with the prayers and music of the Church. The Schola has led the music at every Brinkburn Mass, always singing the Proper of the Mass and sometimes a Chant Ordinary as well. On other occasions we have been joined by a polyphonic choir. Cappella Novocastriensis, Antiphon and the Rudgate Singers have all joined us to sing Mass settings by Palestrina, Victoria and Josquin.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

History of the Schola

In 1993 a young priest of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, Fr Michael Brown, freshly returned from his study of canon law at the English College in Rome, obtained from Bishop Ambrose Griffiths permission for a monthly traditional Mass at Morpeth in Northumberland. Fr Brown approached me and asked if I would organise some music for this Mass and thus was the Schola Gregoriana of Northumbria born. Singing Gregorian Chant at the monthly Morpeth Mass was the regular work of the Schola for its first months.

Happily, news of the Schola’s existence and requests for the Schola's services grew. While singing for traditional Masses has always been the backbone of the Schola’s work, the choir has taken Gregorian Chant around the region over the past thirteen years, singing at special parish celebrations, weddings and funerals. We have run a workshop on the Chant and provided the music for Mass at St Mary's Cathedral, Newcastle. We have also sung for a traditional Requiem Mass at Middlesbrough Cathedral, gathering enthusiastic praise in the Middlesbrough diocesan newspaper: ‘the truly superb choir … sang the entire Proper of the Mass with consummate skill’.

An early appearance at the Brinkburn Music Festival, sharing a platform with the Orlando Consort, led to the establishment of the annual traditional Mass at Brinkburn Priory, and to further concert work. One notable concert was a joint event with one of Newcastle’s best choirs, the Cappella Novocastriensis, at which the Schola sang the Chant Requiem interspersed with Durufle’s setting sung by the Cappella.

The success of this concert led to the forging of a successful working relationship with the Cappella, who have now joined us to sing a polyphonic Ordinary at the Brinkburn Mass and Victoria’s Missa O Quam Gloriosum for the visit to Tyneside of Bishop Rifan. One of the interesting things about joint events of this type is the interest of the singers from the visiting choir at an opportunity to sing the music of Palestrina or Victoria in its proper context and interweaved with the Chants of the Proper.

We are also fortunate to have a close working relationship with organist Peter Locke. He is a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire and was assistant organist at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham. He is now organist at St Dominic's Priory, Newcastle. Peter plays for all major Schola events and also sings with the Schola.

The Schola now sings mainly at St Joseph’s Gateshead, where there is a traditional Mass every Sunday at 12 noon. We now aim to sing one Sunday Mass at St Joseph’s each month. Apart from that our plans include Masses on the major feasts and wherever interesting initiatives and invitations might take us. We have an open invitation to sing Vespers at a remote hermitage on the top of a hill in Northumberland…

The purpose of this blog is to record and report on the Schola's activities and plans. Other matters relating to high quality liturgical music may also appear from time to time.