Monday, May 5, 2008

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.

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