Benedictine Chant Forum 2023


As part of her training in the liturgy as a junior professed sister with responsibility for leading our choir at Glencairn, Sr Beatrice attended this year’s Chant Forum on the Isle of Wight, from 11th to 15th September. She reports here on her experience: 

Hosted by the Benedictine monks of Quarr on the Isle of Wight, the Chant Forum brought together nuns, monks and lay people from all over Europe to foster knowledge of the history, spirituality and musicology of Gregorian Chant.

Given the development of the way music has been written over the centuries, we rarely stop to think of the depth of meaning held in various ornaments in the chant. The Chant Forum allowed space and time to dwell on the intensity of the use of signs and the importance of singing them. It was remarkable to hear the difference in the chant once we had come to know more about the way it was written and the meaning of the accents. Ultimately, these neumes and ornaments provide an image of the melody, a learning tool to convey the tempo and importance of each note, reminding us that chant is a way by which we enter into the mystery of our salvation.

Focusing on the Sacred Triduum and Easter, each day of the course began with a lecture on how particular pieces of chant came to be sung for each part of the liturgy, often referring to instances of chant as long ago as the 8th and 9th centuries! Beginning with the Nos Autem on Holy Thursday, we came to understand how this chant gives direction to our celebration of the whole Triduum as St Paul exhorts us to glory in the cross of the Lord.

At its essence, Gregorian Chant allows us to sing the mysteries of Christ. This is especially evident on Good Friday where we use the words of the psalmist and the prophet Isaiah to express the feelings of Jesus. This is not only an experience of mourning, but also an expression of joy in salvation. Through chant, the Church captures both of these moods and unites them.

Reaching its climax in the Easter Vigil, the chant tells multiple and complex historical stories of God’s deeds: these saving acts of God that have freed us for praise, freed us to chant in response to God’s glory. On Easter day, the chants are more serene as we speak of the death of the Lord and the profound joy found in and from human suffering.

Strange though it may be to study the chant of the Sacred Triduum in September (!), everything taught on the Chant Forum has resonance for every piece of sacred music we encounter. To be taught the spirituality of the chant by a Benedictine and also the technicalities of the chant by two French experts was a privilege and a grace. It was a great joy to be among people passionate about sacred music and prayer. Quarr Abbey was a beautiful setting for the Forum: Deo Gratias.