Tulsa University Immersed in Gregorian Chant

Newman Center Students at Tulsa University Immersed in Gregorian Chant
Eastern Oklahoma Catholic
September 25, 2007

When it was announced two weeks ago that the Diocese would be sponsoring a two-year course of studies in Gregorian Chant, no one received the news with greater anticipation than the members of the chant schola at the University of Tulsa’s Catholic Newman Center.

Formed after a suggestion by Father Stuart Crevcoure (the Newman Center’s chaplain at the time), the schola has been singing at various Masses at the Newman Center for about a year. The original four members have doubled in size, and it seems their enthusiasm for learning the traditional chant of the Church also has doubled.

“I didn’t get involved with the schola when it was first started,” said Kaitlin Beam, 19. “I felt like I was too busy to commit myself to an hour’s practice a week.”

When she did get involved it was because of the influence of her friends. “I felt like I was really missing out on something important.” A junior majoring in bio-chemistry, Miss Beam discovered in the traditional Latin chant a deep universality.

“In May 2005, the Newman Center took a trip to France where we visited the Abbey of Fontgombault.” For most TU students, this visit to the motherhouse of Clear Creek Monastery was their first experience in being part of a community formed by chant.

“We were Americans,” recalled Miss Beam, “but there were people from all over the world at Fontgombault, and we were all able to pray together. We couldn’t have done that if the monks had been chanting in anything but Latin.”

Unlike Miss Beam, who has had years of practical training in school and parish choirs, 20-year-old Stephen Isley had little experience singing and had to teach himself the basics of chant.

“All I knew of chant was what I had heard on one trip to Clear Creek and from what I could glean from the print-outs there,” he said. Mr. Isley added that it took several months before he was comfortable with all the various tones. But the Wichita native persevered.

“At first it was hard to focus on praying because I had to remember what tones to use and how to stay in pitch. Now that Mr. Isley is immersed in the chant, the junior philosophy major says that praying with it comes naturally.

“When I chant the Liturgy of the Hours, I find my prayer is more measured. I can meditate better on the words and let the text really sink in.”

Maria Holland, 19, recalls learning to pronounce the Latin posed another difficulty. “When I joined, I thought the coolest part was learning to sing the Church’s prayers in their original language,” she said. “But I only knew a couple of words in Latin and had to work at learning the music and the text.”

Miss Holland, a sophomore studying engineering and physics, admits there were times when she rehearsed the more intricate Gregorian melodies in her head while sitting in chemistry class. “I should have been listening to my professor, but it was worth it, because now I have the text of these prayers integrated in me because I learned the pray the prayer at the same time I learned to chant it.”

From when the liturgical institute’s chant course begins on Oct. 6, it will take Father Mark Bachmann, the chant master from Clear Creek, two full years to teach the fundamentals. “This is a big commitment,” Mr. Isley conceded. “I am sure there will be some classes I have to miss, like when I am at home visiting my family. But one practice a month is certainly something I can commit to.”

Classes will be held on the first Saturday of each month at St. Therese Parish and Shrine in Collinsville. A free lunch will be served before Father Bachmann begins his class at 1 p.m. Participants are then invited to sing the Shrine’s 5 p.m. Vigil Mass.

For more information, please call 307-4955 or e-mail diocesanliturgicalinstitute@dioceseoftulsa.org.