This is Clare Bowskill's account and photographs of last weeks Solesmes Chant Course, Clare runs our music:
The first thing you notice when you arrive in Solesmes is the silence. The streets are deserted, the shops (all two of them) are closed. We hover outside the only restaurant looking at the menu. An American woman stops to talk to us, she is excited to hear an English accent after three weeks staying in the nearby Convent. She informs us the restaurant hasn’t been open for months.
As the bell of the nearby church hidden behind twelve feet high stones walls permeates through the solitude of the village, it becomes quickly apparent that there is only one thing to do in Solesmes. So off we dutifully go to Vespers.
Lessons begin straight after mass on the Monday morning. The group has traveled from the far-flung corners of the globe. From Singapore, Japan, America, Poland, the Netherlands and even Kent. All to learn from the great chant master Dom Daniel Saunier.
Nothing could have prepared me for the incredible experience of learning with Dom Saunier, he can recite the entire Graduale Romanum from memory and thinks nothing of expecting his students to do the same. In his thick French accent, he announces to the group that “you can only know ze chant when you have committed it to memory.” He tells us that the music is not what is written on the page. Those are just printed notes. “The music is what happens beyond the text.” True to his word, task number one is to have the Introit of the week Ecce Deus learnt by lunch. Yikes.
When we are not learning in the classroom, we are sat in the awesome splendour of the church listening to the monks as they chant the Liturgy of the Hours. The beautiful daily Mass is a reminder that the chant must be an integral part of the Novus Ordo. Here the chant is constantly evolving. Dom Saunier shows us the Introit for The Assumption. ‘It was written in 1950,” he declares, “ by a monk here at Solesmes.” He smiles, “he is still alive, you can see him, he is 85.”
As the lessons continue, Dom Saunier repeats the same point over and over again. To know the chant you must have an intimate understanding of the text. “Ze chant was born of zheeese words,’ he announces with a knowing look. I feel ashamed that my Latin is so appalling.
As l sit with my new Graduale Triplex on my lap, unsuccessfully trying to remember the Introit for Hebdomada XVI wondering how l am ever going to get the hang of it, the opening line couldn’t be more apt. ‘Ecce Deus adiuvat me.” “Behold the Lord is my helper.”