SAN FRANCISCO – An initiative in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to form the Catholic imagination through beauty will next month host a workshop on how to teach “chant camps,” in which children and teens are educated in Gregorian chant.
The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, founded by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone in 2014, is holding a Teaching Children’s Chant Camp Workshop in Menlo Park, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, Aug. 9-12.
The institute means to promote the vision of the Second Vatican Council, whose constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, said that Gregorian chant is “specially suited to the Roman liturgy” and that “therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”
Maggie Gallagher, executive director of the Benedict XVI Institute, told CNA that children are particularly receptive to Gregorian chant.
“Kids, teens, and tweens take to chant like a duck to water. For two reasons: First, music is a language and like all languages it is best learned young,” she said.
“Secondly, kids are fascinated by doing ‘grown-up’ music. People keep offering 8 and 9 year olds ‘children’s’ hymns at the exact moment tween are looking to put aside the babyish and assume older identities.”
Gallagher’s words echoed those of Pius XI, who wrote in his 1928 bull Divini cultus that in “their earliest years” young people “are able more easily to learn to sing, and to modify, if not entirely to overcome, any defects in their voices.”
This is the first summer the Benedict XVI Institute has held chant camps for children. The camps’ director, Mary Ann Carr-Wilson, however, “has taught children’s chant camps for the past ten years, helping to pioneer the form,” Gallagher said.
Carr-Wilson directed choirs at St. Anne Catholic Church in San Diego for nine years, has been a soloist with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra and other groups, and holds an M.M. from San Diego State University.
“Learning from Mary Ann is learning from the best. We’re very grateful she’s decided to join the Benedict XVI team,” Gallagher stated.
Rather than teaching solely performance, the camps impart a sense of the meaning of the Mass, and what is participation in the liturgy.
She has said that during the week-long chant camps, children learn how to chant the Mass, in a way that engages them immediately. Older and more experienced singers mentor the younger and weaker ones, and children who thought they couldn’t sing find that they are able.
Most importantly, Gallagher said, is that the children participants deepen their understanding of the Mass.
Gallagher reported to CNA the words of Father Corwin, the chaplain at a recent chant camp, that “These kids get more catechesis at chant camp than some kids receive all year. They learn what the Mass is. They learn than chant is not performance, it’s prayer.”
Corwin added, “They are intrigued to find out they are singing the same prayers their favorite saints prayed through the ages. They are tasked with mastering the Tradition and then charged with handing it down. They love the responsibility. They love the Mystery. And they love the beauty they offer to glorify God and sanctify the Faithful.”
The Benedict XVI Institute’s promotion of Gregorian chant is in line with the Second Vatican Council, and with popes from St. Pius X to Pope Francis.
In his 1903 motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini promoting active participation in the liturgy, St. Pius X focused on the importance of chant, writing that “Gregorian Chant has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music.”
He directed that “special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices.”
Pius XI said, “so that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let Gregorian chant be restored to popular use.”
Pope Pius XII wrote in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei that Gregorian chant “makes the celebration of the sacred mysteries not only more dignified and solemn but helps very much to increase the faith and devotion of the congregation.”
In his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, Benedict XVI wrote that “while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy,” adding that “nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.”
The 1967 instruction on music in the liturgy, Musicam sacram, which was an implementation of Vatican II, stated that “the study and practice of Gregorian chant is to be promoted, because, with its special characteristics, it is a basis of great importance for the development of sacred music.”
And in an address marking the 50th anniversary of Musicam sacram, Francis praised the instruction and its focus on active, conscious, and full participation in the liturgy.
In his March 4, 2017 address to participants in a sacred music conference, Francis lamented that “At times a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed, to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of liturgical celebrations.”
He urged that musicians and others “make a precious contribution to the renewal, especially in qualitative terms, of sacred music and of liturgical chant.”
Among the participants in the Benedict XVI Institute’s Aug. 9-12 workshop are the Missionaries of Charity, who Gallagher has said “told us they wanted our help to learn both to improve their own prayer life and so they can teach children how to participate in the Mass in this special way.”
Gallagher told CNA that “if you’d like to bring a chant camp or a chant camp workshop to your parish or school or youth choir, contact us Rose Marie Wong at email@example.com.”
She added that one or two slots with scholarships for the Aug. 9-12 How to Teach Children Chant workshop are available.