A conference set to chant

Gregorian chant conference brings melody and history to campus

- August 4, 2011

A depiction from the Salzinnes Antiphonal.
A depiction from the Salzinnes Antiphonal.

Here’s something you don’t see at every conference: group singalongs of centuries-old Gregorian chants, first thing in the morning.

This week, Dalhousie is hosting the yearly gathering of the Gregorian Institute of Canada, bringing together over 40 scholars, students and practitioners, exploring the history and tradition of religious chant music.

In addition to seminars and lectures, there will be many opportunities for song and performance all weekend long—even before breakfast!—with the highlight being a full choir show, open to the public, on Friday evening at St. Mary’s Basilica.

“Chant is the oldest representation of Western music that we have notated,” explains Jennifer Bain, Dalhousie musicology professor and the conference’s organizer. “That means it’s the oldest music we have that we can discuss in detail.

“But it’s also from a time period when everything was in manuscript. No two books are alike, which gives us so much historical information about people, places and the times in which they were written.”

The inspiration for the conference’s theme—"Chant: Old and New"—is the Salzinnes Antiphonal, a 16th century book written in what is now Belgium by an abbey of nuns. Though many similar documents from that era were printed by press, the Antiphonal was crafted by hand, in the model of classical manuscripts. It contains the chants that would have been used during the cycle of daily prayers, but also, uniquely, depictions of 34 nuns who worked at the abbey, providing a window into religious life at the time.

The book first came to Halifax first through Bishop William Walsh, who served as Archbishop for the Archiocese of Halifax in the mid-19th century. It came into the possession of the Patrick Power Library at Saint Mary’s in the 1970s, and is presently undergoing scientific and technical analysis at the Canadian Conversation Institute in Ottawa.

“In most chant studies, people have been interested in finding the earlier books,” says Dr. Bain. “But this lets us explore later chant. How did this tradition evolve and change, even when it was an old practice?”

Friday’s concert will feature the Chapel Choir of the University of King’s College, directed by Paul Halley, performing selections from the Salzinnes Antiphonal. The choir will also sing pieces by Hildegard of Bingen. The concert starts at 8 p.m. Tickets ($25, $15 for students) are available in advance from Veritas Catholic Books and Gifts on Barrington Street and from the Department of Music at Dalhousie, or at the door. More details are available on the concert's Facebook event listing.


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