Saturday 29th March 2014
On a sunny Saturday lunchtime in March, around fifty singers from various local choirs met at St. John’s Carrington to learn more about singing plainsong and to take part in a service of Compline. The numbers were particularly encouraging and around double the attendance for 2013.
We were greeted by our leader for the session, Dr. Peter Siepmann, who began by explaining the context and background of the service of Compline – being the last monastic office of the day – and the development of plainsong from its roots within the early church. Peter is clearly an enthusiast for this type of music and soon communicated this to the rest of us. He stressed the need to appreciate the simplicity, peace and serenity of plainsong and its innate spirituality in order for it to be sung effectively. We were encouraged to visit Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire (if only on Youtube!) to be inspired by the monks singing the Daily Office.
Following this introduction and the very necessary vocal exercises it was down to learning the music including an office hymn, psalm, and responses to plainsong settings together with a four-part setting of the Nunc Dimittis in Latin by Victoria. Peter patiently and expertly led us through the intricacies of plainsong notation and we soon felt at ease with the style.
A short break for refreshments and then into the service led by Rev. Margaret Gallagher which, as we were all now fully immersed in the moment, seemed to be over all too quickly.
Whatever the normal musical fare of the singers taking part, be it anything from Townend to Tallis, there was a feeling of connection with our Christian heritage, but in a medium that has something for us in the increasingly frenetic times in which we live. I for one resolved to add the occasional plainsong item to services at my home church and came away with a greater understanding of how to sing it more authentically and effectively.
After a very enjoyable and instructive couple of hours we emerged reluctantly from the peace and tranquillity of Compline into the noise and traffic of a busy Saturday afternoon in Nottingham.