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Special Concert Scheduled at Old Mission

  • By David Barron

San Gabriel – The group “Chapel of Charlemagne” that is led by world renowned Professor Dr. Robert Fowells, emeritus professor of music at California State University at Los Angeles, and assistant director, Karen Miller, will perform at San Gabriel Mission on Sun., Dec. 6, said a mission spokesperson.
The event, “A Gregorian Chant Concert,” will start at 4:30 p.m. in the old Mission Church at 429 S. Junipero Serra Dr. at the intersection of Mission Road. The program will offer chants for Quadragesima, Advent and Christmas.

Presale tickets are $5 each. Tickets will be $7 at the door if seats are available. Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Mission Rectory between the hours of 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

“The Chapel of Charlemagne” is the performance group for the Los Angeles Gregorian Institute, which is part of the Roger Wagner Center for Choral Studies at Cal State University Los Angeles. There are 18 members of various faiths. The group’s purpose is the enjoyment of singing the chant and the need to preserve it, says Fowells. He said the group is named for Charlemagne in order to honor him for causing the beginning of music notation.

Before there was any notation, monks had to memorize the whole year’s chant and there was considerable variety around Europe, continued Fowells. He said the German monks went to work and developed little signs above the chant master’s manuscripts that showed him directions to make with his hand to help remind the monks about the melodic direction of the chants they had not sung since the year before that.  These signs also had rhythmic suggestions, faster or slower, whichever weren’t recognized until about 50 years ago by the monks of Solesmes in France.

Fowells wrote a book "Chant Made Simple."  It was written as a small introduction to chant using short, simple chants that have texts familiar to all churches, he said. “Chant is not
only the earliest music we can transcribe, it is a beautiful art form like nothing else in western music,” Fowells stated.

“Over the early centuries AD what probably started as a simple intonation of the text was given melodic designs that gave the text an ornamentation to agree with the church's architecture, the colorful windows and the priest's robes.  And it was the sound that carried the Christian message for 1,500 years before there were Protestants and 500 more years before the Catholic Church dropped Latin. Any church should be willing to use an occasional chant because of its history.”

The book also wants to make the chant available to early music lovers.  Fowells said it uses copies of the latest chant editions which have not only the square notation of most chant books but also has the earliest notation developed by Charlemagne's monks which do not tell exact pitch but do give indications of rhythm (faster, slower) and emphasis on particular words, giving the chant a different rhythm than the previous practice which said that each note had the same value. The introduction to the book describes the early notation, how it should be applied, Latin pronunciation and methods for teaching the chant.
Free parking is available in the church lot or on nearby streets.

More information about the concert is available by calling Al Sanchez at the mission
at 626-457-7291.

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