Scottish Sacred Music Symposium

REPORT ON THE SYMPOSIUM ON SCOTTISH SACRED MUSIC

1 - 3 SEPTEMBER 2009

“I’ve never known three such days, in which I’ve been so educated, so entertained and so spiritually uplifted.”
This remark of an eminent musicologist was made at the end of our Symposium on Scottish Sacred Music, held from the 1st to the 3rd of September. It captures something of the common mood that prevailed throughout this extraordinary event. So many positive comments were made on every side during the course of the Symposium: then after participants had returned home, the Abbey received a stream of letters and emails expressing appreciation. Many of these noted the openness and warmth of the atmosphere, which remained friendly and relaxed throughout. Frequently expressed was a sense of excitement at being in the presence of so much knowledge and talent, here made available and accessible to all. And the quality of input was indeed astonishingly high: not only in the talks but also in the concerts. One person commented after the performance of Gaelic sacred song: “That’s the most beautiful and moving thing I’ve heard in years and years.” The wonderful appropriateness of the setting was remarked upon by many. For it all took place within our restored mediaeval walls, in a living Benedictine monastery, and within the framework of our daily sung Latin liturgy. This provided a firm background of faith and worship to the business of the Symposium. Yet, as so many remarked, there was no hint of pressure being applied on anyone, and every Scottish Christian tradition was truly represented. A Catholic Priest who was present throughout commented on the tremendous upheaval and disruption the monastic community necessarily experienced in order to accommodate the Symposium. “I’m sure” he said, “in view of the importance of the event, St. Benedict would have approved.”
The initiative for it all had come from Fr. Abbot. His idea was that Pluscarden could make a positive contribution to our national life and culture, by setting forth, in a way that seems not to have been done anywhere before, the whole narrative of Scottish Sacred Music. For some fifteen centuries, after all, Scotland has been a Christian nation, and music has always been an essential element in the expression of Christian faith. When people are tempted nowadays to sideline or forget the Christian element of our national life and history, one way of bringing it again into focus is through the medium of beauty: the beauty especially of Sacred Music.
So a team of leading experts in the field was assembled. Many were established academics, teaching in Universities up and down the country. Others were doctoral students, at the cutting edge of contemporary research. Others again were well known practitioners, such as the composer James MacMillan, or the Clarsach player Bill Taylor. The event was then publicised as widely as possible. Attendance at the talks was to be free of charge. The only qualification for participation would be an interest in the subject: emphatically not any musical expertise or great historical knowledge. The talks would be rounded off each day with an Open Forum, at which questions could be put to any of the speakers, or any other relevant points of interest raised. Then each evening, after supper, a concert would be performed of the music that had been discussed during that day.
The three days of the Symposium fell quite naturally into three historical periods: the Mediaeval and Renaissance period up to Scottish Reformation in 1560; the period from 1560 to the early 20th century, and the modern period. It quickly became apparent that a full summary of the abundantly rich material available for discussion would be impossible in so brief a time. So it seemed good to cram as much as possible into the limited time available. A tight schedule was accordingly put in place. In the event it operated remarkably smoothly, with everything running more or less exactly to time. Not that there were no slight hiccups. Once or twice the computer running the visual display died without apparent reason and had to be re-started. One speaker had to drop out at the last minute because of a sudden bereavement, and one Choir had to cancel because of the flu. Nevertheless, the vacant slots were successfully filled, and the programme proceeded without apparent hitch.
The average attendance throughout was about 100 people. This assembly would move back and forth as the days unfolded: from the Transepts-become-lecture-hall to the refreshments tent on the site of the Nave, and then to the Chancel for services and concerts.
The content of the Three Days was as follows:

Day 1: Tuesday, 1 September 2009
“Mediaeval & Renaissance Scottish Sacred Music - up to 1560”

Welcome and Introduction by Fr. Abbot

First Talk: Dr. James Reid-Baxter, Research Fellow in Scottish History, University of Glasgow:
“The Sacred Music of Robert Carver (c. 1484 - 1568).”

Second Talk: Dr. Warwick Edwards, Reader in Music, Glasgow University:
“Mediaeval Chant Manuscripts from St. Andrews Cathedral and Inchcolm Priory.”

Third Talk: Professor John Harper, Director, International Centre for Sacred Music Studies, Bangor University:
“The Bridge between Chant and Polyphony.”

Fourth Talk: Dr. Greta-Mary Hair, Honorary Research Fellow, Celtic and Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University:
“Offices for St. Andrew and St. Kentigern (the Sprouston Breviary), and Chant Fragments from Trondheim and Darnaway.”
This talk was not delivered at the Symposium: its subject matter was covered, in part, by other speakers.

Fifth Talk: Alistair Warwick, Conductor, free-lance Musician:
“Scottish Renaissance Polyphony of the 16th century - other than Carver.”

First Evening Concert.
First: a special Pluscarden Schola sang Mediaeval Scottish Chant from surviving manuscript fragments: Inchcolm, Sprouston, St. Andrews, Trondheim and Darnaway.

Then after an interval: Musick Fyne directed by D. James Ross sang Carver’s 10-part Mass for St. Michael, Dum sacrum mysterium, (1506) with propers de angelis (1440) by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400 - 1474). This was performed as a liturgical reconstruction. It made use of the Pluscarden organ, and of the Bray Harp, played by Bill Taylor.


Day 2: Wednesday 2 September 2009
“Scottish Sacred Music from 1560 to the early 20th century”

First talk: Tim Duguid, Doctoral Student, Edinburgh University:
“Early Scots Metrical Psalm Singing.”

Second Talk: Margaret Stewart, Gaelic Singer from the Isle of Lewis:
“The Gaelic tradition of Psalm Singing.”

Third Talk: Rev. Douglas Galbraith, Secretary to the Church of Scotland Music Panel:
“The Transition from Psalms to Hymns in Scottish Reformed Worship.”

Fourth Talk: Rev. Dr. Emsley Nimmo, Dean of the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney, Scottish Episcopal Church; Historian and Tutor in Christian Studies, Aberdeen University: “The Tradition of Sacred Music in the Scottish Episcopal Church.”

Fifth Talk: Dr. Peter Davidson, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Aberdeen University:
“Scottish Catholic Music 1560-1800.”

Sixth Talk: Shelagh Noden, Visiting Tutor and Doctoral Student, Aberdeen University:
“Early 19th c. Catholic Church music.”

Seventh Talk: Dr. Frances Wilkins of the Elphinstone Institute, Aberdeen:
“The Impact of Ira D. Sankey on Hymnody and Instrumental Accompaniment in North-East Scottish Worship, from 1874.”

Second Evening Concert:
First: Bill Taylor on the Clarsach accompanied James Ross with voice and early wind instruments in arrangements of Mediaeval Scottish Chant.
Then: Musick Fyne directed by D. James Ross sang early Reformed polyphonic Psalmody.
Then: Margaret Stewart sang Gaelic Spiritual Songs.

Then after an interval: The Aberdeen Consort of Voices, directed by Roger Williams MBE, sang music that could have been heard at Mass in Dufftown Catholic Church in the early 19th century. This included a Flute sonata.


Day 3: Thursday 3 September 2009
“Scottish Sacred Music in the Modern Era”

First Talk: Rev. Dr. John Bell of the Iona Community:
“The Iona Community, and its contribution to Scottish Ecumenical Hymnody.”

Second Talk: Mr. David Meiklejohn, Director of Music at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen and Educational Consultant; recently appointed by the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, to direct a post-Graduate course in Sacred MusicStudies:
“Liturgical Music in the Scottish Catholic Church of the 20th century, Before and After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65): a Personal Perspective.”

Third Talk: Professor Graham Hair, Composer, Professor Emeritus, University of Glasgow: “The Sacred Music of Thomas Wilson (1927-2001).”

Fourth Talk: Professor John Harper, Director, International Centre for Sacred Music Studies, Bangor University:
“Sacred Music in Scotland Now and in the Future: a View from the Outside.”

Fifth Talk: Dr. James MacMillan CBE, composer:
“The Spirit of the Liturgy: the Reform of the Reform.”

Third Evening Concert
The Choir of professional women singers Scottish Voices, directed by Professor Graham Hair, unfortunately had at the last minute to cancel its appearance because of illness.
The evening began then with the Pluscarden Schola singing the Gregorian Introit: “Gaudeamus omnes in Domino”. This served as an introduction to the Organ piece, “Gaudeamus in pace loci”, composed by James MacMillan for the Pluscarden Organ, and based on the Gregorian melody. The piece was played by Dr. Roger Williams MBE.
Then: Professor Graham Hair described the concert his Choir would have performed, illustrated with recordings. The title of the Concert was to be Sacred Songbook 2010: A Project for the 21st century. The project was to bring together composers of all the main world religions, including Graham Hair writing as a “Post-Modern Christian Composer”. The Choir would also have performed Robert Carver’s 3-part Mass. They hope to come here some time next year to sing the programme they would have sung for the Symposium.
Then after an interval:
The composer James MacMillan spoke about his own Sacred Music, illustrated by recorded excerpts.
To end the evening and the Symposium, all stood to sing together the Salve Regina.

 

 Composer James MacMillan answering questions from the audience.

Composer James MacMillan answering questions from the audience.