Now that the first two MCI Online cantor education classes are about to begin, I’d like to talk about some of the improvements we’re making.
The Introduction to Liturgy course is intended to provide the information we wish we had had time to cover in the in-person cantor classes – the background that all cantors really ought to know. So at the end of this course, the student will be able to:
- Explain what liturgy is.
- Identify the principal persons, places, gestures, objects, and texts involved in Byzantine rite worship.
- List the services of the daily cycle of the Byzantine Rite, and the time when each is normally celebrated.
- List the days of the week with the commemoration for each.
- List the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year, along with their dates.
- Describe the three Divine Liturgies of the Byzantine Rite and when each is celebrated.
- List the holy mysteries (sacraments) in the Byzantine tradition and briefly explain what each one accomplishes and how it is celebrated.
- Explain the role of the Eucharist in the life of the church.
The course is divided into short lessons, with frequent quizzes that don’t go into the final grade, but can be taken multiple times to help each student learn (for example) the daily cycle, or the parts of the church. The assigned reading and projects are specifically aimed at the material we have decided really needs to be learned.
Similarly, the Introduction to Church Singing covers the basics from the ground up. In this course, students will learn to
- Demonstrate understanding of the singer’s rules for proper breathing and vocal production.
- Match a given pitch.
- Sing intervals of a major second (ascending) and a perfect fourth (ascending and descending).
- Sing the solfege names of the scale.
- Given a piece of written music, find the key pitch and the solfege syllable for the first note.
- Chant a text recto tono.
- Chant a text to the usual psalm tone.
- Sing the common responses based on the Amen melody.
- Sing the common litany responses.
There are weekly assignments that each student will record (using a computer, smart phone, or small digital audio recorder) and upload for assessment and detailed feedback. Eventually, we hope to be able to incorporate local mentors for this part as well. Wherever we can use computer based training (like the Theta Music Trainer) to drill abilities like pitch matching and interval singing, we will.
But by concentrating on the details of (for example) singing responses at the Liturgy, we hope to teach new cantors how to achieve the kind of effortless “flow” and grace in leadership that best suits our plain chant. And by using drills and structured repetition, it’s possible to make skills like singing the first three notes of any piece of music virtually automatic.
Let’s face it: we have lots of “third note cantors” – singers who are fine singing or even leading the chant, once they remember or hear how the beginning goes. What we need are “three note cantors”, who can choose a good starting pitch and tempo, and sing the first three notes of each chant clearly, precisely, and prayerfully. This is our goal for the MCI Online classes.