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Becoming a chant detective at UL

Glenstal

By Paul Novosel, MA Ritual Chant and Song, Irish World Academy of Music and Dance

My father was a private detective and investigated for a security company. I’m sure I got the detective gene from him—I am forever curious.

I discovered Gregorian Chant early in life as a choir boy, and embraced it throughout my career as a professional musician in New York City. When I entered the world of early music, I found that I had to do my own arranging and transcribing, especially for my church choir and the community chant ensemble I formed, the Majesta Chanters. It was then that I had to put my inherited detective genes to work—but I quickly realized I needed more skills in research, repertoire, and interpretation. I wanted to formalize and deepen the early music chant part of my portfolio career. UL’s MA Programme in Ritual Chant and Song was the perfect fit.

There is a sense of wonder in bringing to musical life a chant composed in the tenth-century that has not been heard perhaps for a thousand years

Discovering, analyzing, and transcribing music from medieval manuscripts for me is an awesome experience. To locate a piece of music in a tenth-century codex, to decipher it, analyze it, transcribe it, copy it, and then sing it, is simply amazing. It’s like having your own sonic time machine, to be able to travel back in time. There is a sense of wonder in bringing to musical life a chant composed in the tenth-century that has not been heard perhaps for a thousand years. It’s hearing history; sonic artifacts. The chant repertoire is vast and chants are still being unearthed in libraries around the world.

Paris

Chant is a part of our human past that can be embodied and enjoyed by us now in the twenty-first century. I find that fascinating. I found my MA course work at UL stimulating. It gave this detective all of the tools and equipment he needed to unearth beautiful melodies from magnificent chant books. In my tool bag I now have an arsenal of knowledge that includes the understanding of notational chant styles, semiotics, palaeography, manuscript recognition skills, historically informed vocal chant technique, somatics, cataloguing, ritual studies, fieldwork, and even traditional Irish song. Forget Davinci Code and Game of Thrones, this is the real deal!

seminar

A highlight of the second term was a class trip to Paris to peruse and study beautiful priceless illuminated chant books. And that wasn’t our only field trip – the department has a relationship with nearby Glenstal Abbey. We had classes there and participated in chanted vespers and Masses—medieval chant alive in a thriving monastic community. Field trips to Dublin libraries, medieval Kilkenny, and North Kerry were stunning.

The talent, support, and encouragement from the academy faculty is priceless

The talent, support, and encouragement from the academy faculty is priceless, and studying in ancient Celtic Ireland makes the Irish gentility and hospitality even more sublime. An end of term concert experience and a unique 50-50 option for a dissertation makes the MA Ritual Chant and Song quite unique. And for this detective, it was a life-changing year of discovery.

Kilkenny

For more information on the MA in Ritual Chant and Song at the University of Limerick, please visit www.ul.ie/graduateschool/course/ritual-chant-song-ma

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