2 March 2024

Ancient, holy music returns to Melbourne churches

Chorus Ecclesiae is offering Gregorian chanting and sacred polyphony to Melbourne churches. Image: iStock

Kirralee Nicolle

26 March 2023

Melbourne churches are being offered performances of ancient church music to help them access contemplative worship forms by a newly-formed group of choral singers.

Chorus Ecclesiae is a choral group of mixed professional and volunteer singers offering performances of Gregorian chanting and sacred polyphony, which is a kind of liturgical music from the early Renaissance era to churches across Melbourne.

Director and conductor Shanti Michael said she is trying to make Gregorian chanting and sacred polyphony a living heritage for the church.

Read more: Want to explore Melbourne’s music scene? Go to church.

“For worship purposes, you never really want a heritage to die out,” she said.

Ms Michael said the group was formed out of a need to provide more paid opportunities to church musicians and offer churches who could not usually afford a music program the chance to enjoy traditional forms of music without being too invasive. She said she wanted congregants to be exposed to the music and see the value in it without feeling that the usual feel of their church was changing or being taken away from them. She said while these musical forms were an established tradition in some Melbourne churches, not all churches could access it.

Chorus Ecclesiae performing at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ascot Vale.

She said that during her upbringing in a Catholic church, she had encountered Gregorian chanting but wasn’t a huge fan until she started participating in the form and realised how relevant it was to liturgy and important events in the church.

Read more: More than a ritual: The importance of church singing

“When I started doing it, I realized how beautiful it was,” she said. “And when done well, it is very transcendent.”

Ms Michael also said that as a woman of colour, there were few classical directors with her cultural heritage. She said the current pool of directors in this area were incredibly talented and experienced, but said it was important to be aware of creating pathways for women and women of colour to take up leadership positions in church choral music.

Ms Michael said Chorus Ecclesiae was funded through a combination of grants, donations, fundraising and crowdsourcing. She said they were very grateful to Father Alex Ross, St John’s East Malvern and St Agnes’ Glen Huntly for an initial seed grant and the chance to perform at an upcoming concert and some upcoming services.

Read more: Classical musicians locked in for church’s 2023 offerings

Father Alex Ross said Chorus Ecclesiae provided a service which could often be taken for granted. He said what they had to offer was useful for the wider diocese to be able to benefit from the gifts of musicians.

He said Gregorian chanting and sacred polyphony were once typical of church music but had attained popularity in secular spaces. Father Ross said they provided a contemplative space for worship which spoke to the mystery of God.

“I think that there’s a beauty and a holiness to the music which invites us in,” he said. “It’s really a way of bringing it back to its roots and bringing us back to church to enjoy it.”

Chorus Ecclesiae are performing at an Annunciation Mass at St Agnes’ on 25 March and at a concert at St John’s on 14 May. For more information, visit bit.ly/40uOcbF. To donate to Chorus Ecclesiae, visit www.chorusecclesiae.org.au/support-us.

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