I remarked elsewhere that I had so much success when I helped form a chant-based schola group, that it ended up absorbing the regular choir at my former parish. I can’t take credit for the truly heavy-lifting, but someone sent me an email asking for advice on how to put together a schola and get a traditional Latin Mass. Here it is (These are off-the-cuff ideas, so don’t be surprised if I later modify, add, or subtract from this):
First, let me recommend visiting MusicaSacra and its forums http://musicasacra.com/ for resources and commiserating about the state of liturgy.
Next, I should point out that the schola we formed was for a NO liturgy and we mixed doing the chants in English and Latin, which was still a marked improvement over the stuff the parish usually served. Fr. Z says, “save the liturgy, save the world”. True, but I would add, “save the music, save the liturgy”. In any case, I have no experience with getting someone to approve a new TLM in a parish, so I am no help there other than to say make it easy to say yes; which means make sure that not only do you collect people with interest in the TLM, but have all these people be prepared to do all the heavy lifting of the logistics and difficulties of such a move. It’s the analogy of a breakfast of bacon and eggs–the chicken is involved, the pig is committed. People who want a TLM are chickens; people willing to pay in money or time for any extra accoutrements, training, scheduling, etc. to support a TLM are pigs. Eggs are great, but bacon makes the world go ’round.
The other advantage we had was a nearby college from which we recruited. Recruit from anywhere of course, but go after youth. They’re more responsive to the idea than you might think. Some in our group were not even Catholic. Of course this means you will have to have a gentle discussion about communion, but that wasn’t an issue with us. Executive summary: GET CONTACTS AND NETWORK. Know every organist, choir director, vocal instructor, music history professor, or anyone that can carry a tune in a bucket within in a 50-mile radius. If this guy can’t help you, chances are he knows someone who can. And don’t write anyone off just because they are playing the usual garbage. After one Mass where the organist played the Haugen/Haas atrocities, I talked to him about what he was playing and he said, “I’ve been fighting this stuff for thirty years.” That’s a beaten-down ally, but an ally nonetheless. As I often say, most parishes are sitting on untapped gold mines. Meaning there are likely some very good musicians in the pews and not in the choir loft. Being in the choir is a time commitment and often means worship apart from one’s family. People are willing to make that sacrifice, but not for the musical pablum that is usually offered. FIND THESE PEOPLE.
In my case, we were very blessed to have a number of very talented musicians. So now that you have your cabal of conspirators collected, assess the musical talent. I know we have the modest goal of chant, but if you can get a reputation as a top-notch musical group, it will help with recruiting and getting a gig so to speak. So, if your group can handle something like Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus and not sound like cats being strangled, you’ve got a major selling point. As much as I dislike the schmaltzy Schubert Ave Maria, if you have a good soloist who can really belt this, it can melt a lot of resistance to your group. Plus, going outside chant will keep the talent you have interested. If by many blessings you do become a regular provider of music for liturgy, you are going to want a mission statement that the primary purpose of the group is providing traditional chant for liturgy and try to clearly draw the line on what you won’t perform. This is to prevent or at least limit mission-creep. The saying goes that any group not explicitly conservative becomes liberal over time. Set the purpose in writing and refer to it occasionally or the moment you turn your back the group is programming “On Eagles’ Wings” and then you are doomed. Then again, if you DO manage to get a TLM, then many of these problems are not an issue. Funny (and telling) how that works, isn’t it?
Now it is time to find a gig. ANY gig. You need the experience. In our case, any time the regular choir was on hiatus, we filled in. Again, we were blessed in that we had a receptive priest and never had to leave the parish. If you get a stonewaller, well, you are going to have to look around and I can’t really give advice there except what I already said about networking. Consider putting on a concert. Heck, take out a gang during Christmas and go caroling. A group that isn’t constantly performing is a group that is dying. Stay alive any way you can. Again TLM likely renders this moot. (See a pattern yet?)
Finally some general To-Do’s:
As David Alexander (aka the “Man with Black Hat”) puts it, LOSE THE ATTITUDE. That is, I know here I’ve referred to the usual modern stuff as “garbage” and other unflattering things, but when you are dealing with flesh & blood people that can actually make things happen, never let a cross word about the current state of liturgy and liturgical music pass your lips. The classic rule of salesmanship is to avoid running down the competition’s merchandise. Sell your strengths, not the other guy’s weaknesses. One ill-advised comment to the wrong person can send all the hard work into the toilet.
Lastly, this is probably insultingly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: pray, pray, pray. St. Cecilia and St. Gregory the Great are your friends.