Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mary Berry

Dr. Mary Berry and the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge meeting with Pope John Paul II in Rome

The obituary section of The Times reported today on the death of Sister Mary Berry, CBE, musicologist and nun, who died on May 1, 2008, aged 90.

Musicologist, nun and don of the University of Cambridge, Mary Berry was hugely influential in reviving Gregorian chant in Britain and abroad.

"Through the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge she promoted the teaching, study and performance of Gregorian liturgical music within a 2,000-year-old tradition of Christian song and, after the sweeping changes generated by the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, she preserved the chant and kept it alive at a time when the old certainties were falling all around her. ...

In 1938 she was received into the Catholic Church by the Bishop of Liège before graduating with a music degree from Cambridge.

Then war broke out. When she was nursing with the Red Cross, her calling took a deeper turn. In March 1940 she joined the novitiate of the Canonesses Regular of St Augustine of the Congregation of Notre-Dame de Jupille in Belgium. This put her right in the line of the invading German Army, and two months later the novitiate was evacuated on the last train to Paris with its few possessions wrapped in scarlet blankets...

As her work became known, her teaching of the chant took her all over the world — to France, Estonia, Canada, America and Australia, and places in between. Galvanised by her knowledge and encouragement, numerous local chant groups were formed, including a flourishing all-black choir from Dominica in the Windward Islands.

Devout and erudite, Berry radiated a joyful and sunny blessing, occasionally interspersed with crisp commands if singers flat-footed a wrong note. There were no concessions to ignorance — either of the chant or the liturgy — but her bubbling humour leavened long hours of choir practice. With a fund of interesting and mildly scurrilous anecdotes delivered with a twinkle in her eye, she was fortunate to attract many fine cantors to sing at festivals and record CDs on the Herald label.

The cantors of the Schola, a professional group of singers interested in Gregorian chant and early music, specialise in the reconstruction and performance of liturgy from the 10th century to modern times. Led by Berry, they were the first in the field to record a reconstruction of a complete festal service based on the tropes and organa of the Winchester Troper, and this won the Michael Beazley Medieval Recording of the Year in 1991. Their work was, and continues to be, very significant in bringing early music to a wider audience.

In 2000 she was awarded the Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice for her work with Gregorian chant, and in 2002 she was appointed CBE for her services to plainsong and Gregorian chant."