The MA Ritual Chant and Song is a programme which explores the voice and its use in ritual contexts. At the heart of this 1-year taught Master’s course is an investigation of the voice (through one-to-one vocal technique classes as well as somatic practices such as Alexander Technique) as well as of specific ritual vocal repertoires. Western plainchant and medieval song is the core repertoire studied and the programme has been developed in association with Glenstal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in the environs of the campus. Other chant repertoires including Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Orthodox chant traditions are also explored through introductory classes with guest tutors. Drawing on the expertise in Irish traditional music, dance and song at the Academy, Irish traditional religious song is also studied as a core repertoire. Each year, guest tutors also introduce a number of additional ritual vocal repertoires which have included traditions as diverse as Shona ritual song, Georgian polyphony, and Syrian Orthodox chant. The programme also presents a yearly medieval drama performance each spring featuring students as soloists.
The programme has two resident vocal ensembles: Lucernarium (the programme’s schola or core ensemble dedicated to medieval repertoire, both solo and ensemble) and Sonas (a larger group which explores global vocal ensemble music). Vocal study is contextualised by seminars in performance practice, chant semiology, ethnomusicology, ritual studies, a survey of Irish religious ritual practices and a variety of methodological approaches to the study of performance and ritual, including ritual ethnography and ritual composition. Students gain experience in concert program research and performance, and a strong emphasis is placed on scholarship and academic writing.
The programme is offered in special association with Glenstal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery close to the University of Limerick campus where chant is sung as the primary music of the liturgy. The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance provides a unique environment for the study of ritual chant and song through complimentary Masters programmes in Ethnomusicology, Irish Traditional Music Performance, Classical String Performance, Music Therapy and Community Music, as well as an undergraduate programme in Voice and Dance and the PhD in Arts Practice. The MARCS programme has strong collaborative associations with these programs, particularly the MA in Ethnomusicology, MA Classical String Performance, and outside of the Irish World Academy, the Digital Media & Arts Research Centre at UL.
The programme was originally designed by Helen Phelan (Irish World Academy), in consultation with Nicholas Sandon (Exeter, UK), David Hiley (Regensburg, Germany) and Ronald Grimes (Wilfrid Laurier, Canada). Scholars and performers who have course directed or taught on the programme include Katarina Livljanic (Croatia/France), Benjamin Bagby (USA/France), Wolodymyr Smishkewych (USA), Malcolm Bothwell (UK/France), Lila Collamore (USA), Edward Foley (USA), Ronald Grimes (Canada), Michael Hawn (USA), Emma Hornby (UK), Carolina Magalhaes (France), Edward Nowacki (USA), Norbert Rodenkirchen (Germany), Nicholas Sandon (UK), Catherine Sergent (France) and Leo Treitler (USA).