Monday, September 10, 2007

Chant Pages, Illuminated or Unilluminated: All Tools of the Trade.

Some of you might remember the poster I did for The Feast of St. Ann on July 26 this year, It was based on a beautiful illuminated chant page for the Introit for the feast--so any credit for the beauty of the poster should go to the artist, Susan Altstatt who illuminated the chant page and did the calligraphy. Susan is a professional artist. She and her husband John are St. Ann Choir members with the longest tenure, second only to director Prof. William Mahrt -- who was with the choir from its very first day in 1963. Susan and John joined the choir a year after their marriage, in 1967.

The choir sings the propers of the Masses from large chant pages on a stand. I heard Bill Mahrt say once in a CMAA lecture that using the chant pages was an option that saved the cost of making sure everyone had a Liber [Usualis, that is]. On feasts, the chant pages often appear adorned with Susan's elaborations on the capital letters of the first word of each of the propers. Her illuminations are quirky, fresh, and original, not a cliche in the lot.

Below, Bill leads some of the men cantors in rehearsal, who are singing from unilluminated chant pages. When I can take a photo of the choir singing from one of the illuminated chant pages, I'll post it here.

Last week, I found the following snippet about Susan Alstatt's chant pages in a history of The St. Ånn Choir written in 1988, by Bill. A year after the choir started in 1963, Bill became its director. He directed it from 1964 to 1968 and again from 1972 to now, for an impressive total of 39 years. He writes about himself in the third person for the purpose of the history.

William Mahrt returned to Stanford music department as a member of the faculty in 1972, and a year later Fr. Duryea asked him [to] resume the direction of the choir. . . . Within the next couple of years the pattern for most of the choir’s activities ever since was established. Programs were compiled for all of the Sundays and holy days of the year, with six complete sets of chants for the Ordinary and three Credos[1] being used in varying combinations throughout the year. A new large choir book was acquired from Annie Bank in Amsterdam—large pages to be placed upon a stand from which all the choir could read the chant. For the holy days not contained in that book Susan Altstatt produced excellent illuminated pages that leave the printed book looking rather plain, and, some say, inspire the singers to sing more beautifully [p. 7]

Susan Altstatt made vestments, Paschal candles, illuminated chant pages, and banners, and hosted Sunday night dinners for all who sang Vespers [p.10]
John and Susan Altstatt have sung since the late sixties, now over twenty years [p. 11].

Susan and John both are cantors. Every Sunday night they are at home, they still push two long tables together in their Los Altos dining room and dish out a fine dinner from restaurant sized pots and pans to anyone who comes to Vespers and to several who just show up every week. {Bill for his part brings along three botles of very good wine to the feast.] Susan's cooking is a pleasure to eat, and Susan's illuminated chant pages are a joy to behold.

Following are all the chant pages for the feast of St. Ann, which I downloaded from John Alstatt, webmaster for the site, told me he has plans to post more pages soon, so keep checking at that website, if you want to see more. Or write Susan Altstatt at dsa @ altstatt . com for more information.

[1] Masses I, IV , VIII, IX, XI and XVII, Credos I, III, and IV.
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