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Preschoolers learn basics of Gregorian chant

07 6.8.17_star.Gregorianchant PAGESven Edward Olbash and Jacqueline Maria Paras are pictured at Star of the Sea Preschool in San Francisco on May 31 giving preschoolers a lesson in Gregorian chant. (Photo by Christina Gray/Catholic San Francisco)

June 8, 2017
Christina Gray

When it comes to teaching children sacred music, sooner is better than later. That’s the theory behind a Gregorian chant pilot program for children ages 3-5 at Star of the Sea Preschool in San Francisco that concluded its first year on May 30.

The program is the first of its kind for Catholic preschoolers in the archdiocese and perhaps well beyond it, according to preschool director Jacqueline Maria Paras, a member of Star of the Sea Parish’s Latin Mass choir and a champion of chant.

“I wanted to bring my own love of chant to my students,” she told Catholic San Francisco during a visit to the program’s once-weekly session which is part of the preschool’s religion and enrichment programs. “We can help them experience music theory in a way that is developmentally appropriate.”

Gregorian chant is the unaccompanied, ancient sacred song of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Star of the Sea Parish website, the Second Vatican Council called Gregorian chant “the most suited music for the Sacred Liturgy.”

“Music is a language,” said Sven Edward Olbash, a vocal performance specialist and Gregorian chant recording artist who partnered with Paras to offer the Gregorian chant program. “What’s really cool is that kids up to the age of 5 or 6 can learn two languages at once and don’t even know they are speaking two languages,” he said. “If you learn that language by 5 or 6 you will always know the notes.”

Alternately fidgety and fascinated during the 30-minute lesson, the children executed the simple exercises the instructor offered them. At one point he showed them the difference between a “loud” voice and a “beautiful” one, which produced some giggles as they attempted the same. Later, students took turns tapping the metal bars on a “metallophone” – a type of xylophone – with mallets to train their ears to the note it produces.

Paras said preschoolers typically learn songs by ear in group sing-a-longs. And in other classroom settings at the school, they still do this type of singing, she said.

“The real difference in this program is that lessons are specifically modeled to Gregorian chant,” she said. “If we are all working toward the same goals and using same terminology we will have a greater impact.”

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