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So YOU want to sing Schubert’s Ave Maria …. correctly?

When I was a little kid, the organist at my parents’ church played the same songs every Sunday as the processional and recessional hymns:

  • Praise to the Lord, the Almighty 
  • Holy God, we praise thy name OR
  • Holy, Holy, Holy

Being a little kid, I thought that was how it was supposed to be, and when there was a guest organist who played something different, I became indignant. “No, that’s not what the opening hymn is supposed to be! It’s supposed to be ‘Praise to the Lord.'”

Except in May, when the opening and closing hymns were (almost always in that order)

  • Immaculate Mary AND
  • Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above

Why in May? Because, in the Catholic Church, May is the month of Mary.

It's gonna be Ma(r)y

(I am SO sorry)

I had forgotten that until this morning, and realized that my planned webinar:

So you want to sing Schubert's Ave Maria correctly (a webinar)

was very aptly timed! I picked the date because my husband was working that day and I didn’t have anywhere to be, and wedding season is coming up, but it has even more meaning because of the significance of the month in the Church year.

This is something I have wanted to offer for some time. Back in 2010,  a high school student of mine was asked to sing the Schubert Ave Maria for a teacher’s wedding. She didn’t tell me she was going to do it, so we had never gone through the piece. Her mom called me the night before the wedding to tell me that she had rehearsed with the organist, who had scolded her rather harshly because she sang it with wrong rhythms. She was kind of shaken because she sang it the way she’d always heard it (and that organist was kind of a jerk to do that to a kid, if you ask me). I don’t want that to happen to any of my students ever again.

So many people sing the Ave Maria wrongThey swing the rhythm – this is easy to do because, although the piece is written in 4/4, the accompaniment is entirely in sextuplets, while the melody is in duple meter, so it is a case of 2 against 3. Try tapping triplets with your left hand (123 123 123) and tapping in duple meter with your right (12 12 12). It’s hard.  

And then there’s the Latin. There are only 5 vowels in Latin, but somehow other ones creep in and it begins to sound like American Latin (note: while German Latin and French Latin are options when singing in certain styles of music, there is no place for American Latin in any musical genre).

Also – do you have to sing both verses? What if the time is limited and you only sing one? Is that okay? (The answer is, well, if you want to sing only half the prayer, that’s up to you.)

And if I’m singing it for someone German, should I use the original German text that Schubert wrote? (Quick answer: NO)

Join me on Zoom next Saturday, May 15, 2021, at 12:30pm ET to deconstruct the Ave Maria so that you can sing it for the next wedding or funeral. For 60 minutes, we’ll go through:

  1. The origin of the song
  2. The meaning – word for word
  3. The pronunciation, using the International Phonetic Alphabet
  4. The song itself – both the melody and that tricky rhythm

Participants will receive

  • The text with IPA
  • a copy of the Deconstructed Ave Maria in one of three keys, G, Ab, or Bb, within 24 hours of the webinar,
  • a practice track so you can work with it on your own and get it solid before you add the actual accompaniment

It’ll be fun!

Sign up HERE to join me!

Or CONTACT me if you want to work on it one-on-one 

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

2 thoughts on “So YOU want to sing Schubert’s Ave Maria …. correctly?

  1. What a great topic for a webinar!

    So much to unpack here! We must’ve had the same organist during our childhood. And in May I love to recount the [no doubt apocryphal] story of the cantor who announced “Please join with me as we welcome our visiting celebrant Father O’Brian by singing, ‘Hail, Holy Queen.’ ”

    I had already sung the Schubert “Ave Maria” dozens of times and had long ceased using the music when I was singing it at the Saturday 5:30pm Mass at Bolling AFB (circa 1984) and my mind went completely blank. I couldn’t even continue the melody on “la, la, la,” but simply stopped altogether. I was probably on auto-pilot and thinking about what to do for dinner afterwards. Lesson learned about mindful singing.

    Then on January 1, 1991, my mother passed out in the car as we arrived at church for morning Mass, but my dad insisted my sisters and I stay, since we were providing the music. He drove off to the ER, and after singing the opening hymn, Gloria, and Responsorial Psalm, I sat during the homily in a panic because the text of the Ave Maria had fled from my panicked and worried mind. I had been playing through what I thought were the likely outcomes of my mother’s sudden illness, and had convinced myself—correctly, as it turned out—that she would not survive. My sisters and I jotted down the words on the back of the bulletin, since the Missalette didn’t have it, and we somehow got through the rest of the Mass before speeding to the hospital to learn the worst. Nobody had cellphones back then.

    It was a few years before I was brave enough to attempt Schubert’s “Ave Maria” again, and a few years beyond that before I felt like celebrating New Year’s Day.

What do you think?

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