06. May 2013 · Comments Off on The Dancing Monk · Categories: N. Grail School Year

Dancing MonkSt. Francis Dancing on Water, monument by Monika Kaden. Photo by Christine Walters Paintner Ph.D.


His name is Dom Ermin Vitry, OSB, a Belgian monk of the Order of Saint Benedict.

He is supple and leaps around as he demonstrates the rhythms of Gregorian Chant.    He calls it eurhythmics.

He sings

Ad te levavi animam meam

To you I lift up my soul

Reach up, reach up your arms, your whole body!  Reach up with your whole soul, reach reach!  He lifts his arms together, left to right in a sweeping gesture.

Deus meus in te confido

My God in you I trust

Dance, dance!  Father Vitry has wings on his feet.

We follow him.   It is like nothing I have ever done.

Very soon, a star emerges.  Her name is Cele.  She is a teen.  She is tall and blonde and moves as though she is an angel and this dancing was made for her.   She just looks like one of us when she is not dancing.

But dancing is not Father Vitry’s real objective.  He is here to find conductors.   He is making us dance by way of teaching us his way of conducting Gregorian Chant.   He tries to show us how to get the energy from the music into our hand and wrist.

After a few sessions, we are asked to perform, one at a time, so that he can pick the ones who will undergo further training.

We take turns, and after each one there is polite applause from the group.

Almost the last to conduct is Thonda.  She is the daughter of a chief in Africa, educated at a missionary university.   When she has the whole dining room singing

Imbube Imbube Imbube,

and our voices sounding like drums, her beautiful singing soars over the beat.   She brings down the house every time.

Thonda conducts the chant in a natural rhythmic way.  This is followed by a thunderous applause.  However, we all know that the way she conducts has nothing of what Father Vitry tried to teach us.

After Father Vitry leaves the room followed by staffers and also Thonda, Leitha holds us back.  Then she lets us have it.  She says that what we did to Thonda was unacceptable and insulting.

The chant isn’t Imbube.   It is a different kind of rhythm, generated from the meaning of the text.   We know that Thonda did not grasp what Father taught, but that is okay.  Very few of us, maybe two or three, will be chosen to be conductors.   If we had given Thonda the polite applause everyone else got, that would have been fine.

Instead we gave her this thunderous applause everyone knows was false.  It is condescending.  It is never to happen again.

For the first time, I respect Leitha’s scolding.  I did not expect her to make a perceptive distinction like that.

I am used to some of that leveling out that the nuns do.   Not getting awards and credit for what I do, stings a little, but it doesn’t change anything in the long run.

I would really feel insulted and condescended to if I am given an award or credit that I know they think I don’t deserve or worse still, belongs to someone else.

I just never expected anyone here to think like me.  I was used to my teachers saying, after they ask a question that required some thought:

Everyone think, except Doreen.

Everyone just took that for granted.  Nobody wanted to see me suspended from school again for insolence.

Comments closed.