A Selection of Books on Various Aspects of the Choral Tradition

MUSIC AND CEREMONIAL AT BRITISH CORONATIONS From James I to Elizabeth II
MATTHIAS RANGE (CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2012, £62.00)

The Chapel Royal and Westminster Abbey choirs form the essential historic nucleus of the bigger choral gathering at coronations. Both are of course traditional vocal ensembles of men and boys – cathedral choirs in all but name.

For this reason alone, it is appropriate that Clarion Call includes discussion of this fine book, a copy of which has been generously bought by our Associate Editor, Dr Ann Savours Shirley, specifically for this review. It is a handsome hardback volume full of absorbing information. This includes fullest detail and examples of the music written for the vocal forces and constitution shared by other choirs of this type – choirs that CTCC exists to highlight and help save from mounting threats in the strange age in which we live.

The first paragraph of the Introduction sets out the intention: ‘In order to understand how exactly the music contributes to the ceremony, it is instructive to examine the musical programmes, its actual performance, its reception and possible interpretations. The music’s exact place, and role, in the ceremonial will be addressed – an aspect hitherto largely neglected.’ This immediately suggests links with the place of music in customary cathedral liturgy, ritual, and all formal cathedral services – the Opus Dei – a subject dear to the hearts of CTCC members and therefore another, slightly different, reason for considering this book in Clarion Call.

Later in the Introduction we read of the choral forces at coronations: ‘The coronation choir traditionally consisted of the monarch’s own choir, the Chapel Royal, and the choir of Westminster Abbey, it being both the coronation church and a royal peculiar. The selection of the music and the overall responsibility for its performance usually lay with the leading musician of the Chapel, and, from the twentieth century onwards, the organist of the Abbey.’ It should be noted of course that 20th century coronations and that of Queen Victoria have included the other Royal choirs and that of St Paul’s Cathedral, together with boys and men representing different cathedrals.

The scene is therefore set. The book presents us with finely detailed material, most of it not written about before. There is discussion of not only the music but also basically the same choirs that have sung it at every coronation since that of James I in 1603. Not all the music sung at those august ceremonies has been written specifically for coronations, though much has. Of this, some has remained in the service over the centuries. Most music sung at coronations can be performed perfectly well by the average cathedral all-male choir.

The detail is intricate and full. We meet many familiar names – particularly composers, organists and singers – and many not so familiar. For this reviewer particularly, it is gratifying, for example, to greet the names of celebrated countertenors of the Chapel Royal and theatre stage of the Purcellian period, like Francis Hughes (1666/7-1736) and John Freeman (1666-1736). There is so much to absorb and be reminded of – for example the choir sizes and the smaller number of boys than we are used to today. Before the 19th century, the combined choirs consisted of men and boys, but at George IV’s coronation in 1821 and Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838, the traditional choirs were augmented by an extra one of male and female singers in a gallery at the west-end of the Abbey. In 1838, the combined choral forces numbered 288, but in 1902 the composite choir had reverted to the traditional one of men and boys, with subdivisions, named as ‘Marching Choir’ and ‘Big Choir on the Screen’.

We learn that in 1953, the huge, composite traditional choir was augmented by nineteen female singers from the Commonwealth, and that this caused resentment among some British female singers at their exclusion. Inevitably, this brings us, near the end of the book, to discussion and speculation of what will happen at the next coronation. Most CTCC members will experience disquieting thoughts of the inevitable effects that the huge and various changes in and to society since 1953 will have on that mystical, spiritual and historic Christian rite in Westminster Abbey.

Obviously, the content of a book is its raison d’etre, but there is always another dimension: its feel and essential ‘presence’ – notably whether from the outset it will lie spread on a table, with verso and recto appearing equally balanced, almost at whatever point opened, and with the ‘page bank’ on each side, elegantly curved. Does the layout satisfy? Is the chosen typeface appropriate and is the point-size easy to the eye?

Not only does the book under consideration satisfy these criteria but also it contains almost all that one could ask for on its subject, though I would have welcomed relevant photographs from the last four coronations. The lack of these images captured in time misses an opportunity to relate the engravings of the far past to the living memory of (now only) the 1937 and 1953 coronations.

This book is expensive but not in real terms. It is a unique work that should be of great interest, not only to academics but also to everyone involved in or interested in the traditional cathedral choir and its music.

 

 

The Christian West And Its SingersThe Christian West And Its Singers
The First Thousand Years

Christopher Page
Yale University Press 2010
Price £30. ISBN: 978 –0-300-11257-3

Comprising more than five hundred pages and weighing in at well over two kilos, this is indeed a big book. It is also a book with scholarly weight and scholarly insight of the highest order. The reader cannot but be stunned by the breadth of Dr Page's learning and the range of sources consulted. Without a doubt, it is a book which eclipses all previous writings on the subject. Should, however, such a description seem to suggest a plethora of academic minutiae likely to weary the reader, let me say at once that anyone remotely interested in the choral tradition will find himself constantly enthralled as he is taken back over the centuries of church music. Dr Page's book can confidently be expected to find a place in the library of anyone interested in the origin and development of the Christian West and its singers.

The Western Christian musical tradition begins hesitantly in house-churches. Later on, with the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, it grows in complexity and strength, eventually spreading throughout Europe. Dr Page shows how the choral tradition developed on the demise of the Roman empire, in the various barbarian kingdoms and later on in the Carolingian empire. He makes masterly use of epitaphs, images from the catacombs, chronicles, lives of the saints and a great many other written sources to illustrate the changing story. Finally, we learn of Guido of Arezzo and his invention of staff notation in the ninth century. Prior to this, there was no trace of notation, and the only way the melodies of the chants could be transmitted was by singers who knew the material by heart coaching others until they had mastered them. Agobard of Lyons is quoted as saying in 838 that too many singers study from earliest youth until the hoariness of old age” to learn their chants. He went on to say that, as a result, they neglected their “spiritual studies, that is to say, readings and the study of divine eloquence”. And this, rather than anything purely musical, is what impelled Guido to invent the stave. Towards the end of the book, Dr Page remarks that the stave “provided the means for an aggressively expansionist civilisation to train singers relatively quickly so that the flag of the Latin liturgy could be planted in Spain, Livonia, in the Holy Land, and in a great many of the larger hospitals and chapels, often in rural or indeed wild locations. There is something to lament there, but also something to laud. The world has the Passions of J.S. Bach, and the late quartets of Beethoven, because monks, clergy and knights of the central Middle Ages sought a form of life with a rigour to match their consciences, then drained marshes, took boats along unchartered rivers or attempted to reclaim, at huge cost to themselves and to others, new lands for Christendom”.

Today, it is not infrequently said that girls and women are now finally being 'allowed' in choirs where once they were not welcome. Indeed, there has been talk of battles being won! History provides a rather more nuanced perspective on the issue. “A singer in a church of 450-650 was generally appointed in much the same way as a gravedigger,” we learn from a chapter in the book on schooling singers in the cathedrals between those dates. And in Rome, the fourth-in-command of the schola faced excommunication if the assignment of chants to individual singers was changed in any way during the course of the service! In fact, says Dr Page, the members of the schola did not enjoy much prestige.

Interestingly, we learn of how, even in Christianity's very early days, the singing boy was appreciated. At Carthage, the Catholics held the boys in great affection, and in the 470s, when the boys of the great orphanage of Byzantium sang, the people of Constantinople “flocked in crowds to hear them.”

This review is but the briefest of sketches. For a fuller picture, place an order for the book with your bookseller!

 

Bernarr Rainbow On MusicBernarr Rainbow On Music
Memoirs and Selected Writings

Introductions by Gordon Cox & Charles Plummeridge,
Editor: Professor Peter Dickinson
Boydell Press Ltd., 2010
Price £25. ISBN: 978 1 84383 592 9.

Bernarr Rainbow was invited to the very first meeting of what was eventually to become CTCC. A sympathetic article of his had just appeared in Choir and Organ. Although he had never previously met any of those present at that meeting, when he was asked if he would consent to become president of the new organisation, he simply said: “I would be honoured.” And that was it. Thereafter, he devoted himself tirelessly to getting things going.

Bernarr Rainbow's adhesion to the cause was a great fillip to the Campaign in those early days, for he was a man with a distinguished academic background. In particular, his studies on the choral tradition and his unrivalled knowledge of how things once were conferred automatic authority on his views on more recent developments in the world of church music.

Whether Bulletin readers are already acquainted with The Choral Revival in the Anglican Church 1839 – 72 or his magnum opus, Music in Educational Thought and Practice: A Survey from 800BC or whether they are simply curious, they will find these memoirs and selected writings furnishing much food for thought – and much delight as well.

The book begins with his memoirs, entitled A Salute to Life. Peter Dickinson encouraged him to start on these in the months leading up to his death, thinking the writing of them would help to take his mind off his illness. They are full of interest, and wonderful anecdotes abound. For instance, he tells us his father was a journeyman cabinet-maker. During his apprenticeship, he helped to carve the new choirstalls for Peterborough Cathedral. So, it is no great surprise to learn that Bernarr Rainbow was a chorister in the two churches which figure in his early childhood. By the age of eight, he tells us, he could readily play at sight. He goes on to tell us about his schools, his job working in the Map Branch of HM Land Registry, his continuing music studies and, eventually, his wartime service in the army. He records one incident in the Italian city of Capua where he had been sent. Wandering into an imposing church on one of the town's squares in his time off, he saw a priest going about his sacerdotal duties and decided to approach him. But “having as yet little or no Italian,” he writes, “I recklessly thought of trying something simple in Latin. How, I wondered, should one say, 'Good afternoon' in Latin?” He decided on “Pax vobiscum.”, adding: “In Anglia, pulsator organorum sum. Organum hic videre volo.” After the war, he details his career in music, including his appointment as organist at High Wycombe Parish Church, his appointment to St Mark's College, Chelsea and his subsequent scholarly studies. The account concludes in the 1970s. Although it is a pity that a full biography was never completed, what we have is already testament to a very great man.

The rest of the book brings together a wide variety of Rainbow's articles which appeared over the years in various journals, some with rather limited circulation. It is useful to have them in this handy compendium. There is a biography of John Curwen, whose Tonic Sol-fa method of teaching children to sight-read music, spread round the world. There are also sections devoted to historical research in music education, school music abroad, music in nineteenth-century England, music teaching methods and nineteenth-century musical life in London. The reader is quickly drawn into whatever is under discussion. However, it is the section on church music which is most likely to capture the interest of Campaign members.

Readers will need no help to alight upon items of particular interest to them, but here are a couple of things which caught my attention and seem to me of relevance to what the Campaign is about: The Times marvelled on a performance given in 1857 “at the Crystal Palace, in the Handel Festival orchestra, by between 2,000 and 3,000 children, boys and girls, from various schools, in which the [Curwen Sol-fa] system had been taught.” The young singers were an instant success. Demands on every side called for a repetition of the concert. But Curwen was firm. “Except for the children themselves,” he declared, “everyone concerned with the concert was worn out. As for the children, too much exhibition was not good for them.” Indeed, indeed! And our cathedral choirs are there to provide fitting accompaniment to the worship – not to provide an entrée to stardom courtesy of the recording industry.

“The amazing growth in the scope of music teaching in our schools since 1960 has had the unfortunate result of endangering the fine tradition of choral singing and squeezing aural training out of the curriculum in all too many instances. That these changes took place against the shadowy background of such social manifestations as the rise of 'mass culture', ' élitism', and 'radical chic' considerably increased their impact.” And in a footnote to these remarks: “The known case of a London headmaster who disbanded his school choir as an undesirably elitist activity deserves to be recorded. One wonders if the football team was abolished, for the same reason.”

”In the article, Count Leo Tolstoy: Music Teacher, we read of how in the summer of 1861, one of the peasant boys on his estate clambered into a cart and “began to sing a melancholy folksong with great feeling. When the other boys laughed at this performance, he shouted back at them in an assumed grown-up voice and went on with his song. Soon other boys joined him in the cart and began to sing the chorus. Tolstoy observed that they were instinctively able to harmonise the tune, singing in thirds and sixths with the original singer. Before long, all the children were singing – though not all with the same natural aptitude. Tolstoy decided to build upon that foundation.

 

How High Should Boys Sing? Gender, Authenticity and Credibility in the Young Male Voice by Martin Ashley;How High Should Boys Sing? Gender, Authenticity and Credibility in the Young Male Voice by Martin Ashley
published by Ashgate; ISBN: 978-0-7546-6475-8, pp 194; £50

Two reviews of this highly contentious book:

Review No. 1: Dr A.E. Saunders

As the author has written his book in the first person singular, I shall follow his example and do likewise. I was asked to express an opinion of the book based on my scientific background rather than as a musician or as a reader having a more general interest. To comply with this request has proved to be almost impossible; as Ashley himself admits, writers in the social sciences 'highlight the importance of transparency and trustworthiness' rather than scientific objectivity. I found this claim difficult to reconcile with his use of what I take to be the terminology in common usage in his area of expertise, terms like 'hegemonic masculinity' or 'social-constructivist'. So much for transparency in the social sciences in which such obfuscation seems to be commonplace! The idea that transparency should depend on the reader's knowledge and interpretation of the author's subjective viewpoint is certainly novel in science of any kind. I share Ashley's hope that the 'critical enquirer' will not ascribe to him 'the quality of an Isaac Newton or a Neils Bohr', in my view a singularly unlikely occurrence.

On the matter of trustworthiness, I have a rather more serious comment to make. I agree with Ashley that spurious claims to scientific objectivity 'backed by impressive looking parametric statistics…derived from relatively simplistic measurements' should always be strongly deprecated. Unfortunately, one such claim is made for what Ashley calls a 'well constructed, properly scientific study' which, according to him, has come to be 'the reference work for the time being'. This study is anything but well constructed and properly scientific, based, as it was, on an erroneous statistical analysis of data obtained from a flawed experiment. (CTCC Occasional Paper No 1, 2009)

Although there are several passages in the book in which it descends into prurience, I found it reassuring to learn that Ashley believes pædophilia to be 'one of the most abhorrent things there is'. It may well be the case that such behaviour is more prevalent in those organisations involving boys and men, like choirs and the Scouts, than in society generally. But, if so, I would have expected to find the evidence for such an assertion. What I would not have expected to find in a book written by a self-avowed 'pro-feminist' would have been the evidence that feminism and political correctness have made the title question all but irrelevant as far as the Anglican parish-church choir is concerned. Instead of posing the question of how high boys should sing, it might have been more apposite to consider the reasons for the near extinction of the boy chorister and its consequences. (CTCC Bulletin No.17, Autumn 2005; Bulletin No.18, Spring 2006)

Arthur Saunders holds a doctorate in physics from the University of London and is a Visiting Fellow at Bournemouth University.

Review No. 2: Boyd Pehrson

In 1977, music educator Frederick Swanson, in his work The Male Singing Voice Ages Eight to Eighteen, commented that many music teachers lacked the special knowledge and technique needed to train boys' voices and lacked pathos for the boy as a person. He concluded this was the reason 'we lose so many boy singers along the way' (Swanson, p.2). During the 33 years since the publication of Swanson's work, dedicated academics have generated hundreds of essays, papers, articles, theses, dissertations and books to help ameliorate this problem. A recent contribution to the issues is Martin Ashley's book. How High Should Boys Sing?

Ashley's subtitle Gender, Authenticity and Credibility in the Young Male Voice is really the core of the book. He describes a sociological framework wherein boys' voices are either adored or ignored. Ashley implies that authenticity secures vocal agency. Peer interest creates an authentic environment, while adult dictates do not. Thus, Ashley argues that while some boys may find 'classical' music authentic work and will want to sing it, most boys do not and will not due to perceptions of high voice and other artsy trappings being decidedly un-cool and un-boy. Therefore we must allow the felt needs of boys to inform our teaching.

Preference for Don Collins' method of interpreting Cooksey's pioneering of voice mutation stages marks Ashley's work. But the technical music dimension of Ashley's work really ends there. The tome is a pastiche of Ashley's previous study projects cobbled together as chapters. One such study (Ashley, 2002) is an attempt to provide a philosophical critique of the value of the separation of spirituality from religion, culled, believe it or not, from interviews with boys from the choir at St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol.

Ashley's methodology includes a heavy use of boy singer recordings and videos in order to elicit comments from child peer groups, who critique the presentations, assess what is 'cool', and suggest improvements. This is a flawed approach to classroom music, since media advertisers daily inform children of what is 'cool', and the children may merely be critiquing one form of media presentation over another. While Ashley subjects words such as 'boy' and 'chest-voice' to etymological inquisition, the key variable word 'cool' remains undefined. Whatever is 'cool' to boys is always good.

The question begged here is how to achieve the attainment of choir, where one rises above personal culture and joins together in a pursuit of transcendent aspects of the art of singing. Indeed the transcendent aspect of choir is wholly missing from Ashley's work.

Ashley describes his conclusions as 'visionary' and 'frankly breathtaking' (p.16). He claims that in social sciences 'transparency and trustworthiness' are valued over scientific objectivity. Stylistically, the book's narrative reads like a stream-of-consciousness blog, where 'I, me and my' become the driving characters. To his credit, Ashley does refer to writers on chorister history, voice mutation, and biography, but he then proceeds with chapter length reordering of their material, which was better handled by the original writers. Whole ideas and sentences are repeated twice, three, and four times. Ashley's undisciplined writing places the heaviest burden upon the reader, as the writer is free to pursue 'transparency'.

This supposed transparency is actually a thinly veiled effort to hide an overarching and admittedly 'pro-feminist' (p.2) and vinegared opinion. Ashley's social critique includes rants such as one spurred by his inspection of the cover of a cathedral music magazine where there are pictured, horror of horrors, the following: 'Three very white, clean boys imaged in choir robes crowned by bow ties that scream elite establishment from the rooftops in the most brazen manner imaginable' (p.14). Yet, lest we start smashing idols, Ashley later cautions that '[T]here is no need to abandon choir robes or any other outward cultural display' (p.15). Perhaps his disgust for the dreaded bow tie that 'screams' is due to the heritage of Oxbridge choirs and the Oxford Movement's 'imperialistic certainty of superiority' (p.29).

Ashley castigates Victorian writers on child voice saying that they engaged in merely 'folk art' and not science. Ashley altered a quote from J.S. Curwen's book 'The Boy's Voice' changing the original vocabulary from 'show' to 'shew' in order to make the Victorian writer sound more archaic (cf.,Curwen, p.50). Ashley also quotes from F.E. Howard's book 'The Child Voice in Singing' that: '…It cannot be right for children to sing with the coarse, harsh tone that is so common, and it is not right, although there is a prevalent idea that such singing is natural, that is, unavoidable'. Later Ashley proclaims: 'The prejudice of writers such as Francis Howard has to be seen for what it is' (p.69). Ashley neglected to offer to readers what Howard wrote in his very next sentence: 'This idea is false. The child singing-voice is not rough and harsh unless it is misused' (Howard, p.7). Yes, uncover prejudice, but also give credit where credit is due. Both Victorians Curwen and Howard supported use of 'thick register' for general singing instruction in schools. Howard was sensitive enough to remark that '[Boys] having used only the thick voice in all their school singing…likely consider… the higher tones as altogether too girlish…' (Howard, p.119).

Other problems abound. Ashley misrepresents a study (p.81) of pupils' perception of music teaching at KS3 level by Stuart Button, in order to make the point that boys prefer female teaching styles. He then asserts that the idea of more male music teachers is unnecessary. However the study (Button, 2006) concluded that the 'most important outcome' of the study was 'perception of gender roles'. Female teachers tended to expect lower standards of their male pupils (427), and 'quasi maternal caring' needs of women placed social order over music. The study's author also concluded that: '[M]ale pupils taught by female teachers might perceive music as even more unmasculine'(427). Most seriously, gender stereotypes affected the students' development in music (427).

Ashley's careless use of sources undermines the validity of his biographical and qualitative study methods and calls into question his 'transparency' when he has relied so heavily on a subjective methodology consistent with a feminist philosophical orientation.

Ashley's tactless use of bawdy quotes of toilet-graffiti quality make it difficult to take him seriously as an academician. At one point Ashley reminds the reader that there are honest mentors who want to train choirs. In the next breath however, we're suddenly plunged into half a dozen abuse accounts. Forays into prurience and a bizarre treatment of Benjamin Britten's 'perverted desire' to father boys (p.82) further the rapid loss of any semblance of scholarship in his work. This is used as evidence to support the notion of hidden motives among adult audiences, and used to establish Ashley's purely speculative categorizing of these audiences into three main groups: unfulfilled women, Peter-Pans and perverts, with the most in number in all these categories being 'older people'. (There is also mention of the cognoscenti audience, but Ashley isn't clear about separating audiences of teeny-bop boy pop from fine arts singing among his peer group evaluations and his categorizing.) This generational insight, says Ashley, makes his book unique.

It is 'frankly breathtaking' that Ashley can tell readers what adult audiences, and what Benjamin Britten and David Hemmings were actually thinking - truly 'visionary' stuff! This merely reads as a strange catharsis on the part of Ashley. We see how far we're pushed out from the shore of boy voice study when we find ourselves reading Ashley's take on A Death in Venice.

In chapter one, Ashley remarked that he hopes readers will not ascribe to him the quality of an Isaac Newton or a Niels Bohr (p.19). In the postscript chapter, Ashley takes a more conciliatory tone. He says if he's been a little unkind in his writing regarding adult audiences, it's because he's only trying to write from the viewpoint of boys (p.169). On these two points, Ashley has best succeeded.


References:

Ashley, Martin (2002) 'The Spiritual, the cultural and the Religious: what can we learn from a study of boy choristers?,
International Journal of Children's Spirituality, 7: 3, 257-272.
Button, Stuart (2006) 'Key stage 3 pupils' perception of music', Music Education Research, 8: 3, 417-431.
Curwen, J.S. (1891) The boy's voice (London, J. Curwen & Sons).
Howard, F.E. (1895) The child voice in singing (London, Novello & Co. Ltd.)
Swanson, F.J. (1977) The male singing voice ages eight to eighteen (Cedar Rapids, IA., Laurance Press)

Boyd Pehrson works as an electronics technician and data systems analyst. He is a 20-year advocate of early academic outreach in music, and a community liaison music affiliate of University of California Santa Barbara. He can be reached by email at: choralup [at] gmail.com.

 

Cathedral Music Pitkin Guide

Cathedral Music, The Pitkin Guide; Jarrold Publishing; ISBN 1-84165-113-3, 21 pp (includes CD); £4.99 ($7.97)

Dr John Colmer, a member of CTCC, writes: "This slim volume contains only twenty pages, and given the limitation on space placed upon the author and her supporting team, is a remarkable achievement. It is aimed at people who have either no knowledge, or only very limited knowledge of the daily sung services which may be head in our Cathedrals and Collegiate Chapels, and as an introduction to its subject it admirably fulfils its aim.

There is a photograph half-way through the book which says it all — it shows John Scott with the choristers of St Paul's Cathedral checking a recording which they have just made. It is impossible not to be impressed by the concentration on and dedication to music-making of the highest standard which shows on the faces of the choir."

The English Chorister: A History

The English Chorister: A History by Alan Mould; published by Hambledon Continuum; ISBN 1 85285 513 4 (Hardback), ISBN 1 8472 5058 0 (Paperback), 366 pp; £16.99 (Paperback)

If you are only able to afford one book on the choral tradition, it has to be this one. Up-to-date, meticulously researched, comprehensive and well written, it provides a magnificent account of the English chorister over the centuries and the choral tradition in which he was nurtured and within which he served. As The Singer said: "A superb and fascinating book. If you have any interest at all in church music, go out and buy it."

The author correctly traces the history of the singing boy in worship back to the Jewish Temple, where the unbroken voices of Levite boys were used "to add sweetness" to the deeper adult sound. Initially, Christian worship was in secret, but with the lifting of the Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine, it came out of its bunker and quickly began to develop and flourish. Under Pope Sylvester the first Schola Cantorum was established at Rome, with a remit to train both adult and boy singers. Fast forward then to the reign of Pope Gregory the Great and his sending St Augustine to England in 596, and the story of the chorister and the choral tradition in England really takes off. Over the following centuries, a pattern of choral worship which required the singing boy for its proper fulfilment spread throughout the country.

For a time, at the Reformation, everything shuddered to a halt, as it did, and for a much longer time, during the Cromwellian revolution. However, fairly quickly, a new order of service emerged out of the old Hours of the Catholic liturgy, and music of the finest quality continued to be sung by these same ensembles of men and boys. In the following centuries, there were to be moments of great glory for the tradition, but at others it could hardly have sunk lower. By the start of the nineteenth century, when its future seemed in doubt, there was a concerted drive by members of the Oxford Movement and others to bring back seemliness into worship, of which the choral component was an integral and vital part.

On the whole, since then, the English chorister and the choral tradition have prospered. However, in modern times there have been other and worrying problems for the English choirboy and traditional cathedral choirs. The introduction of girls into the choirstalls, for which there was no historical precedent, the continuing demand in some quarters for more "accessible" music and the alarming state of cathedral finances now pose significant problems. The clock is ticking away, but many deans and chapters seem to be in denial.

The Better Land

The Better Land by Stephen Beet; published by Rectory Press in 2005; ISBN-1-903698-14-6, 197 pp; £10 ($20)

Stephen Beet, the author of this volume, has rescued from a most undeserved obscurity an immense galaxy of fascinating facts on the boy sopranos of yore. Unsurprisingly, given his dedication to the traditional cathedral choir, Stephen was one of the first members of the Campaign.

In a review of the book, Bruce Cameron wrote: "This excellent and very readable book is a must for those who have any of the six CDs called The Better Land – Great Boy Sopranos, and I would also recommend it to anyone interested in boys' voices. After reading it, you will want to order some if not all of the recordings. The book complements the information contained in the CD booklets and brings the biographical accounts up to date.

Boys' voices, in most people's mind, are associated with church music, but Mr Beet uncovers a wealth of information about their contribution in other spheres of music. For instance, I never knew that boys performed in music halls and in light entertainment. The boy's voice is indeed a versatile instrument."

The Choral Revival In The Anglican Church

The Choral Revival in the Anglican Church by Bernarr Rainbow; first published by OUP in 1970 and republished by Boydell Press in 2001; ISBN-10: 0851158188 and ISBN-13: 978-0851158181, 392 pp; £30

Bernarr Rainbow had long made a name for himself by his writings before becoming the Campaign's first president, and of all his books, it is almost certainly for The Choral Revival in the Anglican Church that he is best remembered. Dr Rainbow relates in his preface how, a year after his appointment as Director of Music at the College of S. Mark and S. John in Chelsea in 1952, he discovered in a lumber room the diary of the music sung daily in the College Chapel in the year 1849. "Written," he says, "in Thomas Helmore's hand, the book revealed a breadth of repertoire no less than astonishing for that time. At those daily services, it appeared, works by Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Palestrina, Victoria, Marenzio, and the like, were sung unaccompanied as a matter of routine — works seldom or never heard even in our cathedrals during the musical doldrums then still prevailing in England...The discovery of Helmore's diary of service music opened my eyes to the truth of the position. Musicians to whom I showed the book urged me to make its contents public. To undertake an investigation of the circumstances which led to so improbable a musical situation in 1849 became my inescapable task during the years that followed. My findings are recorded in this book which seeks to set Thomas Helmore's contribution in perspective against the background of the Choral Revival as a whole, and which I dedicate to his memory."

The background of the Choral Revival is and its development is gone into in detail. The role of the Oxford Movement is given particular prominence as is the much less well known role and work of Thomas Helmore's brother, Frederick, who spent most of his life setting up choirs of men and boys throughout the country.

A Century Of Cathedral Music 1898 - 1998

A Century of Cathedral Music 1898 – 1998 by John Patton and Steve Taylor, published by Dr John Patton in 2000; ISBN 0-9524-283-1-8, 200 pp; £9.95 ($15.95)

Dr John Patton has gathered together in one book the result of five surveys of cathedral music carried out in the United Kingdom in the period 1898 — 1998. If you want to know what Anthems, Canticles or Eucharist settings have been sung during this period and how often, this is the obvious source of reference. However, as co-author, Steve Taylor, points out, the surveys of 1898, 1938 and 1958, although "fascinating in their own right (are) somewhat sketchy and incomplete."

"The repertoire," as the late Dr George Guest says in an Introduction he contributed, "is extensive and though, as tastes have changed and many pieces have died, there exists a vast and still growing body of music of the highest standard. Most is Anglican in origin, but Catholic music is increasingly popular and indeed, just as an unwanted child is taken into care, so it behoves the Anglican Church to nurture and keep alive that wonderful legacy of choral music, now largely alas abandoned by the very church that inspired its composition."

Dr Guest goes on to quote with approval from the 1957 Report of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York: "One test must be applied to the use of the arts in worship. Is the motive that inspires their use the glory of God? Or are they designed rather to attract a congregation?" This is a test a number of deans and precentors have increasingly failed to apply in more recent years.

The History And Technique Of The Counter Tenor

The History and Technique of the Counter Tenor by Peter Giles; published by Scolar Press in 1994; ISBN 0 85967 931 4, 459 pp; £

Dr Giles, who co-founded the Campaign, is the distinguished author of this authoritative and definitive book on the counter-tenor. It is an academic tour de force and work of scholarship backed up by years of practical musicianship. After amateur and semi-professional singing experience in London, Dr Giles became an alto lay clerk first at Ely Cathedral and then at Lichfield Cathedrals. Later, he moved on to Canterbury Cathedral where he eventually became Senior Lay Clerk. Apart from these and many other commitments, he has appeared on television and radio, made several commercial recordings and toured the USA giving master classes.

In a foreword to the book, the famous counter-tenor, James Bowman, says: "I really feel that this book should be sub-titled 'Everything you ever wanted to know about the counter-tenors, but were afraid to ask'." That sums up the book both neatly and amusingly. It begins by reviewing the status quo and then goes back into the history of the voice and its 'reappearance' with Alfred Deller in the last century. The confusing plethora of terminology surrounding the 'falsetto family' is also examined and much space given to the techniques of the counter-tenor.

Thine Adversaries Roar

Thine Adversaries Roar by Michael Howard; published by Gracewing; ISBN 085244 530 X, 138 pp; £ 12.90

This is a compelling account of the life of one of the most distinguished cathedral organists of the twentieth century. From a very early age, the author had "an unshakeable conviction" that he would become a cathedral organist. This belief in his destiny was nourished in school holidays by frequent attendance at Evensong, especially, at Westminster Abbey. As the years went by, however, the apparent path of gold — roses, roses all the way — slowly transformed itself into a via dolorosa. At the height of his career as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Ely Cathedral, knowing that "the Church of England had no machinery for the annulment of my marriage", and under the stress and strain of a secret liaison, he handed in his resignation. An Apologia Pro Vita Sua, this book is a powerful description of the relationship between art and life, and of the triumph of art. Self-pity is purged, and what remains is a compelling tale of courageous involvement with life and a passionate belief in eternal values.

Thine Adversaries Roar is as moving a plea as may be found anywhere for keeping to tradition and the highest possible standards. Michael Howard's conviction and concern are all the more powerful seen against the backdrop of his own life. The book will, doubtless, infuriate some. Others, however, will be touched by the broad brush of its humanity and by what was achieved in such difficult circumstances.

In his latter years, CTCC was privileged to have Michael Howard as one of its Vice-Presidents.

In Tune With Heaven

In Tune with Heaven: The Report of the Archbishops' Commission on Church Music; published by Hodder and Stoughton; ISBN 0-340-57046-6, 320 pp;

Although a substantial document covering many aspects of church music, only one of its 29 chapters focuses on the cathedral. Although there is clear evidence the authors of the report value the traditional cathedral choir, its repertoire and ethos, there are things in the report which give cause for concern.

Particularly worrying is the kind of meta-language to be met with so frequently in church circles — a vague vocabulary of temperate and high-sounding sentiment, behind which lurks a plethora of hidden meanings. The aficionado of such language knows well what is meant, but for those less sure, a quotation from the Report will make it clear: "Musically...the remoteness of the past is being dispelled." Good news, surely. Then, a little further on, we read that some cathedrals have "a limited repertoire". We may nod sagely and agree that this is indeed a fact. If so, we have been softened up for the next paragraph, where it says: "Our culture is fragmented and secular, and for most people Choral Evensong, for example, has little to offer except beautiful music. This is true even for many younger Christians." Immediately comes a sentence to soothe any reader beginning to get fidgety: "The cathedral tradition is an undoubted musical gem." Alas, you can predict the next word will be "but" — and so it is: "But a more truly popular liturgy is always required..."

Popular? The Report reminds us that cathedrals have "open spaces which allow flexibility... (and this) asset ... invites exploration both of movement and of sound." We may agree that cathedrals and cathedral music must not forever look back. However, the sub-text suddenly gives way and we are told directly what this sentence means: "The organ and its players, the choir and its director, and a long tradition, all have a unique contribution to make to the exploration of new possibilities for worship." Expecting another "but"? Then you are wrong. The Report does have some sense of style, for it goes on: "It is, however, the tradition which is often the inhibiting factor... the music is nearly always in the idiom which is identified with cathedral music."

Once again, there is an attempt to soothe our worries away. "It would constitute a return to the worst of the Dark Ages if the cathedral musical tradition were lost." Unfortunately, these comforting words are at once followed by another "however": "However... there should be a willingness to use and experiment with different styles of music." And then, a sentence or two on, we are told cathedral musicians should "explore" (How they love that word!) "worship songs in contemporary style" and that there should even be room for experimentation (another much loved word) "with modern religious music with a jazz-rock feel to it." This is followed by a sentence which must derive straight from the textbook of a very modern, musical sociologist: "Coming from the Negro-spiritual tradition, it represents the spiritual music of anger and liberation."

After a paean in praise of electronic organs and a few paragraphs on other matters, the Report eventually comes to the question of girls' cathedral choirs. By this stage, no guessing is necessary as to what the Report might say: it approves, of course: "Singing as a cathedral chorister is a valuable educational experience" which it is "unjust to deny... to girls." One is minded to ask why proponents of such choirs seem to think cathedral choirs are an offshoot of the educational world.

Nowhere in the Report is there any sense that its authors have seen further than the ends of their noses. Nowhere is there any indication that they have understood the implications of their enthusiastic support for "experimentation" and for their espousal of girls' cathedral choirs. That is what is so depressing. Their views contrast and clash with those of a similar document emanating from the Archbishops in 1948. This earlier Report noted: "There is a growing tendency to employ women in choirs and to banish boys altogether, not because boys are unavailable, but for the less worthy reason that women do not demand so much practice, and give less trouble. If this tendency is allowed to grow, the results will become serious. The unique contribution of the boy's voice will be lost. Moreover, the source from which choir men are most likely to be drawn will disappear; boys will be deprived if a valuable spiritual and educative influence, and many who might have been attracted to the life of the church by membership of a choir, will remain permanently outside it. The Committee, therefore, makes a strong and urgent plea for the retention of boys in church choirs wherever possible."

Choirs And Cloisters

Choirs and Cloisters — sixty years of music in church, college, cathedral and Chapels Royal by Frederic Hodgson; published by Thames Publishing in 1988; ISBN: 0905210514, 120 pp; £9.95

Frederick Hodgson was one of the Campaign's first members, and as one who had long been immersed in the English choral tradition, his views were always pertinent and worth listening to.

What, readers might ask, is it like to have spent a lifetime in Church music? Perhaps, one can only say that it is an experience quite outside the daily lives most of us live. From time to time, Freddy, as he was affectionately known, was asked, "Don't you get bored with singing so many services, day after day?" His answer was a simple and emphatic 'no', for "In what better aesthetic environment," he asks, "could one wish to work than in our incomparable cathedrals and collegiate churches? One would have to be insensitive indeed not to be influenced by the architecture, or fail to gain inspiration from being part of the glorious heritage of church music which dedicated musicians in all ages have striven to preserve, and which has enhanced worship through the centuries."

Frederick Hodgson began his singing career before his sixth birthday at St Simon's, Sheffield. On his first day in that choir, someone said, "He's nobbut a babby!" Later on, this 'babby' would become a member of several city choirs, including that of the Cathedral. He also became well known as a soloist in churches, chapels, concert halls and cathedrals.

His first professional appointment as a lay clerk was at St Michael's College, Tenbury, now, alas, closed down, and in later years, he would sing in Lincoln Cathedral, Lichfield Cathedral, St George's Chapel, Windsor and the Chapel Royal at St James' Palace.

The book contains a wealth of detail on a choral scene which has already passed into history, and, for that reason alone, makes a fascinating read. However, Frederick Hodgson's story is punctuated throughout with a great sense of humour, bounteous anecdote and wise insights.

A Jewel Or Ornament

A Jewel or Ornament by Maxwell Betts; originally printed in 1974, it was published by Taverner Publications in 1997; ISBN-1 901470 01 6, 63 pp (plus CD); Price and availability on application to CTCC

Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk is a parish church, though with its architectural magnificence, it might well be taken for a cathedral. Founded as a Benedictine off-shoot of St Alban's in 1107, monastic life continued there until the Dissolution, after which it became a parish church.

The 'jewel or ornament' in the title refers to the church's organs, money for which was given as far back as 1523. The book is, in large measure, devoted to the organs — their history and technical specifications. However, it also focuses on a choral tradition which was built up and then cruelly and insanely cut down. The photos in the book of large choirs of boys in their chorister robes is moving enough in an age when such choirs are so few in number. Contrast it with the picture of the present choir which appears on the abbey's website, and the loss sustained could hardly be clearer. The story of how all this came about and of how Mr Betts was dismissed in a most un-Christian way from his post as organist is also told. Alas, such stories, while perhaps not typical are by no means unusual. The accompanying CD, compliled from locally-made tape recordings taken during actual services, demonstrates the choir's repertoire and the standards it achieved.

The Chapel Royal

The Chapel Royal — Ancient and Modern by David Baldwin; published by Duckworth in 1990; ISBN 0 7156 2349 4, 469 pp; £25

This is the amazing and captivating story of the Chapel Royal, which is, as the author reminds us, not a building, but "the body of priests and singers appointed to minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of the soveriegn and the Royal household".

The reader is taken from the origins of the Chapel Royal via the highways and byways of all its history. There are chapters on The Chapel Royal Overseas, Favourite Palaces, The English Chapel Royal in Scotland, Handel, Clerks of the Cheque, Grooms of the Vestry and Keepers of the Closet and much much more. However, lovers of choral music will be particularly interested in those chapters which deal specifically with the choir. The history of the choir is long and glorious, of course, but it includes times of great cruelty and neglect. Happily, today, the Children of the Chapel Royal, as the choristers are correctly called, are well looked after and receive a wonderful musical training to help them fulfill their duties. However, this most famous of choirs remains one of the least well known. Perhaps, the only time the choir of the Chapel Royal is seen by the general public is at the annual Armistice ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. This is a pity, for it is quite possible to attend their regular Sunday services at St James' Palace or Hampton Court on most Sundays of the year.

Some additional sources of information:

  • The Music of the English Parish Church by Nicholas Temperley
  • A History of English Cathedral Music by John S. Bumpus
  • Ouseley and His Angels: The Life of St Michael's College, Tenbury and its Founder, by David Bland
  • A Pilgrimage of Song: The Times and Chimes of the St Mary-of-the-Angels Song School 1919 to 1972 by Revd. Desmond Morse-Boycott
  • A Spiritual Song: The Story of the Temple Choir and a History of Divine Service in the Temple Church by David Lewer
  • A Guest at Cambridge by George Guest
  • Aled Jones: Walking on Air by David Bland