Books, December 2015

David M. Howard
Willow Leaf Publishing: 178pp. P/B 9780992621612 £25.00

Dr David Howard, organist, choir director and head of electronics at the University of York, has produced a guide for choir trainers, singing teachers and more advanced singers which attempts to bring simple science into the art of singing. The author’s primary career as a teacher of science is evident in his crystal clear explanation of matters physiological.
With cookery books, their glossy covers, shiny paper and full-colour staged photographs of food often give the impression that presentation matters more than substance. This is not the case with Dr Howard’s book. The physiological understanding of vocal technique, its development and its care have advanced considerably in recent years and, whilst there are differences in approach between some vocal tutors, there is more unanimity now than there was even a few decades ago. Much of this modern thinking has been distilled into this volume.
We have many singing text books in the RSCM library, most of which also delve into the interpretation of different styles of music, an area not covered by this book. Howard concentrates on the physical essentials of how the human body (for it is the whole body and not just the throat) creates the best sound possible in a way that is both healthy and enjoyable. Numerous helpful photographs and diagrams are used to explain this.
There are also chapters on how to form a choir, a list of the kind of frequently asked questions that come from singers to choral directors and how to deal with them. I was especially taken with his chapter on pitch and how one can help singers who cannot pitch a note accurately.
All in all, and considering that there have been many good books about singing technique published in the last decade, I would say that none has been better than this.
John Henderson

DEM HIMMEL NAHE: LOOKING UP at organs and ceilings
Jenny Setchell
Dr J. Butz: 64pp. H/B 9783928412170 €18.00
A lack of foreign languages does not hinder enjoyment of this book published in Germany, for the preface is in English, German and French and the remaining 59 pages are full-page photographs.
New Zealander Jenny Setchell will be known to some CMQ readers for her entertaining book of organists’ anecdotes, Organ-isms (incidentally now in an inexpensive Kindle edition). The worldwide recital tours of her concert-organist husband Martin have enabled Jenny to indulge her passion and expertise in photography documenting stunning organs and ceilings. Each photograph depicts an instrument and the ceiling above it. In most cases it is really the ceilings and architecture that catch the eye, wonderful though the instruments may be. The English title ‘Looking Up at Organs and Ceilings’ seems somewhat pedestrian for such marvellous works of art – the French ‘Tuyaux Sonores: Près du ciel’ is much more evocative.
The origin of the book does not imply that all the photographs are of German organs, indeed less than half are, and the sharp-eyed will spot Chester Cathedral on the back cover of the book. Ten further British churches and cathedrals are also included.
A modestly priced book, ideal for a Christmas present.

A. Herbert Brewer ed. John Morehen
Stainer & Bell: 191pp. P/B 9780852499467 £14.99
Many years ago I acquired a copy of this book, published in 1931 by Herbert Brewer’s wife a few after his death, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Although not actually revised and assembled by Brewer himself into a formal autobiography, these short reminiscences are close to being just that. Thanks to Stainer & Bell for re-issuing this short volume, now edited with footnotes added by John Morehen about the various people mentioned.
Sir (Alfred) Herbert Brewer was organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1896 until his death in 1928 and was very active in the Three Choirs Festival where he promoted much new music – sometimes to the consternation of those in charge of the festival finances. Much of this book is concerned with that festival and his involvement. He was a friend of Elgar, many of whose works he transcribed for organ, indeed Elgar even orchestrated Brewer’s own cantata Emmaus for the Three Choirs in 1901. There cannot be many readers who have not heard or sung Brewer in D (which incidentally was also composed for the Three Choirs Festival) but his other music and his transcriptions for organ were rarely heard until recently when concert transcriptions seem to be coming back into fashion.
Brewer never migrated to the London musical scene, unlike many of his contemporaries, but it is clear that, even as a provincial musician, his interaction with major musicians such as Saint-Saëns, Parry, Stanford and Sibelius was both cordial and fruitful. The writing style of Edwardian authors can sometimes seem highly dated, but Brewer seems much less ‘stiff’ than many and this is a good bedtime read. There are two indexes – one general index and another listing the various musical works mentioned throughout the book.
John Henderson