Books, June 2016

John Henderson and Trevor Jarvis
RSCM: 435 pp. and CD
P/B 978-0-85402-250-2, £25.00 [affiliates £18.75
H/B 978-0-85402-251-9, £45.00 [affiliates £33.75]

I am asked surprisingly often whether the RSCM is still based at Addington Palace, its home from 1953 until 1996. This was both a residential college and a place where singers, organists and choir directors came for specialized training. Here the enthusiastic amateur worked alongside the professional. Addington deserves a significant place in the history of English church music. A glance through the names of students in this book reveals that a great number of present and former cathedral directors of music as well as church musicians from around the world studied here. The book is not just an account of the RSCM’s activities at Addington Palace, but of the RSCM’s work for 43 years when its administrative base was there. There are accounts and photographs of cathedral courses and other training courses for boys and girls around the country during this period – a mainstay of the RSCM’s work – and photographs illustrating the RSCM’s work in many parts of the world.
Attention is properly paid to the contribution of Directors of the RSCM during this time: Gerald Knight, Lionel Dakers and Harry Bramma who contributes interesting recollections and comments throughout this volume.
This well-researched history includes reminiscences of many who spent time at Addington as students or staff. They share recollections of life at the Palace with some of its eccentric characters, time spent practising on the seven organs and pedal pianos in the building, perusing piles of music in the cellars, occasional student pranks, taking afternoon tea with the Director in the Empire room and singing daily services in the chapel.
The book starts with a fascinating account of the first residents of the Palace when it was leased to the RSCM: 20 boys selected from RSCM-affiliated choirs who came for intensive preparation to join with choristers from Royal Foundations and some cathedrals to form a 400 strong choir to sing at the coronation in 1953.
There are chapters illustrating the life of the college including its official opening and royal visits. There is a diary listing many of the important events held here over the years, and contributions by many members of the administrative staff and publications department to the outreach of the RSCM are acknowledged. Mention is made of the recruitment of local boys to sing in the chapel choir which had its own scout troop. Martin How’s significant place in the history of the RSCM is highlighted and in particular his invention of the Choristers’ Training Scheme (the precursor of Voice for Life). Several of Martin’s amusing stories enliven the account.
This well-illustrated book is the third volume of a trilogy covering the history of the RSCM. Previous volumes are Sydney Nicholson and his ‘Musings of a Musician’ and Sydney Nicholson and The College of St Nicolas: The Chislehurst Years. A bonus CD is attached to the latest volume which includes Sir Sydney Nicholson in 1931 delivering part of a lecture on speech rhythm in psalm singing which introduced the principles of Parish Psalter pointing – still today the mainstay of psalm-singing parish choirs. The CD also includes part of an address by Gerald Knight for a 1957 BBC radio broadcast, a 1948 recording of Stanford’s B flat Magnificat directed by Hubert Crook, and Gerald Knight conducting Bainton’s And I saw a new heaven ten years later on an RSCM course. Michael Fleming’s superb direction and accompaniment of a plainsong psalm sung by students at Addington Palace is a delight. Martin How provides a splendid organ improvisation on the versatile chapel organ in Addington Palace and directs much of the music on this CD including some exciting psalm singing and a wonderful performance of Parry’s Blest pair of sirens from an RSCM Cathedral Course at Westminster Abbey in 1987. Well over an hour’s music is included on this CD, which demonstrates high standards of choral singing obtained from ordinary boys and men from parish choirs.
This book is an easy and fascinating read; John Henderson and Trevor Jarvis have given us a splendid account of such a significant period in the work of the RSCM.
Gordon Appleton