MUSIC AS PRAYER: The Theology and Practice of Church Music
Thomas H. Troeger
Oxford University Press: 89 pp. H/B 978-0-19-933008-9 £13.85
When the dust jacket reports that ‘music can be an act of prayer, a way of sensing the irrepressible resilience of the divine vitalities’ and given the subtitle, one might think that this is a deeply philosophical theological treatise. Far from it, for it is a delightful series of meditations, ideal for the bedside and an inspiration for private personal prayer, written in everyday language and often linked to Bible references.
The Revd Thomas Troeger, formerly Chaplain to the American Guild of Organists, contributed a monthly column to the AGO magazine The American Organist from 2008 to 2012. This book is a collection of these offerings and, whilst many of the meditations are organist related, the anecdotes and spiritual connections he makes with music, musicianship and worship are valid for all whose emotions respond to the power of music. With around 40 meditations in 80 pages, they are short and easily digested. Troeger is a professor at the School of Theology in Denver and, though not an organist himself, he makes many pertinent observations on the work of organists and choirs based on his own experience; indeed it is the personal insights which make this book particularly attractive. As one would expect from a respected author and hymn-writer, his prose is a delight to read and I can whole-heartedly recommend this book.
THE HAARLEM ESSAYS: Celebrating Fifty International Organ Festivals
ed. Paul Peeters
Dr J. Butz 472 pp. H/B 978-3-928412-15-5 £32.50
Essays about a Dutch organ competition from a German publisher might make you wonder ‘What is in this for me, a British organist?’ Well, the answer is – a great deal. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the book is in English. and secondly there is a wealth of information about 20th-century, premier-league organists and organ composition, together with a host of newly published photographs of both people and instruments. A 78-minute CD of competition-winning improvisations by Piet Kee, André Isoir, Hans Haselböck and others is also included.
The improvisation competition is at the heart of the Haarlem International Organ Festival, which has just passed its 50th jubilee year, and these essays celebrate that fact. The first section of the book is devoted to Haarlem – the place, the churches, the organs and the development of the festivals. The central section contains essays by various festival observers, including one fascinating interview with a famous stop-puller. Professional registration assistants are not common in the UK but are much needed on continental organs. Stop-pulling for a performer who is improvising requires a degree of knowledge of the instrument and anticipation which is frankly awesome.
Part two of the book looks at traditional repertoire from Byrd, Bach, Reger and Messiaen and links this to improvisational techniques.
There has never been a UK winner of this competition, which has always been dominated by Dutch, German and French organists. It is interesting to note that the RSCM’s very own Lionel Dakers was a finalist in the first competition in 1951 whilst he was assistant organist at St George’s, Windsor.
This is a beautifully produced book containing much of interest to organists and organ enthusiasts. I suspect it has been heavily subsidized by the various organ builders who seem to have advertisements in the back. The CD alone is worth £15; spend a little more and you have the book as well.