THE RSCM GUIDE TO PLAINCHANT: an introduction to plainsong
Mary Berry and John Rowlands-Pritchard
RSCM: 108pp. P/B G0038 £9.95 (discounts for RSCM members)
Mary Berry’s original publication has remained more or less at my side ever since its publication in 1979 as Plainchant for Everyone. Many church musicians have found it invaluable. It is now reprinted in a much clearer format, not just with a larger page size, but with the original long paragraphs divided up, and the text and music redesigned and reset. Plainsong has never looked more friendly than here. There is discreet updating too, for example in the lists of opportunities to hear chant, purchase it and read about it, as well as in some terminology.
But, just as importantly, the book has doubled in length with a ‘Part Two’ anthology of plainchant from John Rowlands-Pritchard. The chants here include simple liturgical material such as introductions, dialogues and farewells, and straightforward psalms, antiphons and hymns, as well as more complicated examples. So readers of the book can apply Dr Berry’s advice and guidance immediately in church services using material from the second part of the book. As Andrew Reid writes in his introduction about chant, ‘its closeness to text, particularly Biblical text, makes it the ideal vehicle for worship.’
HYMNS AND CAROLS
CHRISTMAS CAROLS: From Village Green to Church Choir
Profile Books: 225pp. P/B 978-1-78125-352-6, printed £9.99, eBook £6.99 www.profilebooks.com
CD available from www.signumrecords.com
Andrew Gant’s name will be familiar to many readers as a former organist, choirmaster and composer of church and organ music. Now a tutor at St Peter’s College, Oxford, he has attempted to unravel the mystery of carols in general and 22 mostly well-known carols in particular, a task many authors have attempted less successfully before. This is not an academic book – there are no footnotes to justify his assertions and certainly I don’t know of any academic books that use the word ‘wonky’ in several places! The conversational narrative style, with its flashes of humour, is engaging yet with an authority that makes the reader confident in the veracity of the history given. Dr Gant clearly has a firm grasp on current musicological research.
The origins of music and text of these carols are explored in depth, with much space devoted to the evolution of these elements into the form that is sung today. For example, our hymn books lead us to believe that Hark, the herald angels sing has a text by Wesley and tune by Mendelssohn, but this conceals the work of others in producing what we know today. The tune of Ding-dong merrily was originally a dance with specific steps marked for each note of the tune. I am not sure how my choir will react to this, but it is an entertaining thought! I liked the pithy paragraphs at the end of each carol chapter, many of which display a balance between humour, cynicism and realism. This book will be an ideal and much-appreciated Christmas present for many church organists and adult choristers.
Signum Records have produced a CD with the same title and graphic design as the book and a pre-production copy of this was included with our review copy. It would appear that this disc is not included automatically with the book and has to be ordered from Signum Records. The CD features 24 carols covering the period from the Annunciation through to the Epiphany. Andrew Gant directs his own choir, Vox Turturis (‘The voice of the turtle’), and most of the arrangements are new – by Gant himself, including an original choir setting of What child is this? Some are traditional settings, such as Charles Wood’s Ding-dong and Adeste fideles sung in Latin throughout. Good King Wenceslas fails to appear but his tune is sung to the Latin Tempus adest floridum. There is much fine singing of these attractive arrangements by this new group, which includes both male and female singers on the top two lines. They certainly do not sing like turtles!
A HOUSE OF PRAISE (Part Two)
Oxford University Press: 376pp. P/B 978-0-19-340377-2, £21.95, www.oup.com
In 2001, at the age of 75, Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith published his life’s work of 285 hymn texts all together in the one anthology A House of Praise. In the preface he commented that his hymn writing had produced seven or eight a year and added ‘I hope to continue [writing hymns], if I can, for a few more years.’ Now, 12 years on and at a rate of 12 or 13 a year, we are blessed with another 150 hymns from possibly the greatest hymn-writer of our time. His poetry brings alive the concerns, weaknesses, sadness and joy of the whole human condition in a language which is both relevant to the modern world but which speaks directly to our souls.
This hymn collection does not include music and Dudley-Smith, who claims not to be a musician, relies on advisers for suggesting or writing suitable tunes. In several anthologies of his hymns, reviewed here in CMQ,tunes have been included. Many of these are fine modern tunes, but little known. In this new anthology, anything from one to five tunes are recommended for each text, thus allowing the spirit and theology of the hymns to be disseminated to congregations by using tunes with which they feel comfortable. 58 of the 150 hymns have already been published in hymn books and two texts have been used for anthems.
This book could easily be used as an aid to personal prayer – the trouble is that, even just reading these texts, makes you want to sing.