SO YOU WANT TO SING GOSPEL: A GUIDE FOR PERFORMERS
Rowman & Littlefield: P/B 276pp. 978-1-4422-3920-3 £24.95
This is the fifth in a series of guides published by the National Association of Teachers of Singing, an American organization founded in 1944. The previous titles include guides to the performance of music theatre, jazz, rock ’n’ roll and country music.
The author, a specialist in commercial music voice pedagogy, is based in New Jersey and she directs a jazz ensemble at Princeton University. With the assistance of other authors she covers the subjects of voice science, vocal health, style, performance practice, improvisation and repertoire as applied to the singing of gospel songs.
As a singer in the tradition of UK church choirs and choral societies, I found this book opened my eyes to a significantly different way of singing. To insist on vocal amplification both for rehearsal and performance, to advocate a method of breathing that does not involve abdominal musculature and to encourage the use of constrictor muscles around the pharynx is contrary to much of what we are taught by singing teachers of classical technique. The book is clearly aimed at solo singers, but choir singing and choir direction are also mentioned.
Many contemporary books about singing have clear diagrams about the anatomy of singing, whereas this book seems to rely on clips from Wikipedia and ancient anatomical pictures from the 1918 edition of Gray’s Anatomy.
If you are interested in gospel-style singing, do delve into this book and listen to the many online recorded examples that are provided on the NATS website.
LOOKING FOR A VOICE: A HYMNOLOGICAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Caryl Micklem and Alison Micklem
Ringbound 195pp. £14.40
Self-published at lulu.com 20304471
At the time of his death, hymn writer and composer Caryl Micklem (1925–2003) left a substantial, though incomplete, autobiography. A Congregational (and subsequently URC) minister who served in Northamptonshire, Surrey, London and Oxford, he was a member of the editorial committee for the 1991 URC hymn book Rejoice and Sing.
His daughter Alison has collated his original material, compiled over a six-year period just before his death, and has added to it before publication. This is not a chronological personal autobiography but more of a history of his hymn tunes and texts, highlighting the creative process, the theology and the many persons with whom he collaborated.
Illustrated by Judith Micklem, another daughter of Caryl Micklem, readers interested in the genesis of hymnody will enjoy this well-produced offering.
HARMONY IN THE HEART: 38 ORIGINAL TUNES BY SAMUEL WESLEY SET TO HYMNS BY WRITERS FROM 4 CENTURIES
The New Room Bristol: Ringbound 64pp 978-1-901085-02-0
The 250th anniversary of the birth of Bristol-born musician Samuel Wesley fell in 2016. To mark this, The New Room in Bristol, the oldest Methodist Chapel in the world built by John Wesley in 1739, has reissued Samuel Wesley’s 1828 publication Original Hymn-Tunes, Adapted to Every Metre in the Collection of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M.
A notable addition to the original collection is the provision of 14 texts in addition to those originally set by Samuel Wesley. Eleven of these are contemporary: five by Andrew Pratt and six by the late Fred Pratt-Green.
It is unfortunate that the music, although in modern typesetting, is fuzzy and in one or two cases has been made to fit the page by stretching the images without regard to the image aspect ratio, giving a slightly bizarre appearance. Wesley enthusiasts will certainly be interested in the collection, even though it may not find a wider market.
CAROLS FROM KING’S: THE STORIES OF OUR FAVOURITE CAROLS FROM KING’S COLLEGE
BBC Books: H/B 208pp. 978-1-78594-094-1 £9.99
Reading the subtitle – ‘The stories of our favourite carols …’ – a slight sense of dread came over the reviewer.
I was wrong: this book is a delight at several levels. Yes, it does cover some ‘best-loved’ carols, the tradition of the King’s Nine Lessons and Carols service and the carol broadcasts, and it is written in an approachable popular style, but there is more to it than that. The opening chapter recalling the origins of Yule and Christmas, the history and nature of carols, wassailing and mystery plays is a model of clarity. It is followed by an account of typical medieval, Tudor and Victorian Christmases leading to the King’s College contribution to the carol tradition and the various contemporary carols commissioned by the college.
Throughout the book the various carols mentioned are used in context to illustrate a hugely enjoyable history lesson that is slowly unfolded to the reader. This is highly recommended.