About this blogger:
Andrew Leung is a seminarian for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio. He has served as Director of Music at St. Pius X Church (Atlanta) and taught Gregorian chant at the Cistercian Monastery of the Holy Spirit (Georgia). For two years, he will be studying in Macau, China.
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“The authority of the Pope is not unlimited. It is at the service of Sacred Tradition. Still less is any kind of general ‘freedom’ of manufacture, degenerating into spontaneous improvisation, compatible with the essence of faith and liturgy. The greatness of the liturgy depends—we shall have to repeat this frequently—on its lack of spontaneity.”
— Josef Cardinal Ratzinger (2000)

Don’ts for Choirmasters (Part 2)
published 11 January 2018 by Andrew Leung

CTL Don'ts for Choirmasters 2 AST WEEK, I shared about John Newton’s Don’ts for Choirmasters in my post, and this post is the continuation of “Part 1”. I was told that if you order the book on Amazon, they will only ship within the UK. So, if you are interested in ordering the book and are living outside of the UK, you can place your order with the publisher directly.

In “Part 1” of my post, I shared about Newton’s view and appreciation for Gregorian chant. He encourages choirmasters not to neglect singing plainchant and he states that plainchant is an important field of study. Today, I would like to share some of his very practical advice on choral singing. I found these advice very helpful, especially in laying down a good and strong foundation for a choir.

11. DON’T neglect the starts…All four parts should begin together—precision of attack is very important. Listen to, and learn a lesson from good string quartet playing.

32. DON’T fail to attend to the breathing points; “phrasing” is of vital importance; sometimes it is necessary to mark the points where breath should be taken…

33. DON’T neglect Unisonal singing. Impress upon your choirmen that singing in unison is not mere child’s play. It is a difficult task to get thirty or forty voices to sing a melody exactly in tune, to blend, and to keep together…

34. DON’T let Descant and Faburden remain unexplored any longer. Both of these embroideries make delightful exercises and are electrical reliefs in a long hymn, but a word of caution—do not serve them up too often; their occasional use is very desirable.

40. DON’T neglect antiphonal singing…

55.DON’T rehearse music on Sunday morning for use at a later service. It is scarcely fair to the boys and it is probably too late to have any effect…

These are some of Newton’s very practical advice. Mastering these basic choral techniques is what distinguishes a “great choir” from the “good choirs”. Some of these basic choral skills might seem so easy, but trust me, turning them into a habit (remembering and doing them every time you sing) is not so easy. Consistency with these good techniques are the key to improve choral singing.

POILER ALRET!!! Here are some more “DON’Ts” that you might not be expecting from what seems to be a very serious book! It is a manual for choirmasters, but it is also very fun to read, and some of Newton’s advice are just so specific!

4. DON’T abuse the surplice. Surplices should be put on just before the vestry prayer. Is it seemly to put on a surplice and then to discuss yesterday’s match or tomorrow’s concert?

23. DON’T sing Nunc dimittis painissimo. It is not the lament of a dying man, but the triumph song of one who was full of hope…

41. DON’T forget the power of silence. The other day a priest preached a forty-minute sermon on the great value of silence!...

53. DON’T allow carol singing in the streets by your boys; it is very undignified, and frequently irreverent, besides being very bad for the voice.

59. DON’T sing only music of the modern school; be broad in your taste. Church music did not being in the nineteenth century…

61. DON’T get depressed when the man in the pew—who as a rule does no church work himself, and finds all he wants in Evensong—dares to criticize the music and the singing…“Do not care how many, but whom, you please,”

67. DON’T burst into song on Good Friday. The day is too solemn for much music, and “Passion” music should not be left so late. “But,” it is urged, “people enjoy hearing big works on this day.” I reply—Is it a day for enjoyment? If the world chooses to run concerts and to feast on this day, let the world carry on. There’s money in it. But the church’s command is— “Eyes front! Halt!”

While this book was written over ninety years ago, a lot of the advice is still relevant nowadays. Do consider getting a copy and read through the whole book! Enjoy!