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 sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.”
— Dr. Almeida Garrett, professor of natural sciences at the University of Coimbra (1917)

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Don'ts for Choirmasters (Part 1)
published 4 January 2018 by Andrew Leung

CTL Christchurch Priory IGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I had the opportunity to work with Paul Phoenix, the former tenor of The King’s Singers. Paul sang with the ensemble for 17 years and he “retired” in 2017 to start his own company: Purple Vocals. He now tours around the world to coach and helps “building” choirs. It was definitely a wonderful and unique experience! He conducted the choral workshops from a singer’s perspective instead of the conductor’s and I was rediscovering some of the basics of choral singing. During our time together, Paul introduced me to this new book called Don’ts for Choirmasters, written by John Newton. The book was rediscovered and republished recently, and Paul wrote a foreword for its 2017 new edition.

Little is known about the author John Newton (different from the John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace“) except that he was the organist and choirmaster at Christchurch Priory, England, from 1922 to his death in 1928. And we know that he wrote a series of manuals for church musicians and Don’ts for Choirmasters is one of them. It is a 43-pages booklet and it is a pretty easy and fun reading; John Newton listed 70 straightforward advice in point form. Even though this book was first published over 90 years ago, I think it is still pretty relevant for church musicians nowadays and I believe our readers would enjoy reading it a lot.

I was very surprised to find out that John Newton, coming from an Anglican background, showed great appreciation for plainchant (and also “the spirit of Gregorian chant”) and praised it highly in his book!

12. DON’T be satisfied with merely a correct rendering of the pointed psalter, but aim at an intelligent rendering of the psalms…put the words first, and let the chant—whether plainsong or anglican—be your humble and obedient servant, not your master…

13. DON’T be too fond of the double chant; singles are usually preferable. What more destroys the rhythm of a psalm or canticle than the repetition of the second part?...we must bear in mind that in all church music WORDS matter most. The Church does not exist for choirs, but choirs for the church…

52. DON’T forget that rhythm is the soul of music...The three fundamental principles of rhythm are: (1) Accent, (2) Time, (3) Grouping. And now to acquire rhythmical singing—first of all sing less music that has been built in brick-wall fashion, and sing more “free” music of the Palestrina school, sing also Missa de Angelis and Merbecke, above all sing Plainsong.

And to sing modern music rhythmically—(1) think less of strong, weak, medium, weak, in quadruple time, and let the words bear their right accent: (2) try not to see the bar-lines, forget their existence as much as possible: (3) observe and mark the balance of the sentences, catch the antiphonal spirit…

57. DON’T neglect the study and practice of plainsong. Apart from its use for public worship no choirmaster can afford to neglect such an important study, and its influence is enormous. Read up this subject with an open mind: hear plainsong correctly and well sung by those who have caught the spirit of this music, which is in the world but not of it: introduce it at an organ recital (I have actually sung and played chants in recitals before and people always find it very inspiring) or weekday evensong, it matters not whether you are four strong or four hundred, if carefully and lovingly sung—yes, that’s the secret, con amore...plainsong creates an atmosphere and does not smell of the pier, the theater, or the restaurant.

Stay tuned for the second part. I will share more of Newton’s practical, spiritual and entertaining ideas and advice.