A Collection of Wisdom and Delight

By Tortolano, William | Sacred Music, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

A Collection of Wisdom and Delight


Tortolano, William, Sacred Music


A Life in Music: Conversations with Sir David Willcocks and Friends. Ed. William Owen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. 304pp. ISBN# 978-0-19-336063-1. A Plain and Easy Introduction to Gregorian Chant. Susan Treacy, Ph.D. 97pp. Charles Town, West Virginia: Cantica Nova Publications, 2007. Memento Mori. A Guide to Contemporary Memorial Music. Robert Chase. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2007. 339pp. ISBN 13-978-0-8108-5745-2.x80.

What may appear as a collection of incompatible new books for the serious church musician, is in reality a cornucopia of insightful wisdom. Three different music enrichments are manifested in meaningful approaches to the art of music making.

The life of the legendary but still very active Sir David Willcocks is a lesson about a humble and dedicated servant of the best in choral tradition. In addition, Dr. Susan Treacy has written A Plain and Easy Introduction to Gregorian Chant. This is one of several recent publications providing again a very basic introduction to the chant and its notation. Finally, a fine compendium called Memento Mori by Dr. Robert Chase, is full of fascinating information about memorial and requiem music.

Many musicians have mentors and guiding hands to manifest ideals for the best. Often, they are not necessarily someone they know in person, but the presence is transforming. Among the very finest choral directors and models for the best in sound, pitch, and inspiration is Sir David Willcocks.

A Life in Music is an absolutely delightful book. Sir David's musical life reflects the highest standards, beginning with his childhood choristership in Westminster Abbey, later at Worcester Cathedral and then to King's College as organist and choir master, and directorship of the Royal College of Music and the Bach Choir, with worldwide concert tours, best selling CD's, and workshops in addition.

As always, this gracious gentleman gives as much love and dedication to professional musicians as he gives to education and amateurs.

This is an absolutely wonderful book with the kind of questions and answers that makes one seem to be there in person. In addition, there is an enchanting CD with Sir David's reassuring voice, always in control, but with a feeling of warmth and interpersonal communication. This book with CD is a bargain, not only in its price, but for all those who want to experience what the philosopher Nietzsche said, "without music, life would be a mistake."

There is an appreciative forward by the Prince of Wales, who has known Sir David since his undergraduate days at Cambridge; and there are fine photographs. Most of all, it is a lesson in being humble to faith, scripture, and music.

I was the first one, of very few, whom Sir David accepted as a Visiting Fellow at King's College, forty years ago. The inspiring singing of the psalms as well as the best of choral music is indelible in my memory and continues as an inspiration for service to God and the church.

Sir David Willcocks always has a necessary, exterior, serious control of his creative musical work. He has been at the center of British twentieth century choral music and his importance is also worldwide. He has been a champion of many composers, including Ralph Vaughn Williams, Benjamin Britten, Herbert Howells, and John Rutter. Sir David has worked with a who's who of artists, friends, choral groups, pop artists, royalty, and recordings. His approach to music is one of enthusiasm and humanity.

There are several ways to approach the teaching of Gregorian Chant. Susan Treacy of Ave Maria University has written a lucid and helpful Plain and Easy Introduction to Gregorian Chant. It is indeed easy to read with its spiral binding and 8x11 size.

Dr. Treacy is a strong advocate of the pedagogical method used at the Abbey of Saint Pierre de Solesmes and Dom Andre Mocquereau. …

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