O Clap Your Hands: A Musical Tour of Sacred Choral Works

Article excerpt

O CLAP YOUR HANDS: A MUSICAL TOUR OF SACRED CHORAL WORKS, Gordon Giles. Orleans, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2008. 150 pp. ISBN 978-1-55725-567-9. $26.95. This elegantly printed little book comes bundled with a CD of musical illustrations sung by the Gloria Dei Cantores. That concept represents nothing new in book publishing, but here the tables are turned for this package is a CD with an elaborate set of program notes published in a book format, an uncustomarily handsome package. What contributes to that conclusion is that each chapter comprises an essay on one of the CD tracks, which are themselves a culling of the many recordings of the Gloria Dei Cantori over a span of years. While it is no mystery that the post-CD age has resulted in odd death knells for the recording industry as we have known it since the days of Edison and Nipper, and that most if not nearly all latter-day CD issues on so-called "labels" are the mere pillaging of archives for the purpose of squeezing one more dollar out of fully amortized products, the concept of a reissue driving a text of some merit is certainly novel if not altogether essential.

How does this work? Gordon Giles, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene in North London, puts it in quite straightforward terms. The point of his book is consistent with the spiritual purposes of the Gloria Dei Cantori. Here, lovely disembodied repertoire does not simply play in the background (as in dinner music for Anglican party animals) but should be used per Giles's suggestions as a tool for personal devotion ("find somewhere to sit, well lit and quiet"), small group devotion ("it is important to allow time for everyone to read at their own pace, or have someone read the text aloud"), or as a group study course. It is also the author's wish that the book "be a blessing to you."

In truth, of the countless thousands of items reviewed in this and other journals like it, few arrive with as uncomplicated and unpacked a purpose. We review histories and theories, texts and treatises, and even occasional novels, but almost never devotional materials. So exactly how to approach this book, and any others like it, can confound a reviewer. One cannot argue against its sincerity of purpose. One might also cynically aver that finally we have devotional material for the considerable underground of quasibelievers who are drawn to the church (and especially the particular brand of ecclesiology represented here) for reasons of aesthetic sensibility over salvation. (As a professional choral singer quipped, "I'm no Episcopalian, I am Paytheist!") Furthermore, one could read the 30 chapters attached to the 30 works on the CD on strictly musical terms - a sort of professional safe distance that has been characteristic of the professional, the professional organizations, and professional journalism from nearly the start. …