Anglican Church Music to the Rescue

If Not Sacred Music, but Sounds of Attack by Sandro Magister is anything to go by, the Roman musical tradition is on its last legs. On the other hand, the choir of Westminster Abbey is welcomed in Rome to sing at St Peter’s Basilica.

I have never been impressed by the Sistine Chapel choir. It sounds like a car starting its engine with its wobbling voices and men “scooping” to find their note. A recording I have of some Perosi masses is quite excruciating in places in terms of the boys singing flat. What is the matter with the Italians who produced such a fine musical tradition in the Renaissance and Baroque eras?

Perhaps this is one reason why Pope Benedict XVI is so interested in Anglican patrimony…

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4 Responses to Anglican Church Music to the Rescue

  1. They also use swoopy tenors and boys on the alto line. Perhaps the English Alto might improve matters. 😉

    • Absolutely. There tend to be two kinds of male altos, a tenor who extends his register seamlessly into his head voice, and the bass who hoots in falsetto like a foghorn. I have sung alto quite a lot in English choirs and I enjoy singing in that voice. I usually sing tenor these days. One can extend the tenor register by good breathing and engaging one’s lyrical voice. I can now go higher without “changing gear”, and when I change from chest to head voice, I can do it fairly seamlessly.

      I don’t know what’s wrong with the Sistine Chapel choir – perhaps it is just lack of work and rehearsal time, and recruitment of men and boys with talent. Singing flat is invariably due to bad breathing and insufficient “warming up” – just a question of work and practice.

  2. It seems to me, Father, that in acclimatising yourself to the French way of life, you have also adopted the Fench way of singing alto – the wonderful Haute Contre. I’ve often envied this voice, particularly in Lully and Du Mont with the wonderful tenor timbre as it effortlessly hops up into the upper register. I’m not quite sure where I fit in your classification of extended tenor or bass on overdrive. Timothy Penrose has always told me that my alto voice is my first voice, and that my other voice (the one I use for congregational hymn singing) is a light baritone. Given that his work suits my voice, I would say that I am very much a Purcellian alto.

    The trouble with the Sistine Chapel choir is that they seem to be very operatic in style, and you certainly can hear that they’ve not changed much since Moreschi’s recordings. I remember thinking this as I saw Pope John-Paul’s funeral. I cannot imagine Palestrina or Lassus, or the Gabrielis really writing for this heaviness in timbre.

    • Indeed. I was talking a short while ago with my singing teacher about doing counter-tenor work and she finds my voice suitable. Just a question of time for practice as with any instrument. For the moment I am working on the Songs of Travel by Vaughan Williams and some quite nice Songs of Hermitage by Samuel Barber. I will need to do some baroque work – Purcell and Handel in particular.

      When I know things by heart, I sing in my boat. It must be its shape in common with a bathtub. The difference is that most of the water is outside!!! 🙂

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