NPM Magazine Review

The Catholic Choirbook Anthology I

Noel Jones, edited by Ellen Doll Jones.  Frog Music Press, 2011.  ISBN 1461103630.  402 pages, paperback, $34.95.  (Website sale price $19.95 or free downloads.)

We live in an age when vast swaths of the choral repertoire are available to us free of charge.  Invaluable resources like the Choral Public Domain Library have for years been making choral music both old and new available on demand.  With all of this music at our fingertips, the bar is set high for a choral anthology comprising primarily public domain music to be worth the investment.  Noel Jones’s The Catholic Choirbook Anthology I is just that.  

The book contains fifty-seven motets and anthems (forty-seven with Latin text, ten with English), a full setting of the Extraordinary Form Ordinary (William Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices), fifty-three hymns designed primarily to be sung as motets, and six Gregorian hymns, the engraving of which was borrowed from the Church Must Association of America’s Parish Book of Chant.  The President of the CMAA, Dr. William Mahrt, also offers an introduction to the work in the form of a brief history of the development of the motet and its place in Catholic Liturgy.

The anthology includes works from the fifteenth through the twenty-first centuries, the majority of which are drawn from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  The familiar names of Palestrina, Victoria, Lassus, and company are well represented, but Jones has taken care to include many works by lesser-known composers as well (Grancini, Friderici, Fogliano, and D’Evry, to name a few).  Perhaps what is most attractive about the anthology is its variety.  I found many old “chetnuts” alongside works and composers with whom I was completely unfamiliar.  Your choir is guaranteed to find a significant amount of new works to complement their beloved favorites.

The variety continues when it comes to voicing.  Most of the works are SATB, but a significant number of three-voice motets (in various combinations) as well as five-, six, and eight-voice works are included.  The unison motets, chant hymns, and SATB hymns can be sung by a soloist or any combination of voices at your disposal.  No matter what the size and ability of your choir, there will be plenty in this collection that you can throw together in fifteen minutes’ rehearsal time as well as plenty to challenge you for years to come. In the editor’s own words: “The series is more than just a collection of choir music.  Rather, it is based upon the need for music - of varyiung difficulties, for varied sizes of groups, and of value as teaching material to improve the abilities of the singers.”

Most of the Latin texts are represented by multiple settings to enable familiarization with the text.  Each unaccompanied piece has a keyboard reduction for the ease of the accompanist, and the engraving anddecorative art are elegant and tasteful.  The quality of the editing is fine - an admittedly brief examination of the volume didn’t uncover any wrong notes.  In short, this is an anthology on a par with those of the finest publishing houses.

As we’ve now come to expect with publications from Frog Music Press, the use of modern technology is impressive.  In the opening material, Jones instructs the singer to visit, where many of the works in the collection may be heard (parts together or separate) as performed by Matthew Curtis.  Tutorials for the choir director are offered on the publisher’s website, and Jones hopes soon to have bulletin articles on the music available for download.

Perhaps best of all, this anthology is but one in a series of five!  I look forward to seeing the rest of the anthologies, and so should you.  Perhaps now is the time to retire those tattered, dog-eared photocopies of the Mozart “Ave Verum Corpus.”  Take time to get to know Frog Music Press, where commendable work is being done in the name of sacred music renewal.

Nicholas Will