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In spite of its disarmingly glossy appearance, David Howard’s new book has as much to offer the professional musician as the amateur enthusiast. The style of written English is refreshingly clear and direct, even when dealing with technical matters relating to physiology and acoustics, and the author’s enthusiasm for the subject is evident throughout. Howard is at his best when he’s dealing with the biology of the voice and the physics of pitch. Indeed, on these subjects his clarity of expression is not just enviable but practically unique. The analysis of how under-achieving choirs perennially spiral flatter and flatter is pithy and exquisite: not only does it succinctly analyse the problem, it simultaneously offers a manageable solution. So persuaded was I by the power of Howard’s argument that I tried his suggestions out at the earliest opportunity and found that they worked: Howard can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. Some of the book concerns the nitty-gritty of running a choir within and outside rehearsals, and it is in these pages that some singers and choral directors may find their eyebrows involuntarily raised, but that is only to be expected: directing any musical outfit – particularly a choir – is a case-by-case operation and highly personal.

The book is fully colour-illustrated in a mostly helpful manner. That said, I’m not sure that a photograph of a young woman aiming a slice of cake at her open mouth is the best way to convince the listener that eating cake directly before singing is a bad thing (not least because digestive biscuits are a much more effective voice wrecker than the humble Victoria sandwich). Squeamish readers may also find the section on good posture a little too direct, particularly when asked to imagine the placement of a whole lemon between their bottom cheeks (thankfully the accompanying photograph only shows the tangy fruit held between the fingers rather than being accurately positioned). There are also four uses of the word ‘cochlear’ as a noun rather than correctly as an adjective, which rather rules out the possibility that this is an error of proof reading. Choral Singing is otherwise blissfully free of mistakes – given the technical nature of much of the discussion this is remarkable and laudable. At root, this book is an authoritative and brave publication. Talking helpfully about effective choral training requires logic and technical expertise every bit as much as it requires passion and musicianship. David Howard has all these qualities in abundance and this new book is a welcome addition to the choral bibliography, although I personally find the author’s other writings on pyschoacoustics even more valuable.

JEREMY SUMMERLY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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