As pianists most of us have, at some time or another, accompanied the school choir, a vocal group or the local operatic society. If you’re like me, you’ve probably been a church organist too.
I was organist of Bray Church (in Berkshire, UK) for around five years during my student years, and this was a wonderful introduction to many satisfying musical endeavours. It may sound like a fairly repetitive, undemanding job, but in fact, a certain level of skill is most definitely required beyond a basic keyboard grasp. Accompanying psalms, sight-reading endless hymns, spot transposition, and improvisation, all feature in the organists tool box, and that’s aside from negotiating the pedal board (necessitating a level of foot athletics which sadly I never really mastered).
An oft-forgotten element to the church organist’s job is the accompaniment of the choir. They are prone to all sorts of antics during services, and, if left unsupervised, can have a tendency to become a rather unruly bunch. The church organist frequently takes rehearsals, and on these occasions it would have been most useful to have had access to Nancy Litten’s new book, Choral and Vocal Sight Singing, published by Alfred Music, which is the second to be penned by Nancy on this subject.
According to Alfred, Choral and Vocal Sight Singing serves a ‘dual purpose’:
‘It aims to give choirs and solo singers gently graded sight singing practice whilst at the same time encouraging the pianist to accompany them from chord symbols. Many examples of the possible realisations of the chords are given and the number of different keys and chords increases gradually. One chord per bar is used at first with more rapid changes in the later chapters. Each stage includes exercises for the singers, (to be practised, not just sight-read) and songs to be accompanied. Pianist edition includes chord examples and practice routines, and at the back, a chord compendium.‘
This is a very beneficial volume for the pianist as much as the singer (indeed there are two versions, one for the singer and a second for the pianist). Most choirs need plenty of sight singing practice, and the carefully graded exercises both encourage and allow for a steady progression. Nancy takes us through basic step-by-step vocal exercises, enabling singers to learn how to pitch notes with confidence. In the pianist’s volume, singing exercises are set alongside those for keyboard, beginning with simple chord patterns and progressions, graduating to various accompaniments for the vocal exercises.
Sound advice is offered on how to ‘flesh out’ accompaniments using some improvisatory ideas and suggestions, leading on to developing the necessary keyboard harmony skills to accompany singers relying entirely on chord symbols for a structured harmonic outline. A ‘chord compendium’ is featured at the back of the book, and those who take the time to work through from the beginning will certainly find this a flexible yet didactic approach. The repetition of such exercises proves vital in obtaining fluency and speed, and this is a crucial component when devising convincing piano accompaniments.
I have one copy to giveaway to one lucky reader this weekend. To be in with a chance to win, leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post. I will announce the winner on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.