Walter Bitner

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How Great is the Pleasure

or, Love and Music

 

directing the Nashville School of the Arts Chamber Choir, May 13, 2013, Ingram Hall, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University, Nashville (click images to enlarge)

 

This lovely eighteenth century canon was a staple of my school choirs’ repertoires throughout my entire teaching career. I came across it in a songbook when I first started teaching at Blue Rock School in the early 1990s, and I believe I taught this to every choir I directed until I left teaching in 2014. I taught it to every age group: elementary, middle school, high school. Over the years, How Great is the Pleasure became a kind of unofficial choir theme song for my vocal ensembles, and although it was not something we often sang in performances (especially with older groups of children), we sang it on a regular basis, often as part of our warm up or to close a rehearsal. I never met a child who did not love to sing this song.

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Fie, Nay, Prithee John

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) ~ anonymous portrait

Singing canons is a wonderful way to help young singers develop independence, sing harmony and polyphony, and all with material that takes much less time to learn than music cast in more than one part. In strict canon, everyone sings the same part: we all learn the same melody and text together, and once it’s solid split up the group, start singing it at different times, and presto! musical magic.

Canons can be simple enough for very young children to learn in a few minutes or so challenging that professional choirs must exert considerable effort to sing them well. With a broad repertoire of canons on the tip of her tongue, the skilled music teacher is ready to make or teach satisfying music with students of any level, for any occasion, at any time or place.

Over the course of my teaching career I taught dozens of canons to students of all ages: rounds with students beginning in Kindergarten, catches with more experienced singers (usually by third grade). We sang canons about everything: happy and sad canons, silly canons, canons about love, animals, God, food, about music itself. Canons in English, Latin, French, German, Russian. Canons. One of the most important canons I tried to teach to all of my students over the years is the ancient Sumer Is Icumen In, which I have written in detail about here.

Another fabulous canon which I taught to hundreds of students from elementary through high school, and which is the subject of today’s article, is the indignant and difficult “chiding” catch Fie, Nay, Prithee John by the great Henry Purcell. And yes, by teaching this song, I taught my students to swear.

 

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