Monday, January 22, 2018

Now I Walk In Beauty

We are delighted to post Jeffrey Morse's review of the CMAA's latest publication, Now I Walk In Beauty by Wilko Brouwers. To purchase this new book, please visit the CMAA Shop.

Now I Walk In Beauty: 100 Songs and Melodies for School and Choir Collected and edited by Wilko Brouwers, published by The Church Music Association of America, 2017

The appearance of any new material for the Ward Method is newsworthy, and this latest songbook from Wilko Brouwers, coming nearly 40 years after the last revision of the Ward Method books by by Dr. Theodore Marier, is certainly no exception and breathes an invigorating freshness into a musical method that has been long awaited. The Ward Method, created by Justine Bayard Ward (1879-1975), is a method for the teaching of music to children through singing as both “method and goal” as Brouwers points out in his introduction, using the well known rhythmic gestures of the method which interiorize in the child the “arsis” and “thesis” of the melodic line. These rhythmic gestures help the child to, as Brouwers writes, “experience the inner development within one tone toward the next tone, or within one group of tones toward the next group”. The Ward Method also uses a rather unique method of teaching solfeggio, built upon the previous work of Fr. Thomas Shields, Fr. John B. Young, S.J., and surprisingly, Jean- Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century French philosopher. The Ward Method, starting in the earliest grades, as a twenty minute class, five days a week, eventually leads the child to a mastery of both Gregorian Chant and its notation and to modern notation and singing, with the ability to easily sight-sing in either notation. It also leads to a facility in rhythmic and melodic dictation, improvisation, and to creating a beautiful and well-rounded tone in singing.

Despite its proven success, and arguably, its superiority over other methods like Orff and Kodaly, its popularity and influence started to wane in the years after the Second Vatican Council, with most of the international Ward Centers closing: Cambridge (U.K.), Paris, New Zealand, Belgium, and others. The abandonment of Gregorian Chant and the shrinking number of school sisters in the wake of the Council, seemed to signal the end of this amazing and proven method of teaching music. The Ward Method books were revised after the death of Justine Ward, and have been kept in print by the Catholic University of America Press, and classes in the method are still offered there as well as at the University of Northern Colorado. In the last number of years there has been a revival of interest in the Ward Method, perhaps because of the renewed interest in Gregorian Chant and the growing homeschooling movement, not to mention in various schools where it is also used.

Now I Walk in Beauty: 100 Songs and Melodies for School and Choir, has arrived at just the right time. While hymn books and song books have always been part of the pedagogy of the Ward Method, many of them, if not most, are now out of print, available only rarely in used book shops. Now I Walk in Beauty, fills a void as a new Ward songbook, with songs both sacred and secular, reflecting the way the method has always taught music. The collection is comprehensive, and comprises folk songs (e.g. Arkansas Traveller, The Skye Boat Song, Little Red Bird), Sacred Hymns, both Latin and English (e.g. Puer Nobis Nascitur, Cor Jesus, Eternal Father, O God Our Help in Ages Past) as well as folk songs in other languages. It also includes music for the main liturgical season of the year: Advent, Christmas, Easter etc. The pieces in this book are delightful, and could easily be used at Mass or other services, at a school choir concert, or just for for the fun of singing. The collection of 100 songs and melodies starts with the simplest two-note melody and the pieces then progress in difficulty until number 100: “Stella Splendens”, a brilliant little two-part medieval piece from the 14th century Liber Vermell. It is clear that Wilko Brouwers has gone to great trouble to search out some of the most beautiful music to include in this collection; some things are familiar, but many others more obscure and rare, and not often found in collections of music, if at all.

The collection is most obviously “Ward” in the first 40 songs: numbers are used for the solfeggio names (e.g. 1=“Doh”, 2=“Re”, 3=“Fa”, etc.), partial staves of one, two or three lines are used, the “Doh” clef is used on the modern staff, and the “rhythmic waves” are included, showing arsis and thesis. The other 60 songs are presented primarily without any obvious Ward Method devices, weaning the student from some of the supports of earlier pedagogy, however one could still have the singers use solfeggio to discover the melody. Indeed this would be expected in the method, mentally placing the “doh” clef on “G” when the key signature has one sharp, for example, or perhaps drawing in with pencil the arsis and thesis. This said, a thorough knowledge of the Ward Method, or even a cursory knowledge is certainly not needed to use this book in your school or church choir, or in teaching music at home. Despite its value to Ward teachers and students, there is no reason why this splendid volume shouldn't be used by all in the musical education of children. The musical levels covered in this collection are from the very beginning of musical education through the students ability to solfege major scale melodies and minor ones (based on “LA”). The inspiring music in this collection will doubtless leave the student wanting to discover even more.

Included in this collection are end-notes on nearly every piece, giving provenance and history as well as interesting facts, as well as a separate section entitled “What’s New in Each Melody”, giving pedagogical insights for each melody (suggested pitch, intonation/solfeggio, rhythmic gestures and hints about notation used). This is a fabulous collection, certainly one to thrill the hearts of Ward teachers and their students, coming from one of the great teachers of the Ward Method. This new book, it is hoped, will certainly do much to excite interest in the method amongst those who are not familiar with it, and one can only hope that this is only the beginning of a succession of new materials to help revitalize this amazing teaching method, and fulfil the hope that ‘all might sing’.

Jeffrey Morse

Jeffrey Morse Studied Gregorian Chant and Ward Method with Dr Mary Berry (Mother Thomas More, CRSA), and was a Ward Method student of Dr Alise Brown at the University of Northern Colorado, and has been regularly a member of the faculty of the CMAA

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: