Helen Kemp. Garland, TX: Chorister's Guild, 1989, 91 pp., $12.95
It is easy to catch Kemp's enthusiasm for teaching young choristers as you read this manual for directors of younger elementary choirs. Her many years of experience in children's music result in practical and clearly presented suggestions.
Of Primary Importance is organized around eight children's anthems composed for the book by Jody W. Lindh, Robert J. Powell, Austin C. Lovelace, John Erickson, Helen Kemp, Sue Ellen Page, and John Horman. Helen Kemp outlines teaching aids for each anthem. She suggests presenting an anthem, a hymn, and a psalm to the choir each month. The anthems are available through Chorister's Guild, the psalm settings are taken from Psalms Together (CGC-18) by Jane Marshall, and the hymns are available in most denominational hymnals.
The overall organization of this guide reflects the liturgical church year, good musical standards, and the abilities of the choristers. Kemp's comprehensive plan would be especially helpful for a beginning director or for a director who finds the selection of music a difficult part of his/her responsibilities. Other directors may find that directing for a year with predetermined musical selections limits their creative expression.
In the lesson plans for presenting the anthems, Kemp emphasizes the rote-to-note process. The children are encouraged to notice repeated note or rhythm patterns from the notation and then to listen for that pitch or rhythmic sequence. Kemp helps directors develop choristers who are also score readers. She also emphasizes helping children understand the anthem as a whole by discovering its formal plan. Any director planning to teach one of these anthems will find helpful suggestions for teaching for musical understanding, for preparing visual aids, and for adding variety to the rehearsals.
Another strength of OPI is the chapter on helping the out-of-tune singer. Specific suggestions for identifying the problem, possible causes, and practical remedial suggestions are outlined. Kemp emphasizes a warm, personal approach and seems to be able to make even working with an out-of-tune singer a positive and enjoyable experience for both people.
Other features include a chapter on age grouping for children's choirs and a list of resources for children's choir directors. Whether a director intends to follow the year of plans or just glean some practical tips and inspiration, Of Primary Importance will be of interest.