Toronto Chamber Choir Blog

October 2, 2023
Author: Judith Nancekivell

William Byrd Has Advice for Singers

With A Rare Byrd, the TCC celebrates his life and music with a Kaffeemusik that gives a full portrait of his life as an “underground Catholic.” The program will also feature sacred works by Byrd’s teacher Thomas Tallis as well as madrigals by the “comon drunckard and notorius swearer & blasphemer” Thomas Weelkes, who also died in 1623, a few months after Byrd. Joining the choir will be actor R.H. Thomson and Christopher Bagan on the virginal.
The concert will be held Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, 3:30 p.m. at Church of the Redeemer.


William Byrd’s Advice to Singers


It may be preaching to the choir, but since we are rehearsing for a concert celebrating the music of William Byrd, I couldn’t resist sharing his “Reasons briefly set down by the author to persuade everyone to learn to sing.” It appears in Byrd’s preface to his Psalms, Sonnets and Songs, published in 1588:

    First, it is a knowledge easily taught, and quickly learned, where there is a good
    master and an apt scholar.

    2  The exercise of singing is delightful to nature, and good to preserve the
        health of man.

    3  It doth strengthen all parts of the breast, and doth open the pipes.

     4  It is a singular good remedy for a stuttering and stammering in speech.

    5  It is the best means to procure a perfect pronunciation, and to make a
        good orator.

    6  It is the only way to know where nature hath bestowed the benefit of a
                good voice: which gift is so rare as there is not one among a thousand that
        hath it: and in many, that excellent gift is lost, because they want art to
                express nature.

    7  There is not any music of instruments whatsoever comparable to that
        which is made of the voices of men, where the voices are good, and the
        same well sorted and ordered.

   8  The better the voice is, the meeter it is to honour and serve God therewith:
                and the voice of man is chiefly to be employed to that end.

(Byrd’s list is quoted in an excellent study of his life and music, Byrd, by Kerry McCarthy, published by Oxford University Press in 2013.)


Byrd published his Psalms,
Sonnets and Songs in 1588.


Now, the slightly cynical and historically knowledgeable may point out that Byrd had a vested interest in promoting the benefits of singing. He (along with Tallis) held a royal monopoly on music publishing in England, so a larger singing public meant increased sales of printed music. But Byrd’s list, compiled four hundred years ago, bears some remarkable similarities to modern studies on the same topic. See, for example, an article titled 10 Ways That Singing Benefits Your Health, published in 2020:, which presents proof that singing can be a cure for snoring, as well as for stuttering.



Judith Nancekivell is an avid birder and choral singer. She is delighted to open her pipes as an alto with Toronto Chamber Choir.

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