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Old Music Thursday: Like as the Hart – a soundtrack for reading

Everything goes better with music. This applies to dinners and road trips, but also to movies, and video games. The classical charts are filled with video game soundtracks, and many classical music purists are wringing their hands about it. But I like it. I haven’t played Skyrim regularly in the four years since I’ve been a mom, but I regularly visit those snowy mountains through the soundtrack. One type of media we don’t often think of as having a soundtrack are books. But the new book The Templars Garden comes with an accompanying choral soundtrack put out by the Choir of New College, Oxford. Like as the Hart is devoted to settings of Psalm 42 spanning centuries, and while it is designed to enhance the book, the music on its own is divine.

Like as the Hart desireth the water brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
– Psalm 42

This was the original translation of Psalm 42 in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the prayer books designed by Thomas Cranmer for the Anglican Communion. The Book itself went through several rounds of revisions and additions, and some of the most precious liturgical institutions are part of it. Modern marriage rites and Evensong service, for example.

One of the great aspects of the English choral tradition is the practice of putting psalms to music. This encourages contemplation and reflection during the service. Composers since the time of the Renaissance have set the psalms to music. The album opens with a setting by Johannes Ockeghem, the 15th century Belgian composer. For the next hour we move through the centuries, spending time with Tallis and Taverner, and ending up with contemporary composer Alexander L’Estrange.

One might worry that an album devoted solely to one piece of text would be … um … repetitive? One would be mistaken. The music was chosen by the Templar’s Garden author, medievalist and art historian Catherine Clover. And it takes us on a journey through six centuries. Rather than be distracted by the different texts, we instead focus on the settings and the music. It allows us to listen to the music, but also concentrate on what we’re reading.  A perfect soundtrack enhances the action. It doesn’t distract us away from the story. Like as the Hart is perfect in that regard.

What about you? Do you need to have a soundtrack when you read? How does music enhance your enjoyment of books? Tell me what you think in the comments!