Musical Hat Draw: “Stars”

Welcome to the inaugural, experimental, Musical Hat Draw! For this round, the theme is “stars”.

If you have a favourite poem about stars that you’ve always wanted to hear set to music, or if you’ve written about stars and wonder what your poem might sound like sung, the Musical Hat Draw is for you.

How it works:

  1. From today until midnight BST on 11th September, you can send me text suggestions on this round’s theme, “stars”. Please leave a comment on this post or e-mail artsyhonker at gmail dot com.
  2. On 12th September I will assign numbers to the texts, put the numbers in a hat and shake it about a bit. Then I will draw a number from the hat, and set part or all of that text to music. When I’ve finished, I’ll draw another one. I’ll continue with this until I’ve spent 12 hours composing, or I’ve run out of texts, whichever is more convenient.
  3. In the next few weeks, especially if I have any remaining numbers in the hat, I will revisit the project as and when I can, reviewing and revising the existing pieces, and composing more as I go along.
  4. In early October, I will have a Musical Hat Draw Sale! I’ll write a short description of each piece of music I’ve written, along with who sent me the text, and name a price. You can sponsor a piece by sending me some money and saying which piece it should go towards; when the price is reached, I’ll put it online. As is my usual practice, this will be under a Creative Commons license: free for anyone to download and share. You’ll be mentioned as a sponsor on the score, and in the blog post and tweet about the music, unless you ask to remain anonymous or specify a dedication instead.

I’ve just set “Winter Stars” by Sara Teasdale, so please don’t send me that one unless you think I should do another version; it may end up being the same tune, arranged differently.

I am already working on a setting of I always tried to write about the light by TJA Thurman, but I’m only going to include that in this Musical Hat Draw if they give me the go-ahead to do so.

A stellar fingerprint

More information:

Where and how do I submit texts?
So that I have everything in one place, please submit texts in comments on this post, or e-mail me (artsyhonker at gmail dot com). Please include the full text, and the source, in your comment or e-mail: I don’t want a hat full of dead links!
What kind of texts are you looking for?
I tend to write music best when there’s strong imagery in it; I love word-painting. But I’m experimenting, here, so I’m actually up for just about anything. It might be your favourite poem related to the theme, or it might be a hymn where you love the words but hate the tune and want a new one. I’m happy with poetry or prose. If it’s very long, I might only set part of it, or I might break it up into segments, in order to make it affordable.

The texts must be either a) already out of copyright or b) your own work, which you are happy for me to set under either a CC by-SA or CC NC-SA license (please specify). Otherwise, I can’t put them online, and that means the model doesn’t really work. If you have questions about copyright for this project, please do e-mail me.

If the text is not in English, please include a public domain translation; if it is not in English, German, Latin, or Spanish, please include a transliteration.

If I send you a text, do I have to sponsor that work?
No, absolutely not! You don’t have to sponsor anything. Sending me texts is absolutely free.
I want to send you my own poetry to set, but I want to get paid, too.
E-mail me and I’ll see what we can work out! I’m very happy to include a fee for you in the price I set for the finished work.
What kind of music will it be?
That really depends on the prompting text, but I’m imagining most of these as smaller-scale works: they might be folk tunes, hymn tunes, or works for smaller choirs.
Will there be a recording?
I’ll always try to include a computerised mp3: in most cases for these I’ll use robotic clarinets or flutes, as I usually do. In some cases I may be able to record the work myself, in which case I’ll do that too, but I don’t have a lot of technical resources in this area.
I want to sponsor something, but I can’t decide which piece I like best.
There will be a Hatter’s Choice fund, and any unspecified contributions will count toward purchase of a piece of my choosing.
Can I sponsor part of a piece?
Yes, you can sponsor part of a work if that’s what fits your budget! I’ll keep the sale page updated with the totals for each work.
Wait, don’t you already get paid for your music through Patreon?
Yes, but not enough! I get paid per work there, so I don’t want to write too many works per month, because that would be a burden on some of my patrons. So I’m trying this to see if it gives people who’d like to contribute less regularly a chance to help me out; it also gives me a chance to experiment from time to time with instrumental music or arrangements, though to start with I’m sticking to vocal music with texts. If I get paid for a piece through the Musical Hat Draw, of course I won’t put it on Patreon as a paid item: that wouldn’t be fair.
What if some pieces don’t sell?
I’ll sit on them until I can sell them another way. That might be recording them and putting them on Bandcamp, or it might be entering them into competitions if the texts are relevant, or it might be my usual venue of Patreon. If a piece is part-sponsored as of the end of the sale, the contributions for that will go into the Hatter’s Choice fund.
I missed out! When are you doing this again?
I’m not sure! But I hope it will become a regular thing; watch this space.

Winter Stars

Constellation Orion Central Germany

It’s not winter yet! But here’s a winter poem, by Sara Teasdale, which I’ve set to music:

I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.

I used to love looking at the stars in winter; these days I live in London, where light pollution makes it more difficult. I can still see Orion in the winter time, though.

Here are some robot clarionets playing it:

You can download the score from the Choral Public Domain Library — if you’re not a member it might take a day or so to become visible. In the meantime you can buy the score from Lulu, or download it from my Patreon page from this evening at 8pm BST. Patreon is the main way I get paid for composing, and your support there is always appreciated.

Double Chant in E minor

A round stained glass window with leaf-patterned tracery; the glass does not make a coherent imageI’ve just spent a week singing Evensong in Lincoln Cathedral, with the guest choir for the week: the Cathedral Singers of Ontario. We had a lovely welcome from the cathedral and indeed the city of Lincoln had much to offer, without being overwhelming. I always enjoy singing with CSO, and learn a lot. In addition, my mother is here to visit from Canada, and we have been having some time catching up.

Preparing for cathedral services is always interesting and there is often a question of how to spend limited rehearsal time when singing different music every day. The Preces and Responses are usually the same all week, though I’m not sure where that custom came from; but the psalms, canticles, anthem and hymns are different for every service, and all must be learned.

Singing psalms well probably needs more rehearsal time than anything else. Though the pitches repeat themselves every verse or two in Anglican chant, the words generally do not, and the notation is such that working out the rhythm of each note and indeed when to change notes takes time. In theory it’s simple: you sing in “speech rhythm”, giving the same emphasis to various syllables as you would when speaking. In practice, everyone speaks a little differently, and so a certain amount of rehearsal time is spent ironing out the various kinks.

Just now, I feel very much like I’ve spent a week steeped in psalms. It’s a good feeling.

So, here’s a psalm chant of my own. It’s not to any particular psalm; rather, it’s based loosely on the melody of another piece I’m writing. But it will fit any text pointed for Anglican Chant, and I invite you to try it for one of the more lamenting or meditative psalms.

Double Chant in E minor – Full Score in .pdf format

And some robotic flutes playing through it:

As usual, the work is available on the Choral Public Domain Library, and it’s under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license: please do pass it on to people who might be interested, especially if they aren’t online so much. And if you’d like to help me to keep sharing music I compose, please consider becoming a supporter at Patreon.

Finsbury Park

This text by the Revd Ally Barrett was written shortly after the Orlando shooting in 2016, and then drawn to my attention again in 2017 after the Manchester attack. And since then there have been more terrorist attacks.

I’ve called it “Finsbury Park” because the attack on the mosque there was in the news while I was writing this, and because there wasn’t already a hymn tune of that name in the database at hymnary.org.

Here is a PDF of the score with the words in verses at the bottom, and a PDF of the score with the text underlaid beneath the music.

And here are the usual robotic clarionets, so you can hear it too:

1. O God of all salvation

In every darkest hour,

Look down at your creation

With pity and with power.

In all the pain we’re seeing,

 For stranger as for friend,

We’ll cling with all our being

To love that cannot end.

2. O God, your loving passion

 Is deeper than our pain,

Look down, and in compassion

 Bring us to life again.

When we are found despairing,

 When all seems lost to sin,

We’ll hear your voice declaring

That love alone will win.

3. O God, when hate grows stronger,

With fear to pave its way,

The cry, ‘Lord, how much longer?’

With broken hearts we pray.

In all that is dismaying

 In humankind’s freewill,

We’ll join our voices, praying

 That love will triumph still.

4. O God, whose love will never

 Be silenced, stalled or stilled,

Set us to work wherever

There’re bridges to rebuild.

We’ll take our life’s vocation

 To make, like heav’n above,

In this and every nation

A kingdom built on love.

As usual, you can also download the music from the Choral Public Domain Library, and the hymn tune is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Ally Barrett’s words are used with permission, under a license similar to Creative Commmons Attribution Non-Commercial; see her website for more details.

This music was brought to you by my lovely kind supporters at Patreon. If you’d like more, please consider whether you can join them in supporting me.

Round Me Falls the Night

Samuel Palmer - A Shepherd and his Flock under the Moon and Stars - Google Art Project

I’ve long enjoyed William Romanis’s hymn text, “Round Me Falls the Night” — so I decided to set it as an anthem. Originally I used TTBB voicing, but on balance, I like the SATB version better. I think it could be just the thing for a quieter Evensong service, or for Compline.

Robot clarionets:

PDF file: Round Me Falls the Night SATB

Round me falls the night;
Saviour, be my Light:
Through the hours in darkness shrouded
Let me see Thy face unclouded;
Let Thy glory shine
In this heart of mine.

Earthly work is done,
Earthly sounds are none;
Rest in sleep and silence seeking,
Let me hear Thee softly speaking;
In my spirit’s ear
Whisper “I am near.”

Blessèd heavenly Light,
Shining through earth’s night;
Voice, that oft of love hast told me;
Arms, so strong to clasp and hold me;
Thou Thy watch wilt keep,
Saviour, o’er my sleep.

As usual it’s under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike licence. If you want to sing this music, you can download it from CPDL, or buy it from Lulu. And if you want more music like this, I’d love it if you’d send me a tip on PayPal or support me on Patreon. Thanks so much!

Sleep Songs: Wordless Lullabies for the Sleepless

Would you like to be sung to sleep? Or, if sleep really is unattainable, how about some soothing, calming music, music without words, to listen to while you are awake?

Megan Ihnen is commissioning over 25 composers, including yours truly, to compose wordless lulllabies for the sleepless, which she will then record. I’m very pleased to be involved. I saw her quote-tweet Shaya Lyon, who said, “On my list of fantasy commissioning projects: wordless lullabies for the sleepless, sung by @mezzoihnen”. Megan wanted to know if composers were interested; I thought it was such a good idea that I jotted down a rough draft pretty much immediately.

But we need your help to make it happen. Wordless Lullabies for the Sleepless is a project that takes time, commitment, and resources. Megan is insistent that every composer should be paid, for which I’m very grateful. And of course, each lullaby will take planning, rehearsal, recording, and editing.

So there’s a Kickstarter for the project. It ends on Monday 10th April. Please join us. And sleep well.

O Sweet and Blessed Country

Another short piece, really just an SATB setting (with some light divisi) of one verse of a hymn, Jerusalem the Golden (not to be confused with Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, which is also beautiful). But it’s a verse which is often changed in modern hymnals, which I think a great shame:

O sweet and blessèd country,
Shall I ever see thy face?
O sweet and blessèd country,
Shall I ever win thy grace?
Exult, O dust and ashes!
The Lord shall be thy part:
His only, his for ever,
Thou shalt be, and thou art!

Why? Why would you mess with that? It’s Bernard of Cluny, translated by J. M. Neale, and while the gendered language for God might give some people pause, I think the overall message is more important than that. (If it bothers you, sing “Hers only, hers forever” — it doesn’t mess up the scansion, and I promise I won’t tell.)

So. Robot flutes, doing their best:
www.cpdl.org/wiki/images/2/25/Rose_–_O_Sweet_and_Blessed_Country_-_2017.mp3

And a pdf to download:
Rose — O Sweet and Blessed Country – 2017.pdf

It’s licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike, thanks to my kind supporters over at Patreon. If you like it and want to help me make more new music in the world, please join them, or put a one-off payment in the virtual tip jar. Thanks so much!

Waving

The past week has been a little less silly than some, but still busy.

The West Gallery course at Benslow last weekend was great fun, but hard work: we really could have done with another four or six singers, which would have resulted in me singing less and being able to pay more attention to conducting clearly; at times, I felt like I was a bit “wave arms around until music stops” rather than actually communicating anything more than the downbeat. But it was still a good experience overall, and I got some lovely (anonymised) feedback, too. My accommodation was pleasant and comfortable, and I am cooking up some plans to pitch another course to them, though I still need to develop my material a bit further.

I did, however, fail to take a proper day off at the weekend, which always results in lowered productivity for me during the week. On Monday I got a competition entry sent off, and then Tuesday was a complete loss. So I dialled back a bit on things the rest of the week, and I’m starting to feel a bit more caught up.

This coming Tuesday, my Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis will be sung by the University of London Church Choir at St Mary’s Undercroft Chapel, in the Houses of Parliament, at Evensong at 6.30pm. I’m excited about this: it’s the first time I’ve heard the Magnificat in person, and the first performance that I know of of the Mag and Nunc together. Of course, they may well have been sung some other time without my knowing: this is probably the biggest drawback of putting my music online for free.

Do please come along and listen if you can — and leave plenty of time to get into the building, as there is considerable security in place. I’m afraid I won’t be hanging around afterward, though: I’m booked onto the Caledonian Sleeper to go straight up to Aberdeen, for a supervision and, later in the week, a workshop with Juice Vocal Ensemble.

Catching up with myself

I often find myself very tired when I come back from Aberdeen, and my most recent trip was no exception. I’ve also been very busy with composing projects: a setting of ‘O Nata Lux’ for a workshop in Aberdeen later this month, a few things for various competitions, oh, and trying to get to grips with the whole PhD thing.

This week has been mainly about preparing for the West Gallery course at Benslow Music Centre this weekend, which Francis Roads asked me to lead in his stead as he is recovering from a virus which has rendered him unable to sing. I’m just about sorted now — I need to print some quotes before I go, and figure out what to pack — and looking forward to the weekend.

I have a commission to work on for St Andrew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Aberdeen, another Aberdeen-based comission that looks like being quite collaborative, and next week, if all goes well, I’ll be doing some campaigning for the first Kickstarter I’ve ever been involved in! It’s a project I’m quite excited about; watch this space. I guess commissions are a bit like buses: nothing for ages, and then several turn up at once.

Art House: a hymn for Easter

I know, I know, it isn’t Easter yet, we’ve only just started Lent, and it’s probably too late for most people to use this hymn this year. But I liked the text, by Ally Barrett, very much:

Life comes to an upper room,

breaking through the fear and gloom;

walls and door-locks are no bar:

Jesus meets us where we are.

Life dispels the doubt of grief

bringing hope and new belief;

touching scars – these signs of pain

bring us back to life again.

Life comes to a broken heart,

bowed by sorrow, torn apart;

in the darkness of our tears

Jesus speaks to calm our fears.

On our journey life comes home,

in this fellowship made known;

with Christ’s body we are fed:

life revealed in broken bread.

Life comes to a sunlit shore,

sharing food with friends once more;

Fresh new callings banish guilt,

hope and faith and love rebuilt.

Jesus’ vict’ry over death

brings new life with every breath,

to the world it’s freely giv’n,

reconciling earth with heav’n.

You can read more of her hymn texts, which she makes available for non-commercial use in worship.

My tune:
Art House played by robotic clarionets

Art House with text underlaid within the score

Art House with the score and text separated, so you can use different words if you like

As usual, it’s all available from CPDL, and my music is under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, so you can use it however you like. Please ask Reverend Ally before using her text commercially, though.

My music is community supported, not commercial. If you can, please contribute via Patreon or Paypal. Thanks!