Song Cycle Sung Grace

Earlier this summer, Song Cycle went on a day pilgrimage to Romsey Abbey.

As is often the case with pilgrimage, it didn’t go entirely to plan. In fact, my bicycle broke, and not in a way that meant a 40-minute delay by the side of the road replacing a tube, but more seriously. The frame just… came apart. Thankfully I was riding rather gently up a hill at the time, not barrelling down one as I had been a few minutes previously! I ended up getting a lift into Romsey, and then, later, so did my bicycle.

Song Cycle is a musical bicycle pilgrimage, and we rely on our hosts for our evening meal. And that means we end up eating meals where it’s appropriate to say grace. Well, if it’s appropriate to say grace it’s also, often, appropriate to sing grace, so I resolved to write a special sung grace that we could use.

The words are by James Montgomery:

Be known to us in breaking bread,
but do not then depart;
Saviour, abide with us, and spread
thy table in our heart.

and a second, optional verse:
There sup with us in love divine,
thy body and thy blood,
that living bread, that heavenly wine,
be our immortal food.

I think these words are particularly relevant for a pilgrimage: the reference is to the journey to Emmaus, where the disciples were walking and talking with Jesus the whole time, and only realised who it was when he broke the bread — at which point he vanished (and they turned around and went all the way back to Jerusalem!). So I’ve set them as a melody which can work on its own, or can be a two-part or three-part round (though it gets a bit crunchy in three parts).

There’s a PDF in A4 and in A5 (for easier carrying on pilgrimage):
Song Cycle Sung Grace A4

Song Cycle Sung Grace A5

And you can hear some robot guitars play it, first just by itself, then in two parts, then in three:

As usual, I’ve also put this work on the Choral Public Domain Library, and licensed it using Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike, thanks to my kind supporters over at Patreon who make it possible for me to do this sort of thing.

This weekend I’ve been on another sort of journey. I’m visiting Aberdeen for the first time, to get to grips with the basic layout before starting my PhD. And it’s also that time of year when some of us on Twitter hold a sort of festival, called Not Greenbelt. You can have a look at the #notgb16 hashtag, or visit the notgb category on Graham’s blog if you wnat to find out more or participate. It’s a sort of home-away-from-home for people who’d like to be at Greenbelt but aren’t; and it’s also to raise money for the Big Issue Foundation.

Waterworks Corner

Here’s one I wrote the other month — premiered by the London Gallery Quire at St Andrew’s Leytonstone on 2nd July.

There is a version for West Gallery available from the London Gallery Quire website — it’s LGQ 533 — but I’ve also put a version for organ on the Choral Public Domain Library as usual.

Here are some robots singing it:

1 Lord, thou wilt hear me when I pray,
I am for ever thine;
I fear before thee all the day,
Nor would I dare to sin.

2 And while I rest my weary head,
From cares and business free,
‘Tis sweet conversing on my bed,
With my own heart and thee.

3 I pay this evening sacrifice:
And when my work is done,
Great God, my faith and hope relies
Upon thy grace alone.

4 Thus, with my thoughts composed to peace,
I’ll give mine eyes to sleep;
Thy hand in safety keeps my days,
And will my slumbers keep.

And here are the .pdf files:
Waterworks Corner – Full Score

Waterworks Corner — underlaid – Full Score

Thanks so much to the 23 people who supported me composing this music.
You can contribute and help me keep sharing music like this at Patreon.

Windswept

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a call for scores for an instrument I haven’t written for before: the chimes at Gloucester Cathedral. So I entered. The chimes in question are computer-controlled rather than rung by hand, but still have some interesting limitations regarding how quickly notes can repeat.

I was delighted the other week to learn that my submission had been selected for joint second place. It was rather long, though, and the chimekeeper invited me to submit a second draft if I’d like to.

Here is a recording of that draft, with a passing jogger (no, this is not a technical campanology term, just a challenge of recording out of doors):

You can also download the mp3 file.

During Three Choirs Week this tune will feature at 7.15pm on Tues 26th July, and at 8am, 1pm and 4pm on Saturday 30th July. Do go along and have a listen if you are in the area!

Wherever Love Is: Braxted 84 84 88

A while ago I asked for metrical English translations or paraphrases of Ubi Caritas, which is such a lovely text and one rather under-used in modern hymnody.

One of the texts written as a result of that request was the following by TJA Thurman:

1. As friendship fills our meeting-place,
Jesus is here;
He dwells in every friend’s embrace,
Each smile sincere,
Rejoicing in the love we share.
Wherever love is, God is there.

2. As friendship fills our meeting-place
Jesus brings peace.
Divisions heal, and by his grace
Arguments cease.
Forgiven friends are one in prayer:
Wherever love is, God is there.

3. As friendship fills our meeting-place,
Jesus our friend
Will smile to see us face to face,
World without end,
And hold us in his loving care:
Wherever love is, God is there.

This is excellent, simple without being boring, and inherently singable. So of course I set it as a hymn. It’s called “Braxted” because I was cycling not too far from there when I thought I really ought to get around to setting Ubi Caritas; there are more settings on the way, but this is the first I have completed.

Here are some robot clarinets singing it:

Here is the score:
Wherever Love Is — Braxted 84 84 88

Here is the score with the text underlaid between verses:
Wherever Love Is — Braxted 84 84 88 — underlaid

It is also available, as always, on the Choral Public Domain Library under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. The link might not work until tomorrow unless you already have a CPDL contributor login.

Thanks so much to the 22 supporters who funded me composing this music. If you’re not already one of them, you can contribute and help me keep sharing music like this at my Patreon page.

Interim Organist Required

I am taking a sabbatical! More about that later. In the meantime:

St. Andrew’s Leytonstone is looking for an Interim Organist and Choir Director to cover a one year sabbatical by our current Director of Music. The successful applicant will be a skilled and passionate musician, who will be able to direct and accompany a small amateur robed choir in sacred music. The church has an extremely fine three manual Lewis organ which has recently had the bellows re-leathered.

The role will be predominantly limited to Sundays 9am-11.30am (9.15am Choir Practice for 30 minutes, with a Eucharist at 10am) but will also include other important Church services, such as at Christmas, on Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week and other services by agreement. There will also be the opportunity to play at baptisms, weddings and funerals by private arrangement and the organist will have first refusal for all of these services. Appropriate Fees for these pastoral offices will be discussed with the successful candidate before being set for the year in September, 2016.

Fee £30-£60 per service depending on experience with additional payment for services during Christmas, Easter etc. 

Enhanced DBS Disclosure will be required. We are seeking someone who will be able to start in September, 2016, although an August start may be possible by arrangement. 

For further information please contact the Church Warden, Ian Burns by email: ian.brns@yahoo.co.uk

Interested applicants are asked to email a brief covering letter explaining why they wish to apply for the post and how their skills may fit with this post, attach an up to date CV and include the details of two referees, by the end of Monday 4 July, 2016 to: Ian Burns (ian.brns@yahoo.co.uk). 

Shortlisted candidates will be notified by email by the end of Thursday 7 July, 2016. 

Interviews will be held at St. Andrew’s Church on Thursday 14 July, 2016 at 7pm. 

For more information about St. Andrew’s please consult our website:

http://www.standrewsleytonstone.org

Church growth or consolidation?

Imagine, if you will, that you’re a parent in a fairly middle-class suburban family. You managed to get through university and find a spouse and a job and have some kids, and you’re settling down, after a fashion. You find a neighbourhood you can just about afford to buy in, perhaps with help from your parents, with schools that are probably going to be okay… and you move there, and you work all the hours you can, as does your spouse, because that’s what’s required if you’re going to have a decent standard of living.

You were brought up going to church but you drifted away in your teens and while you were at university, and didn’t really go back while you were in those limbo years of moving around from one shared house to the next, trying to save up for a deposit. But now it seems important. You want your kids to grow up with the sort of community support you had, and you’ve grown up enough to realise that avoiding God forever isn’t going to work, and so you look around at your local churches. There are loads of them, so there’s no need to commute.

They’re all struggling — but what church isn’t, these days? — but eventually you settle for one, St Whosit’s, that seems to have people who are sortof friendly, and worship that is orderly and predictable. It’s a little off the beaten track and doesn’t get as much passing traffic as the church near the station. The congregation is on the small side with forty people on average, the service sheets are old and tatty and someone decided printing small black text on deep purple would be a good idea, the heating is completely inadequate and the lighting isn’t much better… but the vicar seems nice and is always ready to listen to you. So you come to church for a while and you have your two children baptised and when they’re old enough you start bringing them to Sunday School.

The Sunday School at St Whosit’s is also small, and has been run by the same two volunteers for thirty years. After a while someone asks you to stand for the PCC so you do that: you’re not sure if this is what God wants you to do, but it’s certainly needed. And you find out that there’s no limit to the amount of work that needs doing, and the church just doesn’t have the resources to do most of it. The vicar is part-time already, there isn’t a parish administrator, there are no associate priests or other sorts around to cover services even. You’re the only person your age making a significant contribution, because most other people your age don’t even have your resources; the other people who are running things are mostly retired. There used to be a youth group but it sortof collapsed, and you can see that if this doesn’t change your kids will probably want to stop coming to church at some point.

You’re pretty busy with work and your kids have started going to school and having all the extracurricular activities, and the homework, which go along with that, and you can’t afford to pay for childcare much; you end up juggling late hours with your spouse and it’s all really hard work. You’re constantly exhausted, but you hope it’ll get better as the kids get older and more independent. So you keep pouring your own time and energy into St Whosit’s, even though you’re really tired, and the little arguments and difficulties along the way start to feel personal. Some of your favourite people, the ones who were most welcoming and friendly, die or move away, and you start to feel even more lonely. The vicar retires, everyone has to step up and do a bit more, and it’s tiring and discouraging; but you hang in there because it might get better. The diocese decides to change the nature of your priest-in-charge from half-stipendiary to house-for-duty, and everyone feels unhappy about it, but the position is filled and it looks like things will improve. The new vicar is very different and some things change, but it still feels like you’re on a treadmill, running running running all the time. The Parish Share goes up instead of down for some administrative reason that isn’t clear to you, so the “extra” resources you thought you’d have in exchange for your new vicar not working as many hours don’t exist. (In actual fact, your new house-for-duty vicar works far more than their designated “Sunday plus twenty hours” or whatever is in their working agreement.) Then the roof starts to leak. Maybe your parish is merged with another, better-resourced parish: but they feel under-resourced themselves and working together goes very slowly, it mostly feels like adding another layer of complexity for very little access to new resources. The Bishop keeps talking about how there’s a shortage of priests and we need more lay ministry in future, but you can’t figure out where this army of lay volunteers is going to come from.

You start to wonder why you go to church at all: it just feels like work to you now, and like nothing you do at St Whosit’s makes any difference to anyone, never mind God. The only answer you find is that it would let everyone else down if you quit. You start to wonder where you can find solace, where you can connect with God. But you don’t want to just walk away, and you definitely don’t want to move your kids to another church without good reason.

One lunchtime you go to a sung Eucharist at a cathedral. The greeters are friendly but anonymous; the liturgy is superb; there is evidence of the church community making a real difference locally, with pictures and information boards about night shelters or soup kitchens or other obvious outreach. The preaching is top-notch and speaks to you in a way you haven’t felt spoken to for ages (mostly because you’ve been out in Sunday School during the sermons and not heard them). You feel like the money you put in the little yellow Gift Aid envelope is going to a good cause. You feel like what you contribute makes a difference to something bigger than yourself. You feel safe crying here, with sorrow or with joy. It feels… good, and right, to listen to God in this place. So you keep going back, and eventually decide that, despite the commute, you’ll drag your kids along to this place on Sunday mornings. They make new friends and maybe sometimes it’s a bit anonymous but at least everything isn’t such a struggle all the time.

Or maybe one evening you go to an “informal” service at a charismatic evangelical church a few miles away. It’s too far to walk, and as it turns out, it’s huge. You’re not sure you get on with the worship band, and the way the place is full of well-off white people who all look the same is a bit weird after the more diverse congregation at St Whosit’s, but something about the way these people pray for one another is compelling, not really your cup of tea but it feels genuine. And they’re very friendly, without even a whiff of asking you to be on a rota, and it’s full of people who are a bit younger than you. Eventually you find out they have a ‘formal’ service earlier on Sunday mornings, which has more people your age (and quite a few who are older); it’s a bit strange, but lets you sing a hymn or two. And everyone is so friendly, and the provision for children is excellent — a huge Sunday School with different classes and they have things like a sensory room for people who need quiet space, but also there’s a good follow-on for young adults, teenagers who feel like they are too old for Sunday School but don’t necessarily want to go sit with their parents. And they’re friendly: did I mention how friendly everyone is? So friendly. So maybe you start bringing your kids here, and they make new friends, and it isn’t perfect but at least it isn’t such a struggle all the time.

St Whosit’s is a sort of amalgam of many churches I know. These churches run on a shoestring, and often have few resources. Their volunteers are drawn from the small pool of those who have time: mostly people who have retired. They tend to underpay any staff they do have. Because of their size they don’t tend to get curates, so new clergy aren’t really being trained in how to minister in their contexts. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult for them to attract many new members! I think this is because both the short-term and long-term experience of people who did not grow up going to that church is negative and tiring and frustrating rather than life-giving, and the people who grew up going there don’t see any reason to change (or don’t think they can afford to spend the resources required for changes). When they do grow, it’s because there are people there who are able to form friendships with newcomers despite all the other stuff; or perhaps because of some localised baby boom.

Larger churches tend to employ more staff, part-time and full-time. They can also draw from a much larger pool of volunteers, with a wider range of skills. They are large enough to “deserve” a curate from time to time, which means that new clergy get on-the-job training in their sorts of context. If there’s nobody there who will form some kind of enduring relationship with newcomers, they’ll flounder eventually, but the initial experience is often much better, perhaps good enough to keep numbers up even when people leave. (I don’t know of statistics on who leaves these larger churches and why.)

Statistics from 2014 show that attendance at cathedrals has been growing in recent decades, as has that at churches which manage a long list of activities which would be far beyond the means of St Whosit’s. But “The vast majority of converts come from other Christian denominations, rather than non-Christians or people with no religion.” I would be uttery unsurprised to find out that the vast majority of church growth isn’t even due to people from other Christian denominations, but from other parts of the Church of England.

I respectfully submit that the growth we see in larger, better-resourced churches is not due to their success at evangelism but due to a consolidation effect where people who were going to go to church anyway go to the ones that are better-resourced and less frustrating. That consolidation is directly linked to the economic shifts of the last 50-ish years: away from a large swathe of middle-class families where one parent has a paid job and the other doesn’t, toward a much smaller middle-class where people are scrambling a lot more and, in families with two parents, both of them will have jobs.

What I don’t know is how to respond to it.

Hail, Lady, Sea-Star Bright

I was pleased to participate in the Old Hispanic Office project as one of twenty composers selected to attend workshops with Bristol Cathedral Choir, the choir of Christ Church Oxford, and the Kokoro Ensemble as part of the project.

I have been fond of the Ave maris stella text since studying it for an improvisation class while at Trinity College of Music, but it is also relevant to this project because of the long association between Bristol and the sea. Some of the tombs in the Lady Chapel in Bristol Cathedral are in ‘stellate’ recesses and it was while looking at these that I thought this would be an appropriate text; I was pleased to then find that it was in the manuscript.

However, I didn’t only want to set a Latin text. I chose a translation by Herebert which I found at Clerk of Oxford’s blog because at the time that the Old Hispanic Office manuscripts were in use, Spanish was beginning to develop out of various Latin and other dialects. I imagine Latin would have been understood, but it might have sounded slightly strange and archaic; using an older English text recreates this effect. Unfortunately the Herebert is old enough that it doesn’t quite make sense on first hearing and so I asked Eleanor Parker if I could use her translation: this is still slightly archaic as she has kept some of the older words, but is likely to be more understandable by a modern congregation than Herebert’s earlier version.

Looking at the manuscript I could see that there was not much variation from one verse to the next in terms of the musical notation. There are a few substitutions of symbols, but it follows the same basic four-line pattern throughout. Of course there is no pitch or intervallic information there, so I had to make that up, but there is some internal consistency in terms of what the shapes are and the melody I used. I chose a minor mode with a major sixth because the Roman chant for the Ave maris stella uses it and I wanted to allude to that. The manuscript doesn’t have any rhythmic information either, so I decided to use rhythmic development to explore different ways it might have been interpreted, starting with a very plain section, almost free-rhythm, then moving to a more regular 6/8 feel, and by the middle verse overlaying the English and Latin texts and using a more intricate rhythm. This process is reversed in the last three verses, and the leading voices switched, resulting in a structure reminiscent of the cathedral arches.

I’m pleased to say that the .pdf and .midi files are available on the Choral Public Domain Library, as usual. If you prefer a hard copy you can buy one from my Lulu shop. In either case, the music is under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which means you can photocopy it, record it and charge money for the recordings, filk it, use it as the background to your music video, write it out by hand and send it across the sea in old wine bottles, or distribute it in any other way you wish: but you must attribute the creator (that’s me, and also Eleanor Parker), and you must share any derivative works under a similar license.

My main income from composing is from crowdfunded patronage, but there are other ways to support me if you’d like to.

Trisagion chant

This one was written at the request of Fr Jack. He asked me, “Can the choir sing the Trisagion as we enter the church on Good Friday?”

I said I’d see what I could do. We didn’t have much time to rehearse, so it needed to be something simple, especially as I never know quite how many voices I’ll have during Holy Week.

There may be other settings of this that are better, but this is what we used this year, and it worked pretty well.

Trisagion (Good Friday) PDF

Sheet music with the words, "Holy God, Holy and strong, Holy and immortal, have mercy on us."

My setting of the Trisagion

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

So here it is, under CC by-SA as usual so you can use it if you like.

 

Barking

A few months ago I was having one of those journeys home where I end up at Barking station for half an hour, having just missed the Overground train heading north west.  I asked Twitter for hymn texts, and David Barton suggested this one by Anna Laetitia Waring:

In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear.
And safe in such confiding, for nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me, and can I be dismayed?

Wherever He may guide me, no want shall turn me back.
My Shepherd is beside me, and nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waking, His sight is never dim.
He knows the way He’s taking, and I will walk with Him.

Green pastures are before me, which yet I have not seen.
Bright skies will soon be over me, where darkest clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure, my path to life is free.
My Saviour has my treasure, and He will walk with me.

So, I set it; and I called it ‘Barking’ because that’s where I was when I wrote the tune. I was thinking of calling it ‘Barton’ for David, but there are several hymn tunes with that name already.

I’ve uploaded it to the Choral Public Domain Library as usual — it may not be visible to non-members until tomorrow or the next day, of course. So you can also download the .pdf here or play the mp3 below. I’m afraid it’s just the robot piano again though!

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you can print it, sing it, record it, filk it, sell it, give it away for free, and so on, without having to ask my permission or pay me any royalties — but you must attribute me and you must share any resulting works using a similar license.

My work is community supported, not commercially supported. If you like my music, please consider supporting me by becoming a patron or in some other way. Thanks so much!

Sonnet 27

Trilhas estreladas

The Fourth Choir had a composing competition, which I entered. I didn’t make their shortlist, so here is my setting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 27.

Sorry: just robots so far, though I will look into a proper demo recording of this one.

The words, of course:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

You can buy a printed copy from Lulu, or you can download .pdf, .midi or the above .mp3 from the Choral Public Domain Library. No matter which method you choose you can make as many copies as you like.

If you like this work, please consider becoming a patron.