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!

#1daywithoutus

Today was the One Day Without Us National Day of Action to celebrate the contributions migrants make to the UK.

For me, it was more a day of inaction; the past week has been very busy, and I have been out every evening for the last five nights at either rehearsals or social appointments, which left me more than a bit deflated today.

It has been busy in other ways, too. I had a few ideas that will bear further exploration and development. I made a list of all the competitions and other deadlines I have, and I essentially need to complete one piece a week for twelve weeks, which is, er, a bit on the ambitious side. I finished a decent draft of a piece for solo horn, only to realise that the competition it was for was only for people younger than I am; bother. Well, eleven pieces in eleven weeks, then, and I’ve sent the horn piece off to a former horn teacher of mine to have a look. The priorities this week will be a piece for Juice vocal ensemble’s visit to Aberdeen, making bread with the sourdough starter I was given by friends, and actually going to Aberdeen.

I feel a bit odd about today. I am an immigrant to the UK. I am the grandchild of other immigrants: two of my grandparents weren’t born in Canada, where I was born.

Because of my privilege as a white person, descended from a British grandparent, born in a Commonwealth country, familiar with Christianity as a culture, and speaking English as a first language, I was able to move to the UK relatively easily: first visiting under a Working Holidaymaker’s visa, then moving here properly under a UK Ancestry permit and eventually applying for, and being granted, Indefinite Leave to Remain. I did all of this back when it cost three figures rather than four, and despite my tendency to send in application forms at the very last possible minute, I never had any problem: I was not treated with suspicion.

I am told, sometimes, that this makes me the “good kind” of immigrant. The implications for what constitutes the “bad kind” of immigrant, then, are deeply prejudiced: presumably, a darker-skinned person than myself, or someone who isn’t Christian, or speaks more languages than I do, or doesn’t have UK ancestry. Well, that isn’t “concerns about immigration”; it’s racism.

The other line, of course, is the one about the balance of contributions vs receipts. But that’s based on assumptions, too: I have never claimed benefits, but I waited until I could get home student status to go to university, and then I got a full fee scholarship which could have gone to another student. I’ve been entitled to use the NHS since I arrived and I have certainly made use of that. I pay my National Insurance, but I don’t earn enough to pay any income tax. Some of my contributions have been difficult to quantify, but I wouldn’t really like to add everything and see how the balance sheet looks.

And that’s why I’m a bit uncomfortable about #1daywithoutus: it’s to “celebrate the contributions” of migrants. I appreciate the solidarity, but — well, my own ability to live here was facilitated by privilege, not contributions. And immigrants are human beings; our value is not based in our contribution to society, whether that contribution is economically measurable or not.

But I suppose that in a culture that is currently very aware of a perceived lack of resources, the challenge of convincing everyone that immigrants are people, and therefore have innate worth, might be too great. I can see that focusing on a message about the contributions we make might seem like a way to reach the sort of people who think I’m a “good” immigrant because I’m white and I speak English well.

I just wish it weren’t necessary.

A quiet week

This past week has been relatively quiet. I finished a paper draft of a piece I’m working on for a Canadian competition, and made some decisions about applying for a choral conducting job. I did get started on some reading, though I need to do more to build up momentum there. I scheduled my next trip to Aberdeen, which I’m looking forward to a lot.

I also found out that the two hymns I submitted for the London Festival of Contemporary Choral Music are on the short list that will be sent around to participating churches; this is good news, and hopefully means one or the other of them will be performed. If not — well, I hope at least one of them might make it into the hymnody workshop.

I also looked in the usual places for new competitions, and there are quite a few new ones I’m interested in. I haven’t decided yet which ones to go for, and of those, which to write new work for rather than submitting smething I already have on hand. So that’s a decision for later this week, hopefully after I have some of the existing projects further along than they are at the moment.

Candlemas week

That was quite a week…

I started on Sunday with the University of London Church Choir singing my Nunc Dimittis as part of the Candlemas service at St Mary’s, Eversholt Street. It’s the first time I’ve heard or been involved in a live performance of that piece, though it’s been online for two years and I know it was performed in Edinburgh in November by Voces Inauditae.

I also visited St Mary’s Addington for their sung Compline: not a journey I would ordinarily make for such a short service, but as I was already in town, and as they were licensing a curate, liturgical curiosity got the better of me.

The next few days felt like rather a flurry of activity, with a competition deadline, my usual Patreon end-of-month scramble, a trip to Southampton to sing new music by my friend Gemma, who I’ve known since I was fourteen, a tax return to complete, a meeting about a CD for London Gallery Quire, and so on and so forth. But I did find time to visit a friend yesterday — actually the date of Candlemas — and we lit some candles and listened to the Nunc dimittis again.

My intention to do some academic reading has rather fallen by the wayside again this week, but I did get a good bit done otherwise, and next week is looking a little quieter. London Gallery Quire is playing an Accession service on Sunday night at St Mary’s Rotherhithe, CLESO is visiting Southwark Cathedral on Monday evening (and the Tube strike has been called off, so my transport issues won’t be so bad), and I have a couple of social engagements, but other than that my schedule is much clearer. Just as well, because in addition to getting on with some actual reading, there are some composing deadlines looming large: I need to write something for Juice vocal ensemble’s visit to Aberdeen, and I’d like to enter another Canadian competition, and the Malta sacred choral composing competition. I also have been intending to write someting for Chris Hutchings’ Choirs Against Racism project, I have a super sekr1t commission to work on, and I’m still working on a West Gallery style piece setting a text by another Quire member. So that’s six pieces on my plate at the moment, ideally to finish by the end of the month, not counting another PhD-related one that I have an idea for but haven’t actually started writing, and which won’t really do for any of the competitions. I’ve only started two of those; if I can get rough ideas or even first drafts for two of the others sorted by the end of the week, that will be good progress.

Footdee

A rainstorm at sea, viewed from land.

A rainstorm at sea, viewed from land. I took this picture in Aberdeen in November 2016.

This is a hymn I wrote last time I was in Aberdeen; or was it last time but one? I’m not sure; but I know I was looking at the sea when I wrote it.

I’ve used a paraphrase of verses from Psalm 107 (the bit that starts” they that go down to the sea in ships”) by Isaac Watts, but of course as with any hymn tune you could use a different set of Long Metre words and they’d fit.

PDF with text of first three verses underlaid
PDF with all verses separate from the score
Robot clarinets playing one verse:

Deliverance from storms and shipwreck;
or, The seaman’s song.

1 Would you behold the works of God,
is wonders in the world abroad,
Go with the mariners, and trace
The unknown regions of the seas.

2 They leave their native shores behind,
And seize the favor of the wind;
Till God command, and tempests rise
That heave the ocean to the skies.

3 Now to the heav’ns they mount amain,
Now sink to dreadful deeps again;
What strange affrights young sailors feel,
And like a stagg’ring drunkard reel!

4 When land is far, and death is nigh,
Lost to all hope, to God they cry;
His mercy hears the loud address,
And sends salvation in distress.

5 He bids the winds their wrath assuage,
The furious waves forget their rage;
‘Tis calm, and sailors smile to see
The haven where they wished to be.

6 O may the sons of men record
The wondrous goodness of the Lord!
Let them their private off’rings bring,
And in the church his glory sing.

The score is, as usual, also on the Choral Public Domain Library, and it is under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

Thanks so much to the 31 supporters who funded me composing this music. You can contribute and help me keep sharing music like this at Patreon.

What I’ve been up to

The year 2016 was quite a year for me, with a number of challenges and changes.

The biggest change of all was going on a sabbatical (unpaid) from my post as Director of Music (or organist, or whatever you want to call it) at St Andrew’s Leytonstone, and starting a PhD in contemporary sacred choral composition at the University of Aberdeen.

I won’t do a long review of the year here; but as is common in the darkest days of winter, I spent some time thinking about how I want to order my life: habits I’d like to form, skills I’d like to learn, that sort of thing. And one of the things I decided was that I’d like to document my work better — all of it — starting with keeping a worklog/scratchpad over at Dreamwidth, and hopefully writing more often here, too.

This week I’ve been doing some composing, and trying to catch up on a considerable admin backlog from having had a stinking cold. I’m working on a piece for a Canadian competition, which I’m enjoying, but I’m not entirely convinced I’ll meet the deadline. I’ve also set another of Ally Barrett’s hymns and want to get the harmonisation done by next week.

The coming week should be good, if busy. My Nunc dimittis is being sung at St Mary’s Eversholt St on Sunday morning for their Candlemas service. Preparations continue for the London Gallery Quire CD, and I’m looking forward to singing some new songs by my friend Gemma at a Song Circle on Tuesday night in Southampton. I’m planning to use the travel time to re-start reading The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross, this time taking some notes.