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.


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.

Talvilaulu — Song of the Winter

a road, telephone lines and trees covered in frost and snow
In 2015, I had the enjoyable experience of attending the Anglo Nordic Baltic Theological Conference, in Turku, Finland. Participants presented informal papers by day, and in the evening there was food, sauna, talk and not a little bit of wine.

One thing led to another, and I ended up asking Rupert Moreton, of Lingua Fennica, whether there was any public domain poetry he’d like to translate and have me set to music in exchange for some of what my patrons pay me… and as there was a call for scores coming up with a winter theme, I asked for that, too.

He sent me this translation of a poem by Eino Leino:

The sun onto sea now has mounted,
freezing ridges atop the sea,
and fall with past heroes is counted,
winter’s frost will soon with us be.

And faithlessness seeming is winning,
weakly beating my broken heart,
the tinge of leaf browning is thinning –
lengthy northerly night will start.

O, frost of the winter, come slowly
o’er the earth and the gladed pool,
O, deathly, may frost settle quietly
‘pon the dozing heroic fool.


On aurinko astunut mereen,
meren kattanut jäykkä jää,
syys siirtynyt sankarin vereen,
pian talvikin hallapää.

Ja voittanut on epäusko,
sydän särkynyt heikosti lyö,
on sammunut viimeinen rusko
ja pitkä on pohjolan yö.

Tule vitkaan talvinen huura
yli maan, yli puun, yli veen,
sada hiljaa kuoleman kuura
yli urhon uinahtaneen.

(See notes on the translation.)

It’s solstice today, and many people are looking forward to Christmas, or just glad the days are getting longer — and I am, too! But I also remember my childhood in Canada, how January and February would often be much colder, despite the lengthening days; how looking forward to Christmas and longer days also carried a tinge of sadness over knowing that the long slog through the coldest months still lay ahead. So today, right in the midst of winter’s night, seemed an appropriate time to post my setting.

I’ve modified the English very slightly, but also kept the Finnish; when I was setting it, I was trying to remain faithful to the differing lengths of the Finnish syllables, and I think I mostly managed to do so. I also tried to illustrate the way frost and snow come in staggered layers in a long winter, not always an even coating but thicker in some places, thinner in others. The English should be sung with the stress according to the syllables, not the bar lines.

It’s SSA a cappella, and I hope to have a good demo recording in a few weeks time. In the meantime, here are some robot flutes playing it:

You can download
the MIDI file, and the PDF, from this page, or from the Choral Public Domain Library. It’s under a CC by-SA license, as usual.

Finally, thanks as always to the lovely supporters who made it possible for me to write this music, and to support — eventually — an independent translator. If you’re not a patron and you’d like to be, sign up at my Patreon page, and if you’d like Rupert Moreton to do some translation for you, visit the Lingua Fennica site.

Whose voice, and which wilderness?

I was dismayed to read the Rt Revd Philip North’s article in the Church times on Friday, “Heeding the voices of the popular revolution.

He begins well, stating “We need to hear the voices of the poor.” I wouldn’t dream of disagreeing. But then the Bishop of Burnley makes the same mistake as a number of other commentators: assuming that the votes for Brexit, and the votes for Donald Trump, came entirely or even largely from the “dispossessed and marginalised working class”, angry at their voices being ignored and their needs unrecognised by a middle-class society. He particularly states that these voices will continue to go unheard if the Church fails to invest more resources in urban ministry and the most deprived populations therein.

And yet — in the recent American election, in the Brexit referendum and even in the UK general election in 2015, it wasn’t overwhelmingly the urban poor who voted for Brexit or the right. Rather, the suburbs and rural areas carried the vote.

I think it’s worth examining what is usually meant by “working class” and what the reality of the working class actually is. In the UK we tend to think of the working class as factory workers and builders, mostly British, mostly white. But it’s a bit more complicated than that: the person who sweeps the factory floor is paid less and has less training than the machine operators; a chartered engineer with a postgraduate degree and a professional certification is still, by some, considered a “factory worker”. The employments considered working class now vary so widely in compensation that it is not really accurate to say that the working class are always poor. Furthermore, post-WW2 socialism ensured that many people from working class backgrounds were able to enjoy middle class levels of economic security.

But the working class also includes some people you might not think of straight away.

The working class includes migrants, most of whom don’t get to vote, and who won’t feel welcome in a church which puts too much emphasis on place and patriotism at the expense of being kind to the alien in the land.

The working class includes people of colour, who face systemic and systematic discrimination in both the UK and the US, and who in the US especially are more likely to be disenfranchised.

The working class includes many people with disabilities, industrial injuries or chronic health problems which may prevent them from working regularly: those “perceived to be taking unfair advantage of the benefits system”, according to Bishop Philip, and who are not helped by the idea of the “dignity of work” at all costs. And the working class includes their unpaid carers, whose work to bring dignity to others is not given the dignity of a living wage.

The working class includes single mothers, trans people, queer people, those married to someone of the same gender, those estranged from abusive parents, and people in their 30s or even 40s who still live in shared accommodation — all people who may well be left out of Philip North’s desire for emphasis, from the Church, on the “sanctity of the family”.

I know that before he was the Bishop of Burnley, Philip North served in a deprived parish in north London for a number of years, and I am certain that he has listened to people from a wide range of economic circumstances, as he advocates. I can only conclude that if he doesn’t think of the working, urban poor as including people who would have voted against Brexit (had they been permitted to vote), his experience must be incomplete — as is mine.

So let’s take another angle and look at the statistics. The biggest predictors of voting patterns in Brexit were income and higher education; but these are two factors which are closely related to age, as university education was not as available, or as necessary, for people who are now retired. Other factors include living in England, and owning one’s home outright — that last, again, is related to age. And of course, people who live in areas with lower visible diversity were more likely to vote Leave. Looking at this, and at how high the average income is in some Brexit-voting areas, and another picture begins to emerge: it isn’t the poorest, most desperate people who voted for Brexit. Instead, the group of people feeling angry and betrayed includes large numbers of people who, though not rich, were actually getting by quite well for a while, and are now finding it much harder to do that.

The poorest of the poor, the most oppressed people in the UK, almost certainly didn’t vote for Brexit: they won’t have been allowed to vote at all. But even if they had, the voice of the likes of Nigel Farage is not the “preferential option for the poor” that has rightly been the aim of many involved in social justice in the church. Instead, it is the very short term preferential option for the straight white male homeowner who neither has any interest in holidays abroad nor believes he should have to share what he has with anyone else. That isn’t what I’d recognise as the working class.

The one area where I agree with the Bishop of Burnley, then, is that the Church of England has been listening far too much to the middle class.


A line drawing of a black and white cat, perching at the edge of some sheets of paper. The paper bears the following words: Yantantessera, Choir (optional divisi) & piano, Words: TJA Thurman, Music: Kathryn Rose

Lovely cover picture: drawn by Arkady Rose from a photo by TJA Thurman, and then I added in the words. CC by-SA.

I’m very pleased to make available my setting of TJA Thurman’s poem, “Yantantessera”.

One fine dark night with a fine dark sky
And fine-sliced moon so bright,
A Cat leapt forth with a fine black coat
And paws of moonlit white;
If I should ask you to say her name
I’m sure you’d tell me that
She’s Yantantessera,
Tessera, Tessera,
Tessera Tessera, Cat.

She had no humans, she had no home,
She had no meals to eat,
But soon, by means of a friendly purr,
Adopted half a street,
Where twenty humans would serve her food:
They all had time to chat
With Yantantessera,
Tessera, Tessera,
Tessera Tessera, Cat.

The Cats’ Home heard, and they swore to find
The Cat a Home, and thus
She started work as a Rescue Cat
Who came to rescue us.
And since that day, we belong to her;
We’re proud to share a flat
With Yantantessera,
Tessera, Tessera,
Tessera Tessera, Cat!

Here’s a recording:

As usual, it’s available on the Choral Public Domain Library, or you can download a .pdf or .midi here:

PDF of Yantantessera score
MIDI robots singing Yantantessera

What I learned from Morten Lauridsen

Last week, American composer Morten Lauridsen was composer-in-residence at the University of Aberdeen, where I am studying choral composition. Over the course of the week I heard him speak at the Composers’ Forum and at two concerts, as well as having a 45-minute personal tutorial.

Dr Lauridsen and I come from very different backgrounds musically. He has been an academic for his entire career, while I’m not honestly all that keen on academia and I have very little experience of the sort that is valued by many academic institutions. Instead, my expertise is in the realm of the practical. I am grounded and have been nurtured as a musician, not in the world of abstract musical concepts or the dialogue of composition as research, but in the rhythm and constraints of community work: in congregational hymnody, small choirs, limited rehearsal time and resources.

Nowhere was this difference more apparent than in the tutorial I had last Tuesday. Not really having had many composing tutorials before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was somewhat apprehensive and nervous. On learning that my first degree was a Bmus(Hons) in playing the horn and that I have no prior composing qualificationns, Dr Lauridsen seemed puzzled that I would even be accepted onto a PhD programme, and he didn’t hesitate to tell me that I was very brave for attempting it. His efforts to draw out more of my own background seemed oriented toward a very academic vein which made me feel inadequate, exacerbating my nervousness. In that state, I didn’t speak of my strengths, and the musical tradition in which I work, very well. But I don’t think he was trying to be unkind: for someone whose career has been in an academic context, it’s understandable to think that being a good scholar is how one becomes a good composer, and it makes sense that his advice to me was to do as much catching-up as possible in that vein.

But we also have something in common, and I think that’s even more important: we both have a strong desire to make a difference in the world. When Dr Lauridsen spoke of this at the Composers’ Forum on Monday night, I was greatly encouraged. With today’s devastating political news from the USA, that encouragement is very much needed. At the end of the day, I am not doing this PhD to have a chance at an academic post somewhere. I am doing it to get better at composing so that through my art I can make a difference in the world.

Part of that is going to be engaging with other artists who make a difference, and Dr Lauridsen mentioned several times when speaking that he reads poetry daily. Not only that, but in all of his years as a professor, he has started every single class with a poem. “It takes you up a peg,” he said; and I think he is right, and that this is much-needed. As things currently stand, I enjoy poetry, and I always mean to engage more with it, not least because I am always on the lookout for words to set. I’ve often said that choosing the right text is one of the most difficult parts of composing, for me; ideally, the words should strike something deep within me, or become a part of me over time. But despite this, I have yet to make the reading of poetry a daily habit, except in the slow drip feed of psalmody when praying the Daily Office. So there is a good challenge for me, and one that will be relatively easy for me to implement. I can start with a poem a day, and work from there.

Another point that I found instructive was Dr Lauridsen’s obvious love for musical theatre, particularly the American Broadway musicals. Despite his educational formation in the standard academic canon, he still manages in some of his compositions to pay homage to his own musical interests. And if he can incorporate the musical language of Broadway into his music, then I can develop my own voice as a composer such that my music is similarly congruent with the musical world I inhabit. Yes, if I want to pass a PhD I have a lot of work to do in learning the traditional academic canon, particularly of the 20th century; but fluency in that world doesn’t have to mean leaving behind or de-valuing my own idiosyncratic musical background. So in addition to studying Stravinsky and Messiaen and Bartok and Reich, I also intend to continue singing in the London Gallery Quire and the University of London Church Choir, to continue examining ideas about hymnody, and to be more systematic in listening to sacred music, especially of the 20th and 21st centuries.

If I am going to make a difference, I’ll need to do it as my whole self; and now I have a clearer idea of the steps I can take to do that. Thank you, Dr Lauridsen.

November Patron Drive

I’ve commissioned this lovely piece of artwork from Arkady Rose:

Description: A treble clef worked into a tree of celtic knotwork, adorned with musical-note baubles.

Musical tree

All new supporters at my Patreon page during the month of November will get a copy of this in postcard format (unless you don’t give me your address, obviously). Further, patrons at the $5 level will be sent a new postcard quarterly, and at $10 and $15 will be sent multiple copies — one with a message for you, and one or more to send on to others. If you’re in the UK, the postcards should arrive in time for you to send them on to someone else for Christmas, if you’re quick.

So, why are you doing this?
I’ve had some big changes in the last few months. I’ve taken a one-year sabbatical from my work at St Andrew’s Leytonstone, and given up other paying work in London. I’ve started a PhD in contemporary sacred choral composition at the University of Aberdeen, studying with Professor Paul Mealor. I’m continuing to live in London, but visiting Aberdeen as often as I can.

Unsurprisingly, giving up my regular paid employment in favour of something that costs money (tuition fees and travel are the big ones) has led to finances that are rather stretched. More patrons are the most effective way for me to improve that situation while continuing to do what I love: writing great music that is free for anyone to download and sing.

I’m already a patron — do I get a postcard?
Probably! Have a look at the re-vamped reward levels, you may find you’ve already pledged an amount suitable for postcards, in which case you’ll get this one. But I can’t send you anything if I don’t have your address, so make sure your pledge includes that.

What is Patreon, anyway?
Patreon is a crowdfunding platform where you pledge to support people who are creating something of value to the wider community, but which may be difficult to sell through traditional channels. You can pledge any amount you like — my lowest suggested pledge is USD $3 but there are people who pledge USD $1 — for each new choral work I produce, and you can also cap your contributions on a monthly basis. I usually finish about one new work per month, but some months it’s two and some I don’t manage to put anything online at all.

Why is this better than just buying your music?
First of all, I don’t have a traditional publisher! None of the ones I’ve approached so far were happy for me to put my music online for free, and I’m not willing to budge on that. But also, if you support me at Patreon I get about 90% of what you pay: 5% goes to Patreon, and about another 5% on various banking fees. That’s better than anything I’d get with printed sheet music, and in turn that enables to keep sharing my music with anyone who wants it.

So what’s in it for me?
There’s nothing like the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you’re supporting someone who is trying to do some good in the world, and I hope that’s your primary motivation. But this isn’t just about postcards: supporters at Patreon also get access to my patron-only feed, where I post works in progress and talk about them, and there are other reward levels too, from postcards to getting printed music sent to you in the post to commissioning new works.

If you’re already a supporter, thank you so much. It really does make a difference! If not, and you’d like to contribute, please head over to my Patreon page and check it out — or share this post with people you think might be interested.