I would not paint — a picture —

I was delighted to be asked to write a piece for the Chapel Choir of King’s College, Aberdeen, for them to sing on St Cecilia’s Day this year.

A cream and yellow drawing of a rose -- Study of a Rose LACMA M.73.136

I chose this text by Emily Dickinson at the suggestion of Catherine Fox:

I would not paint — a picture —
I’d rather be the One
It’s bright impossibility
To dwell — delicious — on —
And wonder how the fingers feel
Whose rare — celestial — stir —
Evokes so sweet a torment —
Such sumptuous — Despair —

I would not talk, like Cornets —
I’d rather be the One
Raised softly to the Ceilings —
And out, and easy on —
Through Villages of Ether —
Myself endued Balloon
By but a lip of Metal —
The pier to my Pontoon —

Nor would I be a Poet —
It’s finer — Own the Ear —
Enamored — impotent — content —
The License to revere,
A privilege so awful
What would the Dower be,
Had I the Art to stun myself
With Bolts — of Melody!

I tried to capture the start and stop — of all those dashes, and the Emphasis conveyed by some of the Words being capitalised. And underneath all that, I added 1 Corinthians 14:15: What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. That comes as part of a long lecture about praying in tongues, but also about women being silent in church, which I am definitely not.

Here are some robotic clarionets playing it:

And here is a .pdf file if you want to follow along.

As usual it’s available on the Choral Public Domain Library, under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike licence: so you can copy it and sing it and so on, without having to ask me for specific permission. I’m also trying to get a print copy on Lulu, but I’m struggling somewhat with the interface, so we’ll see.

I’m able to put my music online for free like this because of my kind supporters at Patreon. If you’re able to, please join them in sponsoring me.

The Old Astronomer

Remember the Musical Hat Draw? Well, my setting of The Old Astronomer, text suggested by AlexSeanchai, has now sold. It was sponsored by Kathleen Jowitt and AlexSeanchai.

I’ve set the first four stanzas to the same tune, and though I had intended this to be a piece for choir and piano or choir and ensemble, it didn’t work out that way. It’s quite folk-y, maybe a little jaunty for the subject matter, but I’m still rather partial to it. “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
Sheet music: £20 SOLD!
…and a robot flute recording: £30 (£10 to go)
…and a recording of me singing: £100 (£70 to go)

So: if you’d like to hear this, either on a computerised robot flute or with me singing, go ahead and sponsor it by sending me money on Paypal and letting me know what it’s for. In the meantime, here is the sheet music:

The Old Astronomer melody PDF

This is under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. So if you want to, you can perform it, record it, arrange it, print it out, photocopy it, and whatever else; but you must attribute me as the composer, and you mustn’t prevent others from making derivative works.

An Arab Love-Song

This is one of the pieces from the Musical Hat Draw. I really enjoyed that project, but it didn’t result in a single sale of music! So I’ve decided to release the pieces as I normally would, through Patreon, instead. This text was suggested by TJA Thurman, but written by Francis Thompson. It’s for a small or flexible choir, with piano accompaniment.

An Arab Love-Song
Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

THE hunchèd camels of the night
Trouble the bright
And silver waters of the moon.
The Maiden of the Morn will soon
Through Heaven stray and sing,
Star gathering.

Now while the dark about our loves is strewn,
Light of my dark, blood of my heart, O come!
And night will catch her breath up, and be dumb.

Leave thy father, leave thy mother
And thy brother;
Leave the black tents of thy tribe apart!
Am I not thy father and thy brother,
And thy mother?
And thou—what needest with thy tribe’s black tents
Who hast the red pavilion of my heart?

I haven’t done a proper recording of this yet, though it’s possible that I will. In the meantime, here are some robots:

The sheet music is at CPDL as usual, but may not be visible to non-members for a day or so. If you’d like to see it before then you could become a patron and get access to it right away.

Musical Hat Draw: Music Sale!

About a month ago I tried a new-to-me experiment: I asked the internet to suggest texts for me to set to music, on the understanding that I’d do my best at some drafts with random selections of text, and then eventually put the completed music up for sale online. I called it the Musical Hat Draw because I was going to pull numbers out of a hat to decide what order to set the texts in.

I loved this experiment. Having texts that other people chose removed a huge part of the perfectionist angst often associated with composing for me: I didn’t have to spend hours trying to find exactly the right words, I just had to set the text that came out of the hat. It was also interesting to me that some of the texts seemed to lend themselves more to solo songs than choral work.

A stellar fingerprint

I worked for twelve hours on nine first drafts, and have worked for over twenty-six hours (and counting!) on the getting those drafts into a state that I’m happy with. Two of the drafts, I’ve discarded: I didn’t really like the music I’d written, and it seemed foolish to put more work into it. Two of the “good” pieces, I’m not yet offering for sale: one is a Christmas carol which mentions stars a lot, with a public domain text suggested by Kathleen Jowitt (do buy her book), and there are approximately a zillion carol competitions out there at the moment (okay, well, three), so I’m going to hang onto it and enter it into one of those. The other is a star-themed text written for the Musical Hat Draw by Gary Alderson (er, buy his book too) and, after a discussion with my PhD supervisor, I’m re-working my composition for a workshop with a top choir later this term. You’ll get to hear these pieces eventually, when I eventually make them public.

So, without further ado, here are the other five:

1. SOLD! The Old Astronomer, text suggested by Alexseanchai. I’ve set the first four stanzas to the same tune, and though I had intended this to be a piece for choir and piano or choir and ensemble, it didn’t work out that way. It’s quite folk-y, maybe a little jaunty for the subject matter, but I’m still rather partial to it. “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
Sheet music: £20
…and a robot flute recording: £30
…and a recording of me singing: £100
Total so far: £10 from Kathleen Jowitt, and the remaining £10 from AlexSeanchai.

2. Starfire Rising, text suggested and written by Elizabeth Barrette. Again, this is fairly folk-y, maybe a bit poppy? Three verses, the third with a slightly different tune for the first half. Piano accompaniment. I need to pay Elizabeth for use of the text but she has set an extremely reasonable price, so most of the below is for my own work.
Sheet music: £60
…and a robot clarionet and piano recording: £70
…and a recording of me singing to a robot piano: £120
…and a recording of me singing AND playing: £170

3. Science Hymn 2, text by the Reverend Ally Barrett. Five verses of 66 66 44 44 metre. She wrote the text to fit the tune “Love Unknown” but that has such strong associations with another set of words that I thought it would be better for the hymn to have its own. Triple time, E-flat major, a strong tune that shouldn’t take too much effort for congregations to learn. Harmonised for SATB.
If you sponsor this hymn you get to choose the hymn tune. You can search for tune names at Hymnary.org to find one that probably hasn’t been used already.
Sheet music: £40
…and a robot clarionets recording: £50
…and a recording of me singing (playing bass on an instrument): £130

4. Stella Maris, by Gary Alderson, based on the traditional Ave maris stella text. Seven verses of 8787, D major, 4/4 time. This is a good hymn tune, but it does sound a little bit like “Brother, sister, let me serve you” at the beginning, which might put some congregations off at first. Harmonised for SATB.
If you sponsor this hymn you get to choose the hymn tune. You can search for tune names at Hymnary.org to find one that probably hasn’t been used already.
Sheet music: £40
…and a robot clarionets recording: £50
…and a recording of me singing (playing bass on an instrument): £130

5. SOLD! Sponsored by my patrons at PatreonAn Arab Love-Song, suggested by TJA Thurman. Two-part choir with ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ voices, for SA or TB or mixed performance; or it could be sung as a duet. Piano accompaniment. Rhythmically and harmonically moderately diffcult.
Sheet music: £90
…and a robot clarionets and piano recording: £100
…and a recording of me singing to a robot piano recording: £180
…and a recording of me singing and playing: £250

When each piece is sponsored I will add your name to the .pdf of the music, and make a public post with the file for people to download, as well as adding it to the Choral Public Domain Library (if appropriate). And I’ll update this page to show that the piece is sponsored.

There may be a delay on the recordings that actually involve me singing: I haven’t done any of them yet, because I’m not sure what to expect, and because I’ve been getting over a cold so my voice is not at its best. That means I’ll have to fit recording in around other work.

Stretch goals!
If total sponsorship reaches £300, I’ll release all of the robot recordings (in mp3 format) for free.
If total sponsorship reaches £400 I will hand-write a copy of the Stella Maris, to print on t-shirts, tea towels and so on.

The sale ends on Tuesday, 10th October at noon BST (GMT+1).

How to sponsor a piece:
Send me some money using Paypal! Be sure to let me know a) which piece(s) you want it to go toward and b) how you’d like to be known on the sponsorship note or whether you’d like the dedication to be for someone else. I’ll keep updating this page regularly during waking hours in the UK; there may be delays when I’m asleep or away from the internet, but I’m supposed to be doing quite a bit of work at the computer this week so it’s likely I’ll mostly keep up.

In the event that a piece does get over-sponsored while I’m asleep or away, I’ll put the money toward recordings of the same piece, unless you instruct me otherwise.

Can’t sponsor an entire piece? That’s okay: we can have multiple sponsors on each piece. Can’t decide which piece to sponsor, but want to give me money anyway? Just let me know, and I’ll allocate it to the “Hatter’s Choice” fund which will sponsor a piece or recording of my choice.

Don’t want to use Paypal? Contact me at artsyhonker at gmail dot com and I’ll see if we can work something else out.

Questions? Ask!


Hilltop 55 54 D

Another hymn tune! This one, I think, might be suitable for Harvest, though the Revd Ally Barrett based it on the theology behind the gospel story about tax: ‘render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s; render to God that which belongs to God’. You can read some more of her hymns on her website and there is also information there about permission to use the text in worship.

Here we are giving,
out of our plenty
fruit of thanksgiving,
tribute of love.
Hearts overflowing
cannot stand empty,
constantly growing
grace from above.

Gathered as one, and
thankfully bringing
all that we are, and
all that we do.
Serving and caring,
praying and singing,
building and sharing,
offered to you.

Love beyond measure,
total compassion,
We are your treasure:
wondrously giv’n.
Made in your likeness,
imaged and fashioned,
life that is priceless,
valued in heaven.

Music, then! I decided that since the words were written to fit Bunnessan, I would go with something in duple rather than triple time, for once, and this is what came out:

Tooting clarionets (robotic as usual):

PDF of the sheet music.

The music (not the words!) is, as usual, under a Creative Common Share-Alike licence, and if you’re a member of the Choral Public Domain Library (aka Choralwiki) you can download it there from tomorrow.

I’m able to do this work and share it with the world because of my kind supporters over at Patreon. Please consider contributing there if you can; even a small amount helps me a lot. Thanks so much!

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!