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!


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.