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.

Double Chant in C Major

Last Sunday one of my psalm chants was sung in Guildford Cathedral, by the University of London Church Choir.

I wrote it for Psalm 119 vv 1-16, but as Anglican chant is meant to be flexible you could use whatever words you like. Accordingly, the copy over on CPDL doesn’t include the text. If you can’t read the PDF there is a midi file, though it’s a bit slow.

As usual, this is under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. Thanks so much to the 23 supporters who funded me composing this music. If you’re not one of them and you’d like to be, please take a look at my Patreon page.

Deland 87 87 97

Salib abu 1

This one is a bit out of season, but I always find that Lent comes awfully quickly. The words are by Reverend Ally Barrett, who has written a number of new hymn texts to familiar tunes. I like Picardy as a tune very much, but it strikes me as a bit static for words which are, ultimately, about the transformation of the dust of our lives through Christ’s redemption.

So I wrote a different tune, in triple time rather than duple, with a slur to accommodate the irregular number of syllables in the first line.
Here’s a PDF
Here’s a PDF with the text underlaid between the staves
And here are the usual robot guitars:

Dust to dust, we mark our repentance,
entering a guilty plea,
Ash to ash, we face our sentence,
Sin writ large for all to see:
Bearing signs of all our falls from grace,
Yearning for your strong embrace.

Dust of earth once shaped and moulded,
human form from Godly hand,
Male and female both enfolded,
part of all that you had planned.
Now O Lord reshape our damaged form,
Hold us till our hearts grow warm.

Dust that fuels the lights of heaven,
Stars and planets passing by,
Atoms of creation’s splendour,
Earth to earth and sky to sky,
Now our dust, redeemed, may sing along
with that universal song.

As usual, the music is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike: you can do what you like with it as long as you attribute me and you share under similar terms. Reverend Ally prefers to grant permission for non-commercial use only, though: if you want to use her words for commercial purposes, you have to ask her about it.

Thanks so much to the 23 supporters who funded me composing this music. If you’d like to see more of this sort of thing, you can contribute and help me keep sharing music like this at my Patreon page.

Song Cycle Sung Grace

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

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

Kirchberg Iller Pfarrkirche Emmausszene

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

The words are by James Montgomery:

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

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

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

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

Song Cycle Sung Grace A5

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

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

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

Waterworks Corner

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

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

Here are some robots singing it:

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

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

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

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

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

Waterworks Corner — underlaid – Full Score

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


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

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

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

You can also download the mp3 file.

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

Wherever Love Is: Braxted 84 84 88

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some robot clarinets singing it:

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

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

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

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