Saturday, 9 June 2012

Moving along

I've moved to

Monday, 16 April 2012

How to introduce new music in churches

I wrote this as a comment elsewhere, and thought it perhaps worth reproducing:

You can get congregations to sing new music, but it takes a bit of work and cooperation from your organist/music director/whoever.

1) If you have one, see if you can get the choir (or music group or what have you) to sing the new tune (possibly to old words!) as a Communion hymn or an anthem a few times.

2) In the weeks running up to the use of the new tune, ask the organist/musicians to play it as part of the processional or recessional voluntary (whichever people are more likely to listen to), or even a short verse after the reading of the Gospel if appropriate.

If people have heard it a few times, they’ll find it much easier to sing.

3) Having sung the new tune, don’t abandon it; use it again in a few weeks time, if possible. (Again, you might want the choir to do this with different words.)

If copyright allows, I also find it helps to include music notation for the melody in whatever the congregation are reading from. At our church we have a fair number who read music “a bit” but don’t sing in the choir, and between them and the ones who pick up tunes quickly by ear, it isn’t so terrible.

4) Try to get people to sit close together. If you are Anglican this is probably the hardest step, but it really does help.

I might add a few more points:

5) Try to make sure the first and last hymn or song of a service are tunes that people do know. I was taught that the first and last notes a musician plays will be what most people remember; this is also true of liturgy, and familiar, well-loved hymns at the beginning and end of a service will be less disorienting.

6) If the music is something people are going to be singing a lot (say, a hymn for Lent with different verses for each Sunday, or a congregational Mass setting), or if it's a bit difficult (syncopation, changes between triplets and duple quavers, awkward leaps in the melody, changes in harmonic rhythm and so on), it's worth offering a brief rehearsal at some point so people can go over the tricky bits. Try to make this short (ten minutes is plenty) and don't expect to get things perfect. Make sure it's at a time people can attend -- after a service is usually best.

7) Try not to introduce new music alongside changes to the general format of services, and don't introduce too many new things in quick succession, especially if it's a long time since the congregation has had to sing anything new at all.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

To everything there is a season.

In May 2000 I moved to London. To Hendon, precisely. My plan was to teach music and convert to Judaism and, eventually, marry the boy I was chasing. I was nineteen.

I don't remember how long after moving there I got my first piano student in the area, but it wasn't a desperately long time. She was a lovely older lady who'd been on a "singing for the brain" course and wanted to study the piano in order to keep her mind nimble.

From then on, I always had students in Hendon and Finchley. Most were children, but there were various grown-ups too. It got to the point where I couldn't fit them all in on weekday evenings and started teaching some on Sunday mornings. When I went to Trinity this turned out to be a good thing: I kept going back on Sundays to teach, spending the weekdays doing (okay, avoiding) my academic work and Saturday as a day off. At one point I was teaching for nine hours on a Sunday, which was helpful, if tiring. Most of the teaching was in the morning -- I started at 8am -- or in the evening, after football and other activities had ended, and this left me with long afternoons. I often spent the time outside, reading or walking around, though if the weather was miserable I might head to Brent Cross instead or just take refuge in a coffee shop for a while. There was a period of time when I had friends living nearby so I would go to visit them, sometimes just falling asleep on the sofa for a while, and on one memorable occasion sticking my very broken glasses together with bits of wire and tape.

In my later years at Trinity I started becoming interested in Christianity again, which is perhaps a topic for another post. But it was in Hendon on those long Sunday afternoons that I had time to read and think about this, and it was at St Mary's Hendon that I found I could go to Evensong most weeks.

When I finished my degree I had to decide whether to move back to Hendon, stay in Bethnal Green or go elsewhere entirely. Marrying the boy I'd been chasing was no longer on the cards, and by then it was clear that Orthodox Judaism was not the right path for me. I chose Leytonstone for a variety of reasons.

I also decided that I couldn't be having with working on Sunday mornings any more (well, that didn't last long!). So my students, many of whom by now were the "we'd really rather have lessons on Sundays" crowd, were asked to switch to weekdays... and since then I've been going to Hendon and Finchley on Mondays and Tuesdays. Most of my students there are Jewish and in a strange way, teaching them has allowed me to keep Jewish practice, and interfaith issues, in my mind even while I'm now so involved in Christian worship, though besides knowing when the holidays are, ensuring exams aren't on Saturdays and teaching the odd bit of folk repertoire it hasn't been a major part of teaching, of course.

I knew this wouldn't be a sustainable strategy in the longer-term so I decided to take on no new families, letting the hours in North London taper off. The plan was that I'd gradually gain students in Leytonstone and the transition would be fairly smooth.

That didn't quite work out. At the beginning of this year, I was commuting nine hours per week to do three hours of teaching. I wasn't gathering much of a class of students more locally, mostly because Mondays and Tuesdays were completely unavailable. I tried cycling, but found it just as exhausting as the Tube and with no great saving in time. I tried finding other things to do locally, spending Monday afternoon in the library in Finchley. Eventually I had to admit that I was tired enough that I wasn't teaching as well as I know I can. So, this January, I gave my students one term's notice.

Today I taught my last lesson in Hendon, and walked back through Sunny Hill Park. It's been sad, these last few weeks, saying goodbye. One of the reasons I hung on so long was that I do genuinely like teaching, and I am very fond of all of my students. A half hour a week over a few years is a long time to spend with anyone in one-on-one situations and these families have been a significant part of my life. The students themselves have been a joy and a privilege to teach, through the difficult bits and the happiness (or just relief) at exam results and school performances. I was teaching only five at the end, but over the years there have been nearly forty students, and I have learned from each and every one of them, and I will miss them. If you're a former student, or a parent of one, and you're reading this: THANK YOU.

I suppose North London will still be there, but it feels strange that I no longer have any reason to go.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Flash Compline, Monday 26th March

There will be a Flash Compline service at 8.30pm on Monday, 26th March, in the gardens of St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, near Liverpool Street tube and mainline stations - here's a map

Music: We will use this setting of Compline.

We will have a small number of spare copies, which you can purchase for £2 if you want to keep them, or borrow if you don't. Don't worry if you aren't a confident singer -- follow along with the text and see what you can pick up. Everyone is welcome. If we don't have enough confident singers we can always say the liturgy instead.

This setting uses the words from Common Worship Traditional Language Compline. Various smartphone apps for this exist and it is also available from the C of E website on the day, if you're worried we won't have enough music or you'd rather just use the words.

You may wish to bring a torch or book light.


@FlashCompline on Twitter
Flash Compline on Facebook

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Give us back our NHS

Scum who don't know how to feel
They're so rich they have to steal
Eyes all glazed from looking west
Give us back our NHS!

We won't take rule for the rich
While the poorest feel the pinch.
There's no mandate for this mess
Give us back our NHS!

Words by @Eithin and @LosTheSkald, music by me. Please sing it, teach it to people, make videos, write more verses, whatever. It's under a CC BY-SA license: this means you can make derivative works as long as you give us attribution. There's a pdf of a leadsheet here if you want to print it; I've done it in landscape format for ease of fitting two onto one A4 sheet if you have access to a photocopier or whatever.

Maybe it isn't nice, maybe it's just a bit beyond being "polite".

They didn't listen to nice.

Image from

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Laetare: #plent growth so far

So, I've been sowing some seeds each day in Lent. Some of them have failed; some I've planted on outside, where I try to protect them from the voracious ravages of "Brother" Snail. Some are still indoors in their pots.

I can't find an easy way to put all the pictures in the blog I've been keeping at tumblr, so I've uploaded them here instead.

And one final photo, not from the #plent project, but pleasing all the same; the bud on a fig tree:

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

What I am planning for Lent...

No, not the music -- more on that anon. I'm planning something else.

I'm planning on sowing, each day of Lent, some seeds for edible plants. I'll be posting pictures to Tumblr and those will turn up on Twitter; once a week I'll try and do a summary post of some sort, which I'll link to from here and FaceBorg and various other places for those of you who aren't into Twitter.

Do feel free to join me, and whether you do or not may you have a blessed Lent.