Monday, 31 January 2011

Muse musings

I seem to composing better for people and occasions than for competitions. Maybe I haven't entered enough competitions to gather accurate data from which to draw such a conclusion. However, despite putting a lot of work into it, I wasn't really happy with my entry for the St Paul's competition in June. The last few weeks I've had in mind the King James Bible Composition Awards, which I scrape in as being young enough to enter. But despite taking time to select texts that are important to me and putting in a lot of effort, I just wasn't getting anywhere with that, either.

On Thursday, I happened across a text that had a specific memory attached, with particular people involved, though they probably don't remember same details I do. It's a fond memory, and thinking about those words and how they (or another translation of them) were used on that occasion, I found myself composing quite easily. I think it unlikely that I'll win this competition based on what I've written, but it's worth a try, and I feel positive about the music as something that will be useful in a liturgical setting. I won't post it online until I know the competition results, since that sort of publication could disqualify me.

That said, the process of writing a piece for someone or for a special occasion is also one that can be quite fraught. Until I've found the right words, I worry frantically about whether I'll be able to find them in time. I try to keep texts in reserve, I often make a few false starts before finding something that's just right. So perhaps my problem is not that I write for people better than for competitions, but that inspiration is not something I can control, just something to which I can try to remain alert and open.

Next up, I'm meant to be writing a Mass setting to use at St Andrew's. Watch this space...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

"Go quietly to bed"

Sunday evening, I had the privilege of singing Compline with the choir at St Mary's Addington. I started attending services in the parish once in a while in order to visit a friend of mine who is Curate there, but the community -- and especially the choir -- has become a real resource for me. As an organist working in a C of E church but who doesn't come from an Anglican background it's been excellent to be exposed to some of the standard repertoire from the rehearsal side as well as hearing it sung in services and, eventually, joining in and even conducting from time to time; they also did me the honour of singing a piece I composed. I've always been made very welcome and if the journey from Leytonstone weren't so silly I'm sure I would want to be there more often.

Anyway, Compline. I hadn't ever attended a Compline service before, not even a said one, so this was a new experience for me, though I'm familiar with the general shape of the liturgy. I've had a bit of a brush with chant notation in other contexts, and it's pretty straightforward to read if you're already good at transposition, so that wasn't a problem for me. I struggled a bit more with the psalm pointing but once I got the hang of it that was also straightforward. The service was by candle light, and very atmospheric. Choir and cantor sang well; that sort of unaccompanied unison singing is harder to do well than you might imagine, but the pitch stayed pretty stable throughout and I think the timing was good.

Compline is the last Office of the day and it is traditional to go quietly to bed afterward, without speaking and certainly without any cavorting about. I can certainly see how after singing the service in the cosy intimacy of St Mary's, going home quietly and to bed without further ado would be quite welcoming even if it meant a fairly early night. That option was, alas, not open to me: my journey from Leytonstone to Addington had been by bicycle, then train, then tram, and so on the way back I did the same in reverse (well, I didn't ride the bicycle backward, that doesn't work...). I wouldn't say I was cavorting, exactly, but even on a Sunday night in London one must keep one's wits about oneself on a bicycle. Still, I'm very grateful for having had the opportunity to go.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Organists Online birthday celebration

Saturday afternoon I attended the Organists Online ten-year anniversary event, an Open House at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.

It was good to meet other organists; we tend to get quite wrapped up in our own work, being all busy at around the same times on Sunday mornings, and if I didn't go out of my way to speak to some in other parishes I could easily not meet any at all.

The programme included talks and mini-recitals as well as a buffet. I didn't attend the entire afternoon, but the talks about the organ in the church, and about the Small Choirs website were interesting and informative.

I was sorry to miss some of the playing, but the standard of what I did hear was superb. The organists were on a video camera with the footage projected on two screens in the front of the church -- one of the few times I've seen projector screens used suitably inside a church ;) -- which meant that I could see their technique for myself. It was interesting seeing the difference between Cherry-Willow Pauls's very fluid, rounded movements and David Aprahamian Liddle's absolute economy of movement. It's rare that I meet an organist in their natural habitat and even rarer that I get to watch them carefully while they play, so this was an excellent opportunity for me.

I do hope there will be another one!


In the final year of my degree I decided I needed to do more singing, and one thing led to another...

I am delighted that we'll be singing and playing Evensong at a church not too far from where I live! It makes carrying the serpent much easier. Playing from the gallery is a treat, too; many galleries have had so many bits of pipe organ added that we can't get into them.


A special service of Evensong with the

London Gallery Quire

Hear the leading exponents of West Gallery music, the psalmody heard in parish churches and non-conformist chapels during the Georgian period, sung from the West Gallery of one of the finest, most unspoilt Georgian churches in England – St Mary's Wanstead.

Sunday 6th February 2011 at 6.30pm


Overton Drive, Wanstead E11 2LW

All welcome

Saturday, 22 January 2011

A multiplicity of translations

Over at the Liturgy blog, Rev Bosco Peters has a series of posts on the new Revised Grail Psalter. In the first post he links to the full text of the psalter, and laments the multiplicity of translations, though he does say "An English psalter for worship needs to balance accuracy on the one hand with rhythm for proclaiming, chanting, and singing on the other." I don't have the book he recommends as an accurate translation -- though it is inexpensive and I might well look into it. If I am curious about translations I go first to the Psalter Kata Bob.

In a second blog post, Rev Bosco goes on to lament the use of antiphons coming from the Revised Grail Psalter (which is translated directly from the Hebrew) together with others coming from the Latin Mass. In addition to not fulfilling Liturgiam authenticam, which is defined as a translation of the Latin Mass, this leads to a certain lack of liturgical coherence. I am sure that this is regrettable, but as at St Andrew's we use the Common Worship texts it doesn't affect me directly.

In a third blog post, Psalm 2 is appraised with regard to translation and sources; it appears to be something of a mash-up between the original Grail translations, the NRSV, and new translations for the Revised Grail Psalter. Interesting; I don't know how much of this sort of mashing-up is present in other psalm translations. But I thought I might present some other translations of Psalm 2:

There is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version, of course:
Quare fremuerunt gentes?

WHY do the heathen so furiously rage together : and why do the people imagine a vain thing?

2 The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together : against the Lord, and against his Anointed:

3 Let us break their bonds asunder : and cast away their cords from us.

4 He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn : the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath : and vex them in his sore displeasure:

6 Yet have I set my King : upon my holy hill of Sion.

7 I will preach the law : whereof the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.

8 Desire of me, and I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, : and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.

9 Thou shalt bruise them with a rod of iron : and break them in pieces like a potter's vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings : be learned, ye that are judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord in fear : and rejoice unto him with reverence.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so ye perish from the right way, if his wrath be kindled, (yea but a little) blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

There is the "Old Version", a metrical setting of the text by Sternhold and Hopkins:

1 Why did the Gentiles tumults raise?
What rage was in their brain?
Why do the people still contrive
a thing that is but vain?

2 The kings and rulers of the earth
conspire and are all bent
Against the Lord, and Christ his Son,
whom he among us sent.

3 Shall we be bound to them? Say they,
let all their bonds be broke;
And of their doctrine and their law
let us reject the yoke.

4 But he that in the heav'n doth dwell,
their doings will deride;
And make them all as mocking-stocks
throughout the world do wide.

5 For in his wrath he shall reprove
their pride and scornful way,
And in his fury trouble them,
and unto them shall say,

6 I have anointed him my King
upon my holy hill;
I will therefore, Lord, preach thy law
according to thy will:

7 The law whereof the Lord himself
hath thus said unto me,
Thou art my only Son, this day
have I begotten thee.

8 The people I will give to thee,
as heirs at thy request
The ends and coasts of all the earth
by thee shall be possessed.

9 Thou shalt them bruise e'en like to those
that under foot are trod,
And as a potter's vessel break
them with an iron rod.

10 Now ye, O kings and rulers all,
be wise therefore and learned,
By who the matters of the world
are judged and discerned.

11 See that ye serve the Lord above
in trembling and in fear;
See that with rev'rence ye rejoice
when ye to him draw near:

12 See that ye do embrace and kiss
his Son without delay;
Lest in his wrath ye suddenly
Perish from the right way.

13 If once his wrath (but little) shall
be kindled in his breast,
Then only they that trust in him
shall happy be and blest.

There is the "New Version", that is, the metrical setting by Tate and Brady:

1 With restless and ungovern'd rage
why do the heathen storm?
Why in such rash attempts engage,
as they can ne'er perform?

2 The great in counsel and in might
their various forces bring;
Against the Lord they all unite,
and his anointed king.

3 "Must we submit to their commands?"
presumptuously they say;
"No, let us break their slavish bands,
and cast their chains away."

4 But God, who sits enthroned on high,
and sees how they combine,
Does their conspiring strength defy,
and mocks their vain design.

5 Thick clouds of wrath divine shall break
on his rebellious foes;
And thus will he in thunder speak
to all that dare oppose:

6 "Though madly you dispute my will,
the king that I ordain,
"Whose throne is fixed on Zion's hill,
shall there securely reign."

7 Attend, O earth, whilst I declare
God's uncontrolled decree;
"Thou art my Son, this day my heir
have I begotten thee.

8 "Ask and receive thy full demands;
thine shall the heathen be;
"The utmost limits of the lands
shall be possessed by thee.

9 "Thy threat'ning scepter thou shalt shake,
and crush them every where;
"As massy bars of iron break
the potter's brittle ware."

10 Learn then, ye princes, and give ear,
ye judges of the earth;
11 Worship the Lord with holy fear;
rejoice with awful mirth.

12 Appease the Son with due respect,
your timely homage pay;
Lest he revenge the bold neglect,
incensed by your delay.

13 If but in part his anger rise,
who can endure the flame?
Then blest are they whose hope relies
on his most holy name.

More recently there is the Common Worship version:

1 Why are the nations in tumult, •
and why do the peoples devise a vain plot?

2 The kings of the earth rise up,
and the rulers take counsel together, •
against the Lord and against his anointed:

3 'Let us break their bonds asunder •
and cast away their cords from us.'

4 He who dwells in heaven shall laugh them to scorn; •
the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak to them in his wrath •
and terrify them in his fury:

6 'Yet have I set my king •
upon my holy hill of Zion.'

7 I will proclaim the decree of the Lord; •
he said to me: 'You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.

8 'Ask of me and I will give you the nations for your inheritance •
and the ends of the earth for your possession.

9 'You shall break them with a rod of iron •
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'

10 Now therefore be wise, O kings; •
be prudent, you judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear, and with trembling kiss his feet, •
lest he be angry and you perish from the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.

12 Happy are all they •
who take refuge in him.

And then, of course, there is the Latin:

The thing that I find fascinating is that all of these are words I would happily use, in different contexts. I would probably use the metrical settings in congregational worship where people are less familiar with the psalms or with singing chant; the Common Meter texts are easy to sing as a group and the vocabulary is relatively simple, though the translation is a little, er, "free" at times to the point of being quite unsuitable for interfaith gatherings. I would use the Common Worship text for said psalmody as it's nearer than the other examples to the way people actually speak today; I would use Common Worship or the BCP version for Anglican chant, and either Common Worship or the Latin for plainsong, depending on the type of service. Anglican chant can work in very small and intimate services, as I've discovered by attending Evensong at Christchurch Wanstead, but where people want sung, non-metrical psalmody to be performed by a choir and there isn't already a certain familiarity with Anglican Chant, plainsong seems to work better. I don't think I'd like to be limited to just one psalter, and I am grateful for the "multiplicity of translations" which others lament. I'm grateful, too, that in the Church of England we are free to use any translation of scripture that is not banned, subject to the approval of the incumbent as per Canon B5 -- and as yet, no translation has been banned.

Alas, there'll be none of it for me tomorrow morning as we have a gradual hymn instead of a psalm. But that's a post for another day...

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year

Christmas has come (though it isn't gone yet -- not until Epiphany), the various services at church have gone well, my students are still on break, and so I am going away for a few days.

I'm really, really looking forward to it. When I come back the "new" year must begin in earnest, nose back to the grindstone with teaching and rehearsals and practising and oh, some forms to fill out and send off for HMRC, apparently I might need to give them some tacks, but I probably haven't earned enough.

I'm not much of one for resolutions. I already tend toward excessive tweaking, chronic attempts to re-think, re-arrange, improve strategy, and I know that I'm also prone to a feeling of dismal failure if I don't live up to some arbitrary expectation I set for myself. So I'm not going to make any promises of one post per day, or per week, or anything like that.

That said, I would like to write here more. I've struggled to find a voice for this blog for a while now -- since near the end of my degree, really -- and I feel like it would be really good to get something going again.

I'm thinking about what to write. I need to be quite careful in writing about my work teaching, and my work at St Andrew's, because of course there are confidentiality issues in both cases, but are there aspects of it that I should be documenting? I'm not sure which of my other work is interesting; composing is something I tend to post about when I have actually written something, I do try to flag events I'm involved in but often fail to get around to it in time (with very low readership it doesn't seem to be very worthwhile). My recent spate of political or social commentary is not likely to be sustainable, though I don't guarantee I won't rant sometimes. I could write at some length about practice methods, but I don't know that I'd be contributing much; some of my thoughts on music in liturgy may be interesting but I suspect they echo work done by others. I am still keen on doing some more in-depth research into various forms of sung psalmody, but I don't seem to know where to start there either.

What would you like to see me write about here? If you could ask me anything about my work in music what would it be? I'd love some open-ended questions with which to get started.