Saturday, 31 December 2011

Seven Swans-a-Swimming

I think it's illegal to eat swans over here, except with special permission of the Queen or someone important. I'm told the ones on Wanstead Lake were swimming quite happily today; I didn't get there to have a look, myself.

Image from

Just a little something to bring in the New Year. The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols says "This may have been written for the rumbustious festival of the subdeacons/lay brothers on New Year's Day." Of course I would never encourage any early rumbustiousness*.

Verbum Patris Umanatur by artsyhonker

Verbum Patris umanatur, O! O!
Dum puella salutatur, O! O!
Salutata fecundatur viri nescia.
He! he! hei! nova gaudia!

Novus modus geniture, O! O!
Sed excedens ius nature, O! O!
Dum unitur creature Creans omnia.
He! he! hei! nova gaudia!

Audi partum praeter morem, O! O!
Virgo parit Salvatorem, O! O!
Creatura Creatorem, Patrem filia.
He! he! hei! nova gaudia!

In parente Salvatoris, O! O!
Non est parens nostri moris, O! O!
Virgo parit, nec pudoris marcent lilia.
He! he! hei! nova gaudia!

Homo Deus nobis datur, O! O!
Datus nobis demonstratur, O! O!
Dum pax terris nuntiatur celis gloria.
He! he! hei! nova gaudia!

The translation is, roughly:

The word of the Father is made man, maiden, conception, mumble, hurrah, new joy!

This is a new manner of birth, exceeding the power of nature, mumble Creator united with everything mumble, hurrah, new joy!

Hear of a birth mumble, a Virgin has borne the Saviour, mumble creature/Creator, daughter of the Father, hurrah, new joy!

Something about the parent of the Saviour being different from what we know as parenting, Virgin, lilies, hurrah, new joy!

God made man is given to us; this is demonstrated, peace on earth mumble glory in the heavens, hurrah, new joy!

No, I have never studied Latin. And the translation in the Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols is, as far as I can tell, not in the public domain.

*Any rumbustiousness I get up to tonight will have to be comparatively early, as tomorrow is Sunday and that means I will be at church making rather a lot of noise at everyone else's hangover.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Six Geese-a-Laying

More geese!?

This isn't the most popular tune for this particular carol; though it is in Carols for Choirs 1, I've never heard it sung in a service.

Any mother will tell you that "no crying he makes" is a complete fiction; it's bad theology to imply that the Christ child was not fully human, as well as fully divine. But I like this tune, so here you go.

Away in a manger by artsyhonker

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.
I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky,
And stay by my side until morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Five Gold Rings

Finally off the poultry! Though if you look closely there is the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, in this stained glass window of the Annunciation.

This is very much a mixture of old and new. The words date from the 15th Century. The music dates from 2010 and is by one Chris Upton, who has released it under my favourite license, CC BY-SA.

I Syng of a Mayden by artsyhonker

I syng of a mayden
þat is makeles,
kyng of alle kynges
to here sone che ches.

He cam also stylle
þer his moder was
as dew in aprylle,
þat fallyt on þe gras.

He cam also stylle
to his moderes bowr
as dew in aprille,
þat fallyt on þe flour.

He cam also stylle
þer his moder lay
as dew in Aprille,
þat fallyt on þe spray.;

Moder & mayden
was neuer non but che –
wel may swych a lady
Godes moder be.

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
For her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother's bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
Was never none but she;
Well may such a lady
God's mother be.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Four calling birds

As usual, no birds. I guess turtle doves just aren't nocturnal...

Image from

I know about this piece of music thanks to Francis Roads, Tim Henderson and the London Gallery Quire, where I play serpent and occasionally sing a bit or wave my arms about.

I've transposed it down a semi-tone for comfort, and am playing the instrumental bassline on the horn rather than a string instrument; a string instrument or maybe a bassoon would be more historically accurate but I don't play them! And the serpent is a bit too honky for this piece. While the tune, Epiphany, is anonymous, it puts me very much in mind of the music of Phocion Henley.

I love Wesley's words, which remind me of part of the Benedictus:
"Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Wesley might not have been writing about the Holy Innocents, but I think it's an appropriate text for this day.

Sons of men, behold from far by artsyhonker

Sons of men, behold from far,
Hail the long-expected star!
Jacob's star, that gilds the night,
Guides bewildered nature right.
Fear not hence that ill should flow;
Wars and pestilence below;
Wars it bids, and tumults cease,
Ush'ring in the Prince of Peace.

Mild it shines on all beneath,
Piercing through the shades of death;
Scatt'ring error's wide-spread night,
Kindling darkness into light.
Nations all, remote and near,
Haste to see your God appear:
Haste, for Him your hearts prepare,
Meet Him manifested there.

There behold the Day-spring rise,
Pouring light upon your eyes:
See it chase the shades away,
Shining to the perfect day.
Sing, ye morning stars again,
God descends on earth to reign,
Deigns for man His life to employ;
Shout, ye sons of God, for joy.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Three French Hens

No, I don't have three French hens. I don't have three English hens. I don't even have one hen, of any description. I'm still eating leftover goose, if you must know.

I've been eating leftover goose, and trying to catch up with the world, and getting discouraged about politics. The Saviour of the world may have been born but looking at the state of things, "salvation" is not the word that comes to mind... and I know, I'm not suffering, I'm eating goose for crying aloud, but that doesn't actually make it all right that other people are worrying about how they're going to get health care, how they're going to feed their families, how they're going to find somewhere safe to sleep.

Image from

I don't have a constructive response to this. My instinct is to hold the ones I care about and tell them it will be okay...

So here, have a lullaby.

Swete was the song the Virgine soong by artsyhonker

Swete was the song the Virgine soong
When she to Bethlem Juda came
And was deliver'd of hir Sonne
Who blessed Jesus hath to Name.
"Lulla, lulla, lulla, lullaby,
Lulla, lulla, lulla, lullaby,
Swete Babe!" soong shee;
"My Sonne and eke my Saviour borne,
Which hath vouchsafed from an high
To visitt us that ware forlorne.
La lulla, la lulla, la lullaby,
Swete Babe!" soong she,
And rockt him featly one hir knee.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Two Turtle Doves

Okay, there are no turtle doves in this file. Just me, and a serpent.

The version I sing isn't exactly what's on that ancient manuscript; but it is good fun.

Resonet in Laudibus by artsyhonker

Resonet in laudibus
Cum jucundis plausibus
Sion cum fidelibus
Apparuit quem genuit Maria!

Christus natus hodie
Ex Maria Virgine
Sine virili semine:
Apparuit quem genuit Maria!

Pueri, concinite,
Nato Regi, psallite,
Voce pia dicite:
Apparuit quem genuit Maria!

Sion, lauda Dominum,
Salvatorem hominum,
Purgatorem criminum:
Apparuit quem genuit Maria!

Deo laus et gloria,
Virtus et victoria,
Perpete memoria:
Apparuit quem genuit Maria!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

Well, not quite a partridge. We had goose for dinner.

Not quite a pear tree, either, but holly:

Image from

Green Grow'th the Holly by artsyhonker

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Flash Compline: 8.30pm, Friday 23rd December, Whittington Garden

There will be a Flash Compline service at 8.30pm on Friday, 23rd December, at Whittington Garden, near Cannon St rail - here's a map.

Music: We will use this setting of Compline.

If you want to let us know you're coming then respond to the Facebook Event or reply to this post, but no need to confirm: you can just turn up, if you'd rather.

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.


Sunday, 11 December 2011

Flash Compline: 8:30pm, Monday 12th December.

There will be a Flash Compline service at 8.30pm on Monday, 12th December, at Christ Church Greyfriars, near St Paul's tube - 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.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

When you made this planet

Some time ago, Thomas Thurman drew my attention to a text to try setting as a hymn. The story behind the text, as well as the text itself, is here.

After spending the requisite months sitting in a "drafts" drawer while I got distracted by other things, and some help with editing from various people (Dr Christopher Parker at St Mary's Addington was particularly helpful), I think it's about as finished as it is going to get.

I've called the tune "Hitchin", because that is the birthplace of the author of the text, and because clever Latin things ended up looking like "Cum hoc tellure" which, let's face it, isn't going to be a giggle-proof title for working with choirs.

Today the some churches celebrate or remember the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this morning after the necessary clarification about just whose conception this refers to (the Immaculate Conception is not the same as the Virgin Birth), I was thinking about that. I was thinking about how it is that when someone does something wonderful, or fulfills what we might call God's purposes for them, we are sometimes tempted to say "Oh, but they're special, we could never do that..." rather than being inspired by their actions. For me, the amazing thing about Mary is not that God chose her or somehow set her aside -- whether or however that happened -- but that she said YES. "Let it be unto me according to thy will," she said.

Or possibly, in today's language, "My Lord, I pray my life will mirror you."

Here is a .pdf of the music.
Here is a .midi file of robots singing it.
As usual, the material is CC BY-SA.

Monday, 5 December 2011


1) Flash Compline again tonight. Christ Church Greyfriars, 9.15pm. Details here. We arrive quietly, and depart in silence.

2) I have a very rudimentary page on Bandcamp now. It lacks a biography, pictures, that sort of thing. The one track there is one that you can also download for free from Soundcloud; I'm using it as a sort of test, to play around with things like artwork. So it's very un-pretty right now, but it's there. Advice, other than "do more stuff with it", would be welcome.

3) The Advent Psalms are going well but I am, obviously, not going to have the booklet done by the start of Advent. I will try to finish something by January, so that the next time Year B comes around I can just point at it. This may seem like a long way off but these lectionary cycles seem to go awfully fast if you ask me. If I do the same thing for Lent I will try and get it finished with more time to spare.

4) I've started using my Dreamwidth account as a sort of notes repository for creative projects. The idea is that I update the post for each project as I go along, so that my various notes are all in one place. I can make the entries private or restrict them to an access list of Dreamwidth/OpenID users if I need to put more sensitive information in them.

5) Everything Takes Longer.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Flash Compline: 9.45pm, Wednesday 30-11-11.

There will be a Flash Compline service at 9.45pm on Wednesday, 30th November, outside St James Garlickhythe, near Mansion House Tube station. Here is a map.

Music: We will use this setting of Compline. I will have a small number of spare copies, which you can purchase from me 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 available from the C of E website here on the day, if you're worried we won't have enough music or you'd rather just use the words.


Friday, 25 November 2011

Please can I keep it? It followed me home...

I was feeling a little unfocused and restless yesterday so decided to go for a walk after lunch.

I wandered past the charity shop on Leytonstone High Road, as I sometimes do, and decided to have a peek inside.

I came home with a musical instrument. This is why I shouldn't be allowed out of the house unsupervised...

At first glance, it just looks like a box.

A box with strange protrusions and fittings, mind, but a box all the same.

But this is what happens when you get it open!

The "lid" goes all the way vertical...

...then folds backward. Release the little metal tab at the top...

...and you get a bellows!

The bellows are operated with one hand while the other plays the 3/4-size keys.

I don't have enough hands to play and pump and hold the camera.

Brother James's Air by artsyhonker

From what the internet tells me, this is a very simple portable harmonium. More complicated ones have drone stops which, when activated, sound a drone note constantly, and some also have couplers or even separate sets of reeds to give various different textures.

I'm quite pleased with this: I finally have a keyboard instrument that can play more than one note at once which fits on my bicycle. The fact that it doesn't require electricity is an added bonus. I think it will be really good for folk music and some bits of community music, and it suits me a lot better than trying to learn the guitar would (though that is still on the wishlist). But to be honest, I probably would have bought it anyway; I have a soft spot for weird and wonderful instruments, even if they're not all that practical.

There are a few very low and very high notes where the tuning is a bit of an issue, and I'm wondering exactly what is involved in maintenance of an instrument like this. It looks like flathead screwdrivers are required for taking it apart, but I haven't done more than give it a superficial dusting.

(Some of the alignment is messed up in this post, but to fix it I would have to re-upload all of those pictures, so I'm not going to. Sorry. It's staying crooked.)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

St Andrew's Carol Service

This service will draw on a mix of Advent and Christmas repertoire, including the Advent Prose and Berlioz's Shepherd's Farewell, as well as a West Gallery carol and traditional hymns.

There will also be a rehearsal at 3.30pm on 11th December. All are welcome to join the choir. If you can't make all the rehearsals but would still like to take part, please speak to me.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Stuck in the middle with You

Various folks have blogged on David Cameron's favourite Bible passage, and the comments that this is the "central message" of the Bible. I did enjoy Archdruid Eileen's viewpoint.

I suppose it isn't a definitive answer, but apparently someone asked Jesus what the central message of the Bible is. Or at least, the greatest commandment.

I shouldn't like to argue.

Friday, 28 October 2011

I hate cancelled services... we are still going to have Evensong at St Paul's-in-the-Camp this evening.

I have no wish to compete with the cathedral, but I also don't want anyone turning up thinking there is a service and then finding out there isn't one. That has happened to me so many times, in so many contexts, that I can't bring myself to take the risk of it happening to someone else.

I do plan to attend the Evensong inside St Paul's at 5pm, but then, I really really like Evensong.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Friday Evensong at St Paul's-in-the-Camp, 6.15 for 6.30pm.

EDIT, FRIDAY AFTERNOON: It turns out St Paul's are having Evensong tonight after all, but didn't tell anyone about it until late morning. While I don't wish to compete with them, I think we should go ahead and have Evensong outside anyway.

On Friday we will have Evensong outside St Paul's. While the Cathedral has said they will be open for worship, I don't believe they are having Evensong tomorrow, so I want to go ahead with this. It's the day for St Simon and St Jude, apostles.

Meet at 6.15pm for 6.30; outside M&S seems to be a reasonable place for it, although we may need to move (especially if there are enough of us to obstruct the walkway).

You can print a copy of the liturgy from here ON THE DAY or from here today (Thursday). Alternately you can follow along online using the same links on a smartphone or using one of the various Common Worship smartphone apps.

The really simple way to do it will be to bring a Book of Common Prayer, though. I have a small number of spares. The Psalm will be Psalm 119.1-16. The Old Testament reading will be 1 Maccabees 2.42-66 and the New Testament reading will be Jude 1-4,17-25.

I did not choose these readings; I want to use the same ones that will be on the Church of England website, for ease of letting others follow along at home or elsewhere. Readers for the readings will be assigned when we meet.

We will sing the psalm and canticles from the Parish Psalter. If you have a Parish Psalter please bring it, even if you don't sing! These are harder to get hold of than the BCP and I only have a small number.

Unless a conductor volunteers in the next couple of hours, we will stick to the ferial responses. Please bring music to these if you have it; it's hard to get hold of online and I only have a small number of copies. I will cantor if there are no clergy there who are willing/able to do so.

We will use the same hymns as on Sunday and Wednesday. If you want to print the words to these yourself they are available in .pdf format here. If you want to bring a hymnal to sing harmony I prefer New English Hymnal (note that some of the words are different).

If you don't have any of these bits of pieces, you can still come! Really. You can look over my shoulder, or someone else's, or participate in a more reflective manner.

It would be helpful to have a rough idea how many people will be coming along, so if you are planning on it please do leave a comment here. Anonymous comments are fine.

If there are enough singers we might do an anthem -- same one as yesterday -- but be aware that if numbers are low this will be cut.

6.15 for 6.30pm outside M&S, St. Paul's-in-the-Camp
Liturgy here on the day.
Bring BCP, Parish Psalter, and ferial responses if you have them.
Further updates from @artsyhonker and @FlashEvensong on Twitter.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Wednesday: St Paul's-in-the-Camp Flashmob Evensong

On Wednesday we will have Evensong outside St Paul's -- unless the cathedral has opened for worship again, of course, in which case we may as well join them inside.

Meet at 5pm for 5.15; outside M&S seems to be a reasonable place for it, although we may need to move (especially if there are enough of us to obstruct the walkway).

You can print a copy of the liturgy from here ON THE DAY or from here today (Tuesday). Alternately you can follow along online using the same links on a smartphone or using one of the various Common Worship smartphone apps.

The really simple way to do it will be to bring a Book of Common Prayer, though. I have a small number of spares. The Psalm will be Psalm 119:145-176. The Old Testament reading will be @ Kings 9:1-16. The New Testament reading will be Acts 27:1-26. I did not choose these readings; I want to use the same ones that will be on the Church of England website, for ease of letting others follow along at home or elsewhere. Readers for the readings will be assigned when we meet.

We will sing the psalm and canticles from the Parish Psalter. If you have a Parish Psalter please bring it, even if you don't sing! These are harder to get hold of than the BCP and I only have a small number. Ditto the music for the ferial responses. I will cantor if there are no clergy there who are willing/able to do so.

We will use the same hymns as on Sunday, mostly because I have about 20 hymn sheets and I don't want to waste them. If you want to print the words to these yourself they are available in .pdf format here. If you want to bring a hymnal to sing harmony I prefer New English Hymnal (note that some of the words are different).

If you don't have any of these bits of pieces, you can still come! Really. You can look over my shoulder, or someone else's, or participate in a more reflective manner.

If you want to join the choir for the anthem please contact @FlashEvensong on Twitter, who is organising that bit. I've said that if we don't have at least two strong readers per voice part it's better not to do the anthem. There is a poll here for you to sign up.

It would be helpful to have a rough idea how many people will be coming along, so if you are planning on it please do leave a comment here (even if you aren't planning to sing the anthem). Anonymous comments are fine.

5 for 5.15pm outside M&S, St. Paul's-in-the-Camp
Liturgy here on the day.
Bring BCP, Parish Psalter, and ferial responses if you have them.
Contact @FlashEvensong for choral anthem enquiries, poll here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Flashmob your own liturgy

Dashing this off very quickly, but here are some online resources for putting together your own flashmob services:

BCP Mattins

CW Morning Prayer

BCP Evensong

Compline (Trad language)

Compline (Modern language)

The Oremus Hymnal

Sunday, 23 October 2011

St Paul's Evensong at OccupyLSX

I didn't think, when I got up this morning, that I would somehow wind up leading a BCP Evensong at St Paul's Cathedral.

The cathedral has had Occupy LSX, a protest camp, on their doorstep for the past week. Last weekend the Canon Chancellor, Revd Dr Giles Fraser, told the police to leave the protesters alone. As the week has worn on and the tents have stayed up, the cathedral has been operating on a reduced schedule, and on Friday the Dean issued a statement saying it would have to close until further notice.

I have no strong criticism of the cathedral closing to sightseers; there is a point at which keeping things ticking over stops making economic sense, and though I am uncomfortable with entry fees for cathedrals I cannot condemn them without calling into question the legitimacy of thousands of smaller, parish-based fundraising efforts. Fair game.

But a cathedral is more than architecture and establishment. Cathedrals exist to serve the local community, as well as to support parish churches in their work. Their primary task is of public worship, and it is difficult to see how Occupy LSX are a significant threat to that. The supposed health and safety reasons for closure given by the cathedral haven't, to my knowledge, been specified in a way that would allow the protesters to improve matters, and so things have come to a sort of impasse.

Practising the organ this morning I half-joked on Twitter about being tempted to turn up at St Paul's and hold Evensong myself, if they weren't letting people in for services. Then I went back to practising, it being one of those mornings where I felt like I had someone else's fingers and feet, and the choir turned up and we rehearsed, and there was a service and afterwards tea and toast. I checked my phone before heading home and there seemed to be some positive response to the idea of an outdoor Evensong, and I began to think more seriously about it.

I'm accustomed to Evensong services of varying sizes. I knew that without any real idea of who was going to turn up, I wouldn't want to plan anything too complicated.. but there definitely wasn't time to select metrical psalms, so we'd have to do simple Anglican Chant (and hope for enough people who can make sense of it for it to work) or even just said psalms and canticles. I made a few more tentative tweets, putting out feelers to see who else might be interested. I tried to contact both St Paul's, and Occupy LSX, through Twitter, and got no response -- fair enough, both are busy organisations. But people who had been involved in the protest, and various clergy and churchy types online, seemed encouraging, so I decided to go for it.

At 12.12 I tweeted "Right. Evensong at @OccupyLSX outside St Pual's, 3.45 for 4pm. Please bring Parish Psalter & BCP if you have them." From there it was a matter of choosing hymns with words in the public domain and printing them, providing links to those and to the BCP liturgy for the day through the C of E website, making sure I had the readings and the Collect for the 21st Sunday after Trinity to hand, and the sort of low-grade terror at what I was doing that you might expect, complete with wildly beating heart and trembling hands. A lot of people were generally supportive but simply unable to get there due to geography or prior commitments. But people said they would come, and I turned up and they found me. Our numbers were small but mighty, and included an atheist and a Roman Catholic, as a typical Evensong at St Paul's well might! Apparently there had been some sort of praying and singing not too long before my arrival, but the clergyman involved was busy being interviewed by someone with a camera and I had come over all shy, so we decided just to get on with it. We chose an almost-quiet spot outside M&S and did just that.

And it was good. Christ is made the sure foundation was our introit, chosen because I love it and it is a good length, and one or two people did join us as we sang. There was a bit of informal awkwardness going from one bit of the service to the next -- I nearly forgot the psalm, think of it! -- but we chanted psalms and canticles in something resembling unison, and the ferial responses were fairly straightforward. The readings were Ecclesiastes Chapters 11 and 12, and St Paul's 2nd Letter to Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 1-7. One annoying photographer insisted on trying to ask us questions during the service, which I found a bit difficult -- I tried to explain we weren't finished, I think someone else went and talked to him and then came and joined us again. Instead of sermon (the epistle said it all with "The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.") or anthem we had Guide me, O thou great Jehovah and after the "Prayer for the Clergy and People" (rather apt I thought) and "A Prayer of St Chrysostom" and the Grace we sang O God, our help in ages past and went our respective ways -- some of us to the pub, to slake the thirst after righteousness (I'll get my coat), others off home or to other parts of the protest.

So, that was a pretty strange day. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Friday, 21 October 2011

By Popular Request: Gin Sandwich recipes

A while ago on Twitter, in one of those conversations that sometimes happens when I ought to be practising or tidying or some such thing, there was discussion of gin, and taking gin on trains, and so on. In the way of such things it got rather whimsical and somehow, I'm not sure how, ideas for gin sandwiches came up.

I'm pleased to say I have now tried two of the ideas, and they worked beautifully.

The first one is easy: slice cucumbers, soak them in gin, in the refrigerator, overnight. I don't mean "sprinkle some gin on them" I mean "put them in a container and fill it up until the gin covers the cucumbers". Then use these cucumbers in sandwiches, as you would normally use cucumbers. They seem to go very well with herby cream cheese, but I see no reason they couldn't be used with other sandwich ingredients.

The second sandwich idea is to make sloe gin jelly.

To do this I used Oetker's gelatine; it comes in a yellow box and has sachets in it. Each sachet says it will set one pint of liquid.

Mix one sachet of gelatine with about 150mL of hot water. You may need to stir quite a lot to dissolve it all. Add about 300mL gin. Set in the refrigerator for several hours. I had been hoping that the jelly would set hard enough to be sliced, but even with the reduced liquid the alcohol in the gin prevented that happening, so it was a spreadable jelly instead. However, it was very tasty! This works beautifully with good-quality sliced sandwich meat, particularly smoked varieties.

I don't know how long the cucumbers will take to go mushy, but if they don't they shouldn't spoil in any hurry. The jelly ought to stay good for a fair while, too. Basically it's hard for anything with that much alcohol in it to actually go off. Whether they keep depends more on supplies of bread, creamcheese and sliced sandwich meat!

There you have it. Gin sandwiches: the perfect treat when you get back from Evensong too tired to cook properly.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Metrical Psalms for Advent

I want to encourage the use of psalms in liturgy. To this end I have committed to compiling a small booklet of metrical psalms for use this coming Advent (Year B). As with everything else I publish I will release the work under a CC BY-SA licence so that other people can use it, free of charge, without having to bother me for permission.

I aim to have two settings of each of the psalms for the main Sunday morning service, one with a very well-known hymn tune and one perhaps a little less well-known (I might even write something myself). I will include full music, and also a "lead sheet" version with the melody line and chords. The psalms will have an optional refrain, so that they can be sung congregationally (without the refrain) or in the "responsorial" style with the choir/music group/whoever singing the verses, and the congregation joining in with the refrain. I used this method of metrical psalm singing quite successfully in my own parish, St Andrew's Leytonstone, during Lent.

There is a catch, however. Most of the public domain metrical settings of the psalms use language that, at best, is considered archaic. Some of the older settings are quite difficult to understand. While that might be all right for the choir at St Andrew's, where people have a fairly high tolerance for "old-fashioned" language, I do think it might be difficult in other contexts.

To this end I would like some modern metrical settings of the following psalms:

Advent I Psalm 80:1-8,18-20
Advent II Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
Advent III Psalm 126
Advent IV Psalm 89.1-4,19-26
(These are all from RSCM's "Sunday by Sunday", so please tell me if I've got the lectionary wrong...)

It would, of course, make sense to add these translations or paraphrases to Psalter Commons. Some of them have been shortened in order to be a sensible length for congregational worship; that's the lectionary's suggestion, not mine, so please feel free to include a bit more if the text sits better that way.

A modern metrical setting of the Magnificat (listed as an alternative to the psalm on Advent III or Advent IV) would also be useful, but this is not as crucial as there are serviceable settings already available in many hymnals (Timothy Dudley-Smith's "Tell out my soul" is perhaps the best known).

I've promised people I'll have this booklet done by mid-November, so I really, really need the text by the end of October. Do let me know if you'd like to help out.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A bit about why I use the CC licenses I do.

When I write music I release it under a Creative Commons license. I usually use a CC BY-SA license, known as Attribution-ShareAlike. This means people can use it, without first asking me, as long as they give me attribution and any derivative works they make are shared under a similar license. If I am using CC BY-SA then they are free to earn money for derivative works, but since they have to release those works under a similar license they are not going to be in a situation where they have a monopoly on the work. For example, a musician might get paid for recording one of my compositions -- this is a commercial use of the work -- but as they must allow others to use the recording they are not going to end up being the only supplier of it. The CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike ) license is more restrictive, and I rarely use it these days; I believe the drawbacks outweigh the benefits of restricting copyright in that way.

The reason for "giving my music away for free" is something I've been through a number of times, but a short summary is that it is more important to me that the music is heard and used than that I make money from it. People are not queuing up to pay me to write music and the writing I do is little enough, and sufficiently esoteric by mainstream standards (mostly choral music, mostly for use in churches), that I'm unlikely to make much money from it anyway. Like the majority of musicians throughout history, I earn more money from teaching and performing than from composing, publishing or recording. When I do write something, and someone uses it, I'm delighted. It would be great if they could chuck a fiver my way, but a lot of people are in the same boat I am, with little or no sheet music budget, so I'm not going to worry about it too much if they don't.

So, why do I use Creative Commons licenses rather than simply adding a preface to work saying that people are free to use it?

One is that the license information is easier to include on the work itself, so that in the event that it gets separated from the preface my intentions are still clear. (See Christ Has No Body Now On Earth But Ours for an example -- that work is four pages, but it wouldn't have been hard to include the license information on all of them, and anyway one page of it isn't that useful on its own.) This isn't a big deal for short pieces, but if I were to publish, say, a booklet of psalms for Advent, it's quite likely that some people would want to use -- and print -- only one or two pages from it. It makes sense to have licence information on all of them, rather than expecting people to remember where the music came from and come back to find it again.

Another reason is that the people at Creative Commons have done the research to make sure that their copyright statements are legally valid, whereas a simpler text statement may not be considered binding (particularly in areas of international jurisdiction). I've seen lots of plain text copyright statements that aren't absolutely clear whether, for example, an organist playing for a wedding which will be recorded is allowed to use the work if they are being paid. While I'm alive this isn't too bad, as people can contact me (I try to include an e-mail address on most paper copies of my work too), but after I'm dead if there is any lack of clarity people will have to wait seventy years for my work to become public domain. So there's a lot to be said for using a standardised license that others will be able to interpret and which has been formulated by people who understand the full legal implications.

I use a Creative Commons license because I want to give my work away and I want to do it with a minimum of fuss for myself and for others.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Your Commission, Should You Choose to Request It

An experiment:

I would like to write more music, particularly choral music. I would prefer to do this on commission, for a whole bunch of reasons. But my music is not well-known, and so I don't attract attention from people who have serious money to pay for commissions, on the whole. So far, every note I have ever written has been for free.

What if the money for commissions isn't quite so serious?

For £30, I will set up to 50 words of English for SATB, with or without a simple organ or piano accompaniment. I'm willing to do more complex compositions, or simpler ones, or other languages, but please do contact me about it -- Latin is easy, Russian much harder! You can see (and in some cases hear) examples of my other compositions by using the look what I made tag on this blog. That isn't a full list (I'm working on it; processing works that pre-date this blog is another thing that is easily pushed aside!), but it's something.

Your chosen text must be in the public domain, or you must have permission from the appropriate sources for me to set it. The copyright of the finished work will remain with me but I will release it under a CC BY-SA license, meaning that others can use it freely in derivative works, even for commercial purposes, as long as they acknowledge my work and share it similarly. So if you commission a choral work from me, you won't just be contributing to my livelihood, you'll be contributing to a body of publicly available art.

Any takers?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Who do you say that I am?

Who is considered "Christian"? Why do any of us care?

Edward Green wrote an interesting post about the UCCF's Doctrinal Basis, a sort of pseudo-creed which it seems is sometimes used as a litmus test of who is "in" and who is not at university Christian Unions.

Revd Green rightly points out that even the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a broader remit than that, stating that “All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.” I would agree that this is true, but I shy away from relying on the sacrament of baptism as a way of defining who is Christian, or rather, who is not.

The Salvation Army is one example of a non-sacramental movement that I would find difficult to classify as "not Christian". There are also Christian Quakers, and Christian Unitarians, and all sorts of people from all walks of life who consider themselves Christian in the sense of trying to follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth regardless of not sharing creedal beliefs. There are Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses; I've lived with the former and been friends with the latter and I am not willing to call either group "not Christian" because of their divergences from the creed I give my heart to. Quite frankly, if someone believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster but also self-identifies as Christian I am willing to consider them Christian.

There are a few reasons I have this attitude. One is that I believe God is ultimately ineffable and limitless. This puts everyone in a bit of a pickle as it's difficult to say anything meaningful about the nature of God without putting limits on God. If God is pink then God cannot be blue, but if God is limitless then God is both pink and blue. So while I am concerned with right belief, I try to sit lightly to it, if you will, remembering that we are all heretics.

Another reason is that the example Jesus set for us, if I am to believe scripture, points toward accepting others and treating them with respect and loving kindness regardless of their religious background. What is the point of my knowing what sort of Christian someone is? So often, this seems to be a case of trying not to associate with the "wrong" sort of people.

Sometimes this is out of a concern for sacramental purity: only baptised, confirmed Christians who have jumped through this hoop and that hoop are welcome at the Lord's table, says the Church. We mustn't "adulterate" the sacrament by allowing anyone who might have the wrong idea to try it for themselves, or by allowing anyone we aren't quite sure about -- sinners, gays, women -- to preside at the Eucharist. I think this is incredibly sad; we are all heretics, remember? and I would say we are also all sinners! But Jesus ate with society's outcasts and died as an outcast himself. He asked people to believe in him, but didn't demand they believed before feeding them. I have better things to do than try to follow obscure rules about who I may or may not eat with.

Sometimes the purity concerns seem to be more along the lines of worry that someone will come along and infect us with wrong belief. I can understand this a little better. If you have a nice comforting belief and someone comes along and questions the premises, then of course it's going to be unnerving. But scary and evil aren't the same thing, and building isolating walls around our faith does two things: it puts the community at risk of stagnation and idiosyncracy, and it gives people leverage over us. Now, I do think that people in community should give one another power; we are accountable to each other, we live together on this interconnected planet where there is only one flesh we can wound. But I don't think that power should extend as far as someone saying "Well, you aren't really Christian if you believe that. You don't belong here."

At Greenbelt, I went to a talk by Mark Vernon on fundamentalisms and boundaries. He described the difference between bounded sets and centred sets by talking about ways of keeping herds of cattle together in Australia. There are basically two strategies: you can build a fence, or you can sink a well. Then in the rest of his talk he went on to talk about how some people seem to need boundaries, how without boundaries we can't define what the church is or isn't and cross those boundaries to reach -- who? Other churches? the "unchurched"? I don't quite remember, to be honest, because for the rest of the talk I was thinking "OK, but what happens if we just sink a well?"

Boundaries make us feel safe, right enough, whether that's to do with purity of thought or purity of sacrament. It's natural enough to want to associate with the "right" kind of people. But dividing the sheep and the goats by doctrinal fences isn't, in the end, for us to do. The wheat and tares are not for us to sort out.

Instead we are told "by their fruits ye shall know them" and "love your neighbour as yourself". I hope that if people classify me as Christian it is not because I go to church to pray, or because I regularly receive Communion, or because I happen to agree with them on matters of doctrine or liturgy. When someone tells me that they are Christian, I consider it a statement of intent, not a statement of adherence to some orthodoxy or another. I am not a theologian and some would say I lack the education to make such assumptions. Nevertheless, I hope that if people classify me as Christian, it is because of my attempts, however frail or flawed the results might be, to live in the world as an example of God's love for the world.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Lost Link

Some time ago -- a year, two years? -- I came across an article on the technical demands of music. I think it might have been linked to from Elaine Fine's blog, Musical Assumptions (to which I commend you anyway), but I can't find it there.

I remember quite clearly that it used a typing analogy, comparing playing music to copy-typing, but in a specific rhythm, in time with others, with precise pressure on each key according to how bold the letters are on the page, and having to get everything right. It went into more detail than that and explained the process far better than I can.

I can't find it anywhere. Has anyone seen it?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Ssssssomething a little different

I'm trying to find more local teaching. Rather than having the same old boring poster for piano lessons I thought I'd advertise a bit differently...

I've chopped off the bottom line for security reasons as I don't want my telephone number all over the internet, but please leave a comment or contact me via twitter if you are interested in lessons!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Song for October Ending

In around 2006 I wrote this SATB setting of a poem by my grandmother. The weather is a bit autumnal here today and a few people were talking about things they like about autumn, so I thought I'd post it even though it's two months early.


For a season
cold rain imprisons us; our lives
circle around coffee cups,
blue teapots,
things simmering on the stove,
baking in the oven.

make jams, jellies and
radiant leaves
between slices of waxed paper.
Preserve the days.

Warmth imprints our lives
Warmth is the imprint
of our love.


I haven't made a recording, I ought to work on that at some stage.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Psalter Commons

I have a new project! It's called Psalter Commons and I would love your help with it.

I'd like the words of the psalms to be freely available for liturgy and study, but copyright law means the only truly free translations are quite old.

If you have translated or paraphrased a psalm or many psalms, please feel free to add the texts!
They don't need to have music, though if you do have music that's great too. If you know of existing public domain psalters not listed on the category page please add those, too, preferably with links. Using a wiki is easy and quicky, er, quick.

More background details:

I have often whinged about the lack of freely-accessible, modern-language, metrical settings of psalms available these days. The older psalms available in the public domain are glorious! I do love them, and I'm very glad to have a chance to sing them fairly regularly in London Gallery Quire (though I play the serpent more often than I sing, I still get to read the words as I usually play from a vocal score). However, the language is considered archaic by many, and in some cases the translations are a bit suspect too, compared to modern scholarship.

There are modern metrical translations. Some of them are even included in the Christian Copyright Licensing Initiative (CCLI), which means that for a fee and with a lot of paperwork, we're allowed to make copies of the words -- if we've already bought a copy of whatever book they're in. That's admirable, but for a small parish like St Andrew's it's still a pretty high barrier to use. Why not just release them under a CC-BY-SA license and let everyone use them? Then I would be able to write my own musical settings if I wanted to, or set them to existing hymn tunes where appropriate.

There are accessibility difficulties with prose translations, too. The Common Worship Psalter publication terms aren't too bad for liturgical use but if I want to use that material in a separate piece of music I have to write an ask for permission. The Coverdale psalms which are usually bound with the Book of Common Prayer, and those in the King James Authorised Version of the bible, are commonly thought to be in the public domain, but in the UK they're actually under strange special copyright laws which mean that, again, I would need to ask for permission to use them.

So, I was having my usual moan and a friend offered to set up and host a wiki. It seemed like a better idea than just whingeing, so I said yes.

I hope that Psalter Commons will eventually become a valuable resource for anyone interested in the psalms for study and liturgical purposes. It will take a lot more work than I could do myself, which is why a wiki makes so much sense -- now others who are interested can join in. Please do, and please send this page to others who might be interested.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Alive and well.

I'm not in London at the moment, and where I am is perfectly safe.

St Andrew's Leytonstone will be open tomorrow from 11am to 3pm for prayer and for discussing concerns and responses to the London riots.

I might do a more in-depth post later. In the meantime if you want to help please see for information on how to do so.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Multi-tracking chant experiment

This is a brief experiment with multi-tracking chant.

Creator lucis optime (English) by artsyhonker

You see, I've got this hare-brained idea about podcasting a sung Compline online, possibly in some kind of Whitacre-style virtual choir. That's hard to coordinate, with chant: the pulse is directed by the words, so metronome markings are no help, for starters. But gathering together a little schola cantorum to come and sing with me in person once a week or once a month seems equally daunting. And I worry that singing Compline by myself is just going to sound a bit daft; there are too many responsorial bits, really.

So I thought I'd take something simple and see whether I can sing chant with myself, so to speak. In went the headphones and out came the hymnal to select something I'd not sung before. The results are... instructive, really. This will need a lot of work on intonation and timing before I'm happy to do an entire Compline. I did actually cheat and "mute" some sections of some voices in one or two places where the timing was just unbearably out of sync; I didn't do any other fancy stuff, though. What you hear is what I sang.

I guess if I want an online Compline to be a recording of an actual prayer, rather than something that takes hours of editing and re-recording to get into acceptable shape for posting online, I need to find some people to sing with me, or get used to the idea of singing alone.

There are, of course, other folks who put this sort of thing online. Most seem to be regular "Compline choirs" in the US, who rehearse regularly, or monastic groups with their daily Office available as podcasts. I'm not entirely sure how what I want to offer would be significantly different, and maybe I need to figure that out, too. On a very basic level, I'd like it to be something that encourages people to join in. That means providing links to the text and preferably to notation with the text underlaid, not just an audio file as I have above.

Friday, 1 July 2011

A little something for Canada Day

I had a horn teacher who had the custom, on Canada Day, of taking his canoe out to the middle of the lake and playing "O Canada" on the horn.

I lack a boat, the nearest lake has rather a lot of traffic noise and I'm a bit disorganised. So instead, here is a recording of me playing "O Canada" on the serpent.

O Canada by artsyhonker

Monday, 27 June 2011

Dances, not dirges

On Saturday I had the pleasure of conducting the <a href="">London Gallery Quire</a>, not once but twice. We started with a service of Mattins at St John's, Fulham, and then in the evening made our way to St Peter's in the Forest for a concert as part of their Flower Festival.

Elsewhere there are conversations going on about music and liturgy, and as usual there is a certain amount of lamenting over organists who refuse to play anything "modern", the boring drudgery of most hymns, and the problems this causes in making the church seem outdated or old-fashioned among young people.

As an aside I would like to note that, within the Church of England, canon law is quite explicit on the matter. I don't have the specific reference to hand, but the final responsibility for choice of music lies with the incumbent, not with the organist. Any organist who point-blank refuses to comply with the wishes of the incumbent in this might do well to consider whether the position is right for them. In practice, this can get difficult: the liturgy, the "work of the people", is collaborative and no one person can easily be held responsible if it just doesn't work... but that is another discussion. My point is that simply blaming the organist for the overall feel of the liturgy is a cop-out.

That said, organists (and other church musicians) do have a huge impact and  responsibility in worship. Problems with the perception of liturgy as drab or outdated are, in my opinion, usually systemic, but an organist may have more
influence within that system than others.

What does all this have to do with the lovely West Gallery music I was conducting at the weekend? More than you might think. Some of the metrical psalms and non-conformist hymns we were singing are direct precursors to what most people would recognise as "traditional" hymnody. Regular metrical texts with fairly simple (even if lively) rhythms are easy for people to sing together, and that is crucially important for congregational music. The more florid and complex styles which arose out of the West Gallery tradition, while glorious and great fun, weren't so easily learned or understood by congregations and I think this is a large part of why the Victorians slammed on the brakes. The tension in liturgy between rich complexity and accessibility is not limited to this period, or even to music. But metrical hymns are a very good and versatile compromise.

I believe many of the complaints launched against "traditional" hymns are groundless when those hymns are played and sung appropriately. Understanding their roots in folk melodies and dances (yes, I said dances) is important. The organ is perhaps not the instrument best suited to conveying the rhythmic vitality of this music, but it is not an impossible tool for the job. It is possible to be creative with articulation to imitate a strong pulse without distorting the timing; even doing this for one or two hymns per service would help to counter the impression of a wall of noise with no real beat.

Also important is remembering that congregations do not have an unlimited lung capacity. One December I was somewhat taken aback by the extremely slow speed at which I heard "Lo, he comes with clouds descending" sung, and then even more discouraged when I looked around on YouTube to find a version at a more lively tempo and found dozens which, like the live version I had encountered, were painfully slow. I am not certain whether the habit of playing most things too slowly in parish churches is from trying to imitate cathedral hymnody, where the acoustics often demand a slow tempo, whether it is because so many organists are like me -- pianists who have taken up the organ later in life and simply cannot play the pedals that fast -- or whether it is simply musical laziness, following the congregation (who are following the organ) so that things get slower and slower. All of these are, in my opinion, bad reasons to play everything slowly. Cathedrals are wonderful but they are not the same as parish churches, and imitating cathedral-style hymnody while disregarding local circumstances is foolish. Pedals are wonderful too but if you can't play them nimbly, I suggest that discretion may be the better part of valour. Congregations are wonderful but left to their own devices will tend to sing too slowly.

None of this is meant to suggest that no hymns should ever be played slowly; there is some music which works better at a slower pace. My point is merely that if someone thinks all traditional hymns are boring drudgery, the problem might be more to do with how they have heard hymns played and sung than with the century in which the hymns were written.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Big Hymn Sing 2011

This Saturday there will be a Big Hymn Sing at 1pm at St Andrew's Leytonstone. The congregation have sponsored about 30 hymns and I will add some more that I think are worth singing, for a total of about 48.

The more people turn up the more fun we'll have! We'll sing for about twenty minutes at a time and then have a ten minute break; Café Refresh will be open, and I hope people will feel free to pop in and out. Donations raised will go toward organ repairs.

This week, I will be mostly practising...

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Obligatory Rapture Post

First of all, I don't really believe in this rapture stuff. I've mostly been ignoring it.

But, just for the record: if the "righteous" or the elect or whatever are taken up into Heaven and everyone else (atheists, heretics, sinners, quarrelers, people who like "Jerusalem" and so on and so forth) is left on earth to await some final judgement day, I'd rather stay here.

There'll be a lot of work to do.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Stop, collaborate and listen

David Sinden has a series of blog posts recording different stops on various organs, one at a time so that you can really hear the character of the stop. It seemed like a good project, so I decided to try and record some of the stops on the organ at St Andrew's.

Here, then, is the Oboe stop on the swell box. This is probably an original stop on this instrument.

Swell Oboe 8 playing Stanley by artsyhonker

Apologies for the whooshing noise. The bellows are in need of serious repair, but we're a very small parish and the repairs aren't cheap so for now we just have to put up with it. In services, I usually turn the organ off completely after the gradual hymn, so that the Gospel reading and the sermon are a bit easier for people to hear, then turn it on again during the Peace before the Offertory hymn.

The piece is the beginning of a voluntary by John Stanley, whose (manuals-only) voluntaries I generally enjoy. I suppose I should find a pedal-only piece for another stop recording, I am meant to be getting better at this business of playing notes with my feet.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

A nice afternoon out

If you're thinking about coming to Evensong tomorrow (St Mary's Rotherhithe, SE16 4JE at 6pm on Sunday) why not stop by the Brunel Museum first? They open until 5pm, leaving just enough time for a quick half pint at The Mayflower before the service starts.

I certainly fancy a wander around the museum. I wonder if I can convince someone to carry the serpent so I'm not too knackered to play it later!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

London Gallery Quire Evensong

London Gallery Quire will be singing an Evensong at St Mary's Rotherhithe this Sunday, 8th May, at 6pm. I'm really looking forward to it!

Here's a very rough sample of one of the pieces. This is just me singing the parts, one take each, so the tuning isn't amazing, the timing is ragged and some of the words aren't very clear. But it's such a wonderful little piece I wanted people to be able to hear it!

Blest who with generous pity glows by artsyhonker

EDIT: The embed thing doesn't seem to be working but here is a link to the file at Soundcloud.

You can download a PDF of the music from the LGQ website if you want to follow along. The more observant may notice that I've put the whole thing down a tone and then transposed the bassline up, in order to accommodate my vocal range.

If you want to hear it done right you'll have to come to Evensong!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Life as usual

This morning I drifted in and out of groggy sleep... you know the sort, when you've set the alarm with the best of intentions but don't actually have to get up right away and a few more minutes sleep seem the better option. I heard someone on the radio speaking of a death, of rejoicing in the streets, and thought, "Oh, that'll be Osama bin Laden, then" before rolling over, too somnolent to have any strong opinion. So it was no real surprise to me later to find Twitter all a-tweet with the news.

It may be just the peer selectiion effect, of course, but the overwhelming impression I got was of righteous dismay at reactions to the news. Choice verses from Proverbs were being quoted, as well as one 9/11 survivor who was just saddened to see yet another person killed. Then, of course, there were the worthy objections to someone, even a terrorist, being killed without a trial -- though others rightly questioned whether a fair trial would have been possible. And of course there were the pragmatic voices, pointing out that the result of vengeance, of making a martyr of a charismatic leader, can only be further bloodshed as the cycle of violence continues.

All of these are entirely correct, of course.

Participation in tit-for-tat wars is almost never a good idea. Osama bin Laden may well have been an extremist who doesn't represent the views of the vast majority of Muslims, but there will still be extremists who are upset and angered by his death. I can't say that makes me feel any safer, in London.

A fair trial may well have been difficult to ensure, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have been attempted. Justice and vengeance are not the same thing. Was it truly impossible to capture this man? One argument I saw said that if he had been captured and detained, there would have been countless hostages taken in order to demand his release. But keeping in mind the pragmatists, aren't we all now hostage to those who would retaliate?

Prooftexting is rarely helpful, but the point so many people tried to make today -- that Osama bin Laden was a human being and it is wrong to rejoice in his violent death -- is one I agree with. I don't really mind whether you couch this in theological terms, stating that every creature is a beloved child of God, made in God's image and therefore worthy of love and respect, or whether less theist principles about the dignity and worth of human beings or the senselessness of violence are more agreeable to you. If you were saddened, disgusted, frustrated or dismayed at the triumphant celebrations of killing, rest assured that you were not alone. I was unsurprised, but certainly disappointed. Humanity should be able to do better than this.

It is seductively easy to talk online with my peers and sigh and tut about people's reactions, though. "What is the world coming to?" we ask, as if we have never cheered at another's loss or our own gain. It takes little effort to disapprove of the lack of any attempt at a trial, fair or not. It is not difficult to chime in with my own doubts about whether the lack of this one person really makes the world a safer place.

None of that is enough, though. Peace will not be achieved by spending a day or a week criticising the sorts of decisions most of us hope or pray we never have to make. Justice will not be served by focusing on the end result of a systemic culture of competition where might is taken as right. Those people whose raucous glee so upsets us will not become more compassionate as a result of our condemnation, however righteous we might feel about it.

It is not enough to sigh and shake our heads and go back to life as usual. "Life as usual" is part of the problem. "Life as usual" got us where we are. Life as usual means nothing will change, for us or for those we eagerly criticise or all too readily fear.

People hurt one another because they feel threatened. People are vulnerable to extremist ideologies because they feel threatened. Wherever people do not have enough to eat or drink, wherever people are denied access to medical care, wherever people struggle to have even their basic needs met, there will be strife, warfare, and suffering. And all that need happen for suffering and evil to exist is for good people to do nothing. We are all interconnected and our daily actions affect six billion other people (and counting). These problems are systemic and we are part of the system, like it or not. It's up to us to change it.

Instead of continuing with life as usual, we need to take positive steps toward creating a better world. A culture of peace will take root where there is trust and cooperation. A culture of justice will grow when we honestly examine our own actions and choose fairness over giving ourselves some advantage. A culture of compassion will thrive when we treat one another with loving kindness despite the risks, despite the costs.

Let's make "life as usual" something that we can all live with.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Adventures in hymn selection

In the Common Worship lectionary there are two options for Eastertide. One uses an Old Testament reading, a reading from Acts, and a Gospel reading each week. The other uses an epistle instead of the Old Testament. The point is that Acts is required.

Somehow, I thought we were using the Old Testament readings, and chose hymns accordingly. So this morning we had a lovely reading from Acts, then a letter to Peter or someone, then a gradual hymn which was very much related to the Old Testament reading we hadn't just heard.

Mix-ups do happen. I planned that we would sing "Allelyua, sing to Jesus" as the Communion hymn on Easter Sunday -- what can I say? I like to get as much of that A-word in as I can now we're allowed to say it again. When I had a closer look at it the night before, I realised that the words to verse two are very much more appropriate for Ascension, particularly "Though the cloud from sight received him when the forty days were o'er". Oops! Thankfully I caught that one in time to change it.

I usually choose hymns in advance, about a month at a time, sending the list to the vicar for approval (canon law means the incumbent does have the final say). Occasionally we end up caught in the guessing game of trying to figure out which hymns the choir and congregation will already know, and then find out that no, it's just us who think of some hymn tune as very well-known. I would have expected them to know NUN DANKET ALL for "Jesus, these eyes have never seen", for example, but at rehearsal on Thursday that turned out not to be the case. We used another Common Meter tune instead, there are enough of them about that it wasn't a problem!

The other thing that has happened sometimes is that I've chosen carefully, the vicar has given a thumbs-up to the choices, and then on Sunday morning we both wonder what on earth we were thinking! Sometimes I can follow the thread of my thoughts backward, sometimes not.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

On acknowledgement

On Thursday I got an e-mail from someone. He was writing to tell me he'd found my piece Crux Fidelis on the Choral Public Domain Library a few months ago, and had used it in the liturgy for Good Friday at the church where he's organist. It went well and they intend to use it again next year.

It felt really wonderful to be thanked, and even just to know that my music is being used. I know others have used that piece this year, but they're all friends or acquaintances. Of course I'm glad they like it and use it, but in my head it feels like strangers liking my music enough to use it is another level. One of the difficulties of putting my work online is that I never really know whether it is getting used. Oh, SoundCloud has some stats for listens and downloads, but once a track has been downloaded I have no idea how often it's played. CPDL doesn't seem to offer any stats, but even if they did, there's a long way between downloading a piece of music and having a choir sing it!

If there were such a thing, I'd be tempted to use a Creative Commons license where people can do what they like with my music as long as they tell me, somehow. As things currently stand I'm reliant on etiquette.

Perhaps, though, it's just as well that such a license doesn't exist. Having to let the creator know what's happening might be enough to put people off using the work, after all, and if it comes to a choice between the music being heard and my hearing about it, I think I'd choose the former.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A creative response to copyrighted lyrics...

Eric Whitacre wrote this music to fit the poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost. Rather stupidly, Robert Frost's estate told him that he couldn't use it until it becomes public domain in 2038.

So he asked Charles Anthony Silvestri to write a new poem to fit, using the same meter and some of the same words... this is the result:

The whole virtual choir thing is pretty darn awesome, too.

(Hat tip to @elmyra who brought the post on BoingBoing to my attention.)

Ever onwards...

Miss Music Nerd

This badge from Miss Music Nerd pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject. Alleluia, I survived! Like her, I'm also left with a rather large "to do after Holy Week" list that needs tackling. I think mine starts with tidying up the music room, I'm sure it had a floor once. I did take Easter Monday as a day to be lazy at home, and it felt decidedly odd not to be thinking of everything in terms of the next church service.

I couldn't have managed it without the choir, though. They were stellar in putting up with rehearsals before every service and with my relative unfamiliarity with the pattern of Holy Week at St Andrew's, and with keeping the practical choir stuff under control so I didn't have to play herd-the-choristers alongside playing the organ. Really they deserve this badge as much as I do.

Instead, they got glittery cupcakes. Hopefully that will do!

Friday, 22 April 2011

In the great congregation I will praise...

Though my diocesan cathedral in Chelmsford is a bit of a trek for me, I'm privileged in London to be within easy travel distance of both St Paul's Cathedral and Southwark Cathedral.
Yesterday, partly out of curiosity and partly out of a desire to attend a service that I couldn't mess up by playing the organ in the wrong place, I attended the Chrism Mass (actually called "The Renewal of Ordination Vows and the Blessing of the Oils" on the order of service) at Southwark Cathedral. In the Church of England, this is the service at which Chrism oils are blessed and at which clergy renew their ordination vows. It was a good service, and I'm glad that I went. The Mass setting by Langlais was perhaps a tad inaccessible, but if you can't sing Latin and some crunchy harmonies when you've got several hundred clergy who all know what the words mean, when can you sing them? Certainly there were bowed heads when the Sanctus came around, so I'm sure the vast majority knew what was going on.

Accessibility was also my concern with the Psalm. The choir sang their verses of Psalm 23 beautifully enough that, at first, I wondered whether my previous disdain for responsorial psalmody might be unjustified. I don't know whose setting it was; it isn't the one in the only book of responsorial psalmody I own, and by the time I've looked it up anywhere else I'll probably have forgotten it. It was simple, the text was clear, and when the choir broke into four-part harmony for the last four lines it was simply sublime; I think it was some of the best choral singing I heard during the service.

Why, then, interrupt this with a congregational response? The response itself was interesting enough, but I struggled to remember it correctly after hearing it twice and singing it once. Perhaps I'm just getting too dependent on having dots in front of me! But switching from unmetered chant to a metrical response without some sort of indication of tempo is hard in a small congregation and even harder in a large one. I felt like an unwieldy, oversized ox in a specialist china shop for dolls. I value congregational participation in the psalms, but given the nature of most of the congregation -- ordained clergy and the odd "church geek" layperson such as myself -- I think that just the chant without any congregational singing might well have been participatory enough. It would have been better had the response had some sort of metrical introduction, but even that might not be heard clearly in an echo-y cathedral with an organ. I was too far away to see the musical director well enough to follow any directions given to the choir.

(The psalm was also labeled as Psalm 133 -- a wonderful psalm to use at a Chrism Mass, given the focus on unity and the imagery of oil -- but the psalm they sang was definitely Psalm 23. I can only attribute this to a clerical error!)

By contrast, I absolutely loved the hymnody; there is something about singing hymns with several hundred other people singing their hearts out that is just too good for words. I was disappointed we didn't make it to the end of "Lift high the cross" (which I've sung so seldom I didn't actually remember the tune) and none of the hymns were real favourites of mine, but there was none of the lumbering uncertainty I felt during the psalm. Ordinarily I prefer good metrical hymnody in full parish churches to cathedrals, for some of the same acoustic, aesthetic reasons I didn't like the psalm response: in a big echo-y space, chances are you've got to go slowly enough to spoil the line, and if the place isn't absolutely rammed (and even sometimes when it is) people tend to sing quietly under their breath so that the general effect is that of an indecisive jellyfish; I usually end up listening carefully for the organ and choir and trying to stick with them while people around me mumble into their hymn books, and I really struggle if there's a tune I don't know. But in this instance everyone was singing, the tempo was on the whole right for the space without being too slow to get through a line in one breath, and it was all quite wonderful. I really enjoyed being able to sing without feeling like I had to take the lead for twelve people sitting near me who had no idea what the tune was, and being able to let my voice follow others when I didn't know the notes. Maybe this is what hymns were like, or could be like, when there was more general enthusiasm about singing. Maybe this is what hymns can still be like if people can be convinced to sing! It was one of the best experiences of congregational singing I've had for a long time.