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Written in response to requests for a different arrangement of S. Baring-Gould's well-known Christmas carol. This setting is written for unaccompanied SATB, accessible to a variety of choirs — school, chapel, community choir, choral society, parish church or cathedral etc. It reflects the meaning of the words through a simple melody supported by straightforward harmonies with the occasional addition of a few colour nuances. Although originally conceived as a cappella, it could be gently accompanied by piano, keyboard or organ, should the choir need a little support to add confidence and their overall enjoyment.
As a member of several Royal School of Church Music choirs I have had the amazing opportunity to perform in almost every English
cathedral, experiencing some of the most magnificent choral music ever written in some of the most inspiring places as well as
hearing, and sometimes playing, some of the countrys finest organs.
Singing the great settings, one cannot help but absorb, analyse and admire the styles of the masters of the genre, and these influences, from residing subliminally in the recesses of the mind, cannot help but bubble to the surface when one is immersed in composing. One particular hero of mine is Howells his textures, his word setting and, above all, his unique harmonic understanding and chordal structures. In this setting, the performer will find obvious references to his style so it is a respectful homage to Howells in particular, but to others as well.
I have always relished a setting which is a good, uplifting sing which sends the congregation away happy, and I hope your choir will enjoy performing my canticles as much as I have found pleasure in composing them. The parts are very accessible; the organ, for the most part, is in a supporting role, so it is well within the capabilities of most choirs used to the choral evensong genre. With its accessibility, sound melodic structure and diatonic harmonies it would be wonderful to think that these canticles could take their place in the repertoire of either parish church or cathedral, performed to the glory of God.
This set of Preces and Responses has grown out of my love of vocal harmony, the spaces in which music to God is glorified and the way
the meaning of the words can be reflected in the music. Having sung various settings in all styles in so many cathedrals, often taking
the cantor's part, I find this vehicle for conveying such an extreme of emotions both uplifting and exciting. One cathedral choir
conductor said that it was the only part of the service where the director of music has a virtually free rein and is able to express the
responses in a way personal to him.
The textual extremes from "And take not thy holy spirit from us" through the emotions of the Lord's Prayer to "make thy chosen people joyful" and the great acclamation "The Lord's name be praised" must be sung to reflect these emotions. How often do we see a choir singing "people joyful" yet looking miserable! The music and the choir must guide the congregation through these texts, inspire them and, hopefully, send them on their way with spirits renewed.
My setting is relatively straightforward harmonically, occasionally doubling the parts to add depth and meaning. I have heard them performed in a large building, ringing around the vaulting but they could be equally at home in a parish church.
Prior to publication they have been performed a number of times by the RSCM Voices South (for whom they were written) and West Choirs at Rochester Cathedral on a number of occasions, Romsey Abbey and Cirencester Parish Church.
I do hope you and your congregation enjoy this set.
When writing my Te Deum I had in mind a brilliant spring morning in a cathedral, with the sun streaming in through the great East window.
The jubilant start has a slightly theatrical effect with "We praise thee, O God" being sung firstly by decani, then cantoris and finally full. This effect may not be immediately discernible to the congregation in the nave of the building but it adds to the exuberant praise from the choir.
The organ part is a little demanding in places. At no time is this part subservient to the choir. It is an integral texture and I had in mind Stanfords Magnificat in G, a type of moto perpetuo, driving the meaning of the words forward. I like the sound of SSA singing "ethereally", with the texture similar to the Sanctus in Bachs B minor Mass, but there are also solo lines for each voice part as well as a cappella sections, allowing the beauty of a good choir to shine.
Occasionally the organ supports the choir but there is a great deal of independence between the forces. There are sections of quiet contemplation and reflection, almost quasi-plainsong in places. There are equally powerful, thunderous sections, opportunities for fanfares on the organ's reeds, the occasional chromatic chord by way of word-painting and some enharmonic changes to add colour and interest. The overarching purpose of the piece is to stir the congregation, providing the choir and the organist with numerous opportunities to convey the meaning of the text taken from the ancient Latin Christian hymn of 387AD. Having mentioned the cathedral, the piece is also well within the capabilities of a good parish choir and organist and the opening dec/can split can, of course, be ignored and sung full.
May your choir and organist enjoy performing this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Every piece of music in the church should convey a message to the people, much in the same way that the stained glass windows and the wall paintings did centuries ago. The words of the Jubilate are some of the most joyful in the whole liturgy. With the organ accompaniment, somewhat syncopated on occasion, and the nature of the choral parts, I wanted to create a piece which will reflect "O be joyful in the Lord all ye lands!" There is a slight Baroque feel to the organ part and an exuberant feeling to the whole. Occasionally, the mood changes slightly as we reflect on the meaning of the words. "Be thankful unto him and speak good of his name" before the organ renews the excitement again into a more confident For the Lord is gracious, heading for a high point of emotion on and his truth endureth from generation to generation. The organ then takes us into the Gloria with an extended version of the opening bars, heading to the grand finale through a series of chromatic rises before we arrive at "World without end, amen".
There are variations in texture from full choir and organ, to a cappella, SSA with imitation by the lower voices and organ solo passages. As with the Te Deum, the organ part is not subservient, merely accompanying, but drives the piece forward with excitement and motion, reflecting the meaning of the words.
Both the Te Deum and the Jubilate exist perfectly well as stand-alone anthems. Ideally, of course, they would form the central musical heart of choral matins as they are written to complement each other.
While I was writing this piece my friend and publisher, Neil, survived a very serious illness. The text reflected everyones feelings at the time. It all seemed very pertinent, hence the dedication.
The work is accessible to a good parish church choir and organist. I trust you will find it invigorating and enjoyable to perform and that it will send your congregation home feeling uplifted, ready to face the world, with a deeper understanding of the text and joyful in their Lord!
Written in response to the fact that there is not a huge choral/organ repertoire for Ascensiontide.
The words were written by my wife, Liz, and are based on Luke 24: 44-53.
The opening has a baroque feel to it with relatively simple choral parts. The organ is not there merely to accompany but also creates the atmosphere through independent part writing. Many of the melodic patterns are of the ascendency, the organ harmonies rising, the ascending fanfare passages between the texts, the chordal arpeggios all adding to the upward feeling. The organ adds to the dramatic effect on "Bethany" and "the clouds rent asunder" as well as reflecting the excitement of some of the words.
The words of Jesus, "I must to my Father return" on through to "sit at God's right hand" are given to a solo tenor, accompanied by very simple chords to allow the melody to hang in the air before a more forceful "Go spread the word" passage. There are exciting, demonstrative organ interjections between the words "they turn, hearts alight, minds on fire" before the calmer "abandoning their fears".
The baroque feel now returns, adapting the opening passage and leading into effervescent alleluias, with, once again, the organ using rising chordal arpeggios to reflect the excitement of the event.
I do hope your choir enjoys singing this piece - reflecting as it does the meaning of the event which is entirely central to Christian worship - your organists really let themselves go and have a great time and your congregations feel the spirit and exuberance of both the words and the music.
For the beauty of earth and sky and sea is an anthem written for harvest, using words from the Book of Common Prayer. It reflects the joy of a successful harvest as well as the overriding gratitude to God for his bounteous gifts, the beauty of earth, sea, sky and the flora and fauna.
It is written for SATB with only about six bars when the soprano part splits. The organ has a pervading Lombardic Scottish snap - rhythm and is modal, predominantly mixolydian, with occasional chromaticisms. The accompaniment drives the music, which is marked con brio. It must be sung joyfully and enthusiastically, imagining a country church. At the same time it could be equally at home in the beauties of a cathedral.
There are a cappella passages, taking us back to quasi 16th century counterpoint with imitative entries - Grant that we may continue and the amens but, for the most part, it is substantially homophonic.
It is a piece that hopefully choirs will enjoy. There are extremes of dynamics and many opportunities for the conductor to put his or her personal stamp on the performance through speed changes and that all-important element in music: silence, an example being after the pause before the start of the amen.
It is a fun piece for organists. Sometimes the part doubles the singers, quietly supporting, other times independent, demonstrative and exciting.
I do hope choirs and organists enjoy performing this anthem and that congregations have their understanding of the season enhanced, leaving the service suitably uplifted.
The Benedictus was written with two purposes in mind. Firstly, it could form part of an overall choral matins - I have already written a Te Deum and a Jubilate, also published by Chichester Music Press - or it could equally be performed as a stand-alone anthem. As part of the choral matins it is matched, both tonally and stylistically, with the Te Deum and the Jubilate.
It is a joyous, celebratory work reflecting the words "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel". The theme used for this permeates throughout the entire piece, with references made, either in full or in part, sometimes by the choir and other times on the organ. The idea of this opening phrase, textually and thematically, is never far from earshot.
Much is made of the soprano/treble and alto sections of the choir, sometimes doubled and a cappella, also contrasting with the tenor and bass, whose parts are also doubled on occasion. There are imitative entries which give a contrapuntal contrast to the largely homophonic texture. For the most part the organ, when used, virtually doubles the choir but there are occasions when it intentionally does its own thing. Because of this a slightly less-experienced choir would gain a considerable amount of confidence from sensitive support.
The darker words are, naturally, reflected in the choice of harmonies together with the voicing but the positive, jubilant feeling of the opening phrase still shines through, winning in the end with a triumphant, exciting and enjoyable, Gloria, thus raising the spirits of any congregation on a cold, wet Sunday morning.
My Matin Responsory is scored for SATB and organ, with solo soprano and tenor. I wanted to experiment with quasi Middle Eastern harmonies, having sung, and thoroughly enjoyed James Whitbourns Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (for which he also adds a beautiful solo viola part).
It begins with a solo soprano, but could easily be sung by the whole section if wished. This is accompanied by pianissimo sustained chords on the swell strings. The full soprano line then joins before full SATB enter on Tell us. High and low, rich and poor is sung by a solo tenor although again, the entire section could take this if wished and the sustained chords used at the beginning are now also allocated to SSA.
On Go ye out to meet him and say, the unison lines are very Middle Eastern. Soprano and alto now take over, accompanied again with sustained organ chords before tenor and bass join, taking the text to Stir up thy strength, another unison passage to begin with emphasising the meaning of the words. The Gloria has Middle Eastern colours, culminating on a climax at Holy Spirit, before returning to the opening phrase, finishing strongly on Israel.
This is a relatively easy piece to access but choirs may enjoy the demands of a slightly different harmonic and melodic colour, providing, perhaps, a musical contrast to the seasons festivities.
A setting for SATB and organ for Epiphany of words by Cecil Frances Alexander.
The organ accompaniment at the start consists of sustained chords on the manuals with either a soprano or treble solo or the whole section on the first verse, with similar treatment for the tenor for verse 2. Then follows, each time, a section for the full choir and a passage for sopranos and altos with the men gently accompanying.
The last verse returns to the opening melody again, but this time it is shared between S/A the T/B parts before the altos carry on the melody with a soprano or treble descant above, the harmonies being maintained by the men. The piece ends firmly and triumphantly with a dramatic chord on the word "God".
I hope your choir will enjoy this piece. Not difficult, very accessible but with some harmonic interest and an easily remembered melody for your congregation to leave humming!
There is nothing more exciting, more atmospheric, than attending a communion service with a full choral setting. This service, at the very heart of Christian worship, is not only beautiful as it stands but can have the understanding of the words considerably enhanced by music. I have made my setting as accessible as possible for both choir and organist but, at the same time, musically satisfying. It allows the singers to shine, sectionally, as a full choir, occasionally with parts divisi, accompanied or a cappella together with some sections for soloists. There are also opportunities for the organ to add to the atmosphere of the individual sections of the service.
The Kyrie is a gentle, reflective, homophonic, diatonic start to the morning. In contrast, the Credo is strong and forthright, reflecting the firm conviction that Christians should have in their belief. Through a variety of textures, solo line, contrapuntal work and the organ accompaniment the meaning of the words is conveyed. Discordant piercing reflects "crucified" with the word tumbling through the parts. After the pianissimo and deep voiced "buried" there is a triumphant and exuberant organ fanfare announcing "And the third day". Unison writing reinforces some of the words central to the Creed. An enharmonic change takes us into "He shall come again with Glory" followed by a solo SATB, "And I believe in the Holy Ghost". The section finishes with a climax "and the life of the world to come" and a pianissimo, reflective "Amen".
There is a brief Sursum Corda, then the Sanctus, reminiscent in rhythmic feel to the Sanctus from Bach's B Minor Mass. There is an interplay between SA and TB on the word "Holy", a joyous "Heav'n and earth are full of thy glory" and a gentle play-out at the end. The Benedictus begins as the Sanctus - interplay between SA and TB - but ends with a solo quartet and, again, a gentle play-out.
A solo soprano begins the Agnus Dei, and the mood is sombre and reflective with a peaceful ending.
The Gloria is, again, strong and forthright with a confident opening. "We praise thee" is interspersed with organ flourishes and a choral flourish on "glorify thee". The opening organ phrase is repeated, but in the minor - "O Lord the only begotten Son" - with the theme passed between SA and TB. Counterpoint is now used as a contrasting texture ending with unison "thou that takest away". The opening organ phrase is used again, this time in C major leading to a subdued "have mercy on us" but rising to a climax at "art most high" and "to the glory of God the Father". The opening organ theme recurs with the Amen with choir and organ giving their all at the end.
I write for the enjoyment of choir and organist, for the uplifting of the congregation's spirits but, primarily, to the glory of God. Raise your voices and your souls but, above all, enjoy.
I was going to write a piece for Christmas in the traditional way but, with so much conflict in the world, I found this poem by Longfellow. Although he is referring to the American Civil War, its sentiment still holds true
today, with Ukraine amongst so many other countries.
Longfellow wrote this on Christmas Day 1863. He had been widowed with six children to bring up, the oldest of which had been seriously wounded as the country fought against itself. The words capture the dynamic and dissonance in Longfellows heart and the world he observed around him.
The construction of the poem The Christmas Bells is interesting - each verse has five lines and rhymes in an AABBC scheme. Line A has eight syllables, with B and C each being half of that. Each verse ends with the same line of text, despite the varying nature of the verses.
In verse one the speaker hears the bells on Christmas day, creating music that sings of peace and goodwill. Verse two refers to the long-lasting aspect of worship on Christmas Day. Verse three reflects on the way the world changes. Verses four and five suddenly drag the listener into the horrors of war, the battlefield drowning out the sound of the carols - yet still ending with "peace on earth, goodwill to men". With verse six the speaker is in despair, the hate mocking the words "Of peace on earth, goodwill to men". Verse seven renews faith in the world. "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep. Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail", ending with a confident "With Peace on Earth, Good will to men".
Throughout the piece I have kept a persistent tolling in the organ part, sometimes bright, sometimes harsh, changes of tonality and on one occasion, a simple funereal tolling, always reflecting the meaning of the words and the nature of the verse. After the triumphant ending I imitate the bell tower at the end of a peal.