Ruht wohl

Last night I went to hear Bach’s St John Passion at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The cathedral is not the best acoustic environment for it, to be honest: there’s a very long echo and the sound just gets incredibly muddy. Bach is better, I think, with some clarity.

The Passion was sung in English. As a rule I tend to prefer singing in the original language and as an audience member I think I feel the same, though I can see the point of using English given the context. I’m not sure about the translation, either, though. The first part of the clip embedded above was sung as follows:

“Sleep well, and rest in God’s safekeeping,
who makes an end of all our weeping.
Sleep well, and on his breast sleep well.

The grave, that was prepared for thee,
from all our sorrows sets us free,
and points the way to Heaven,
and shuts the gates of Hell.”

The German is:
“Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh!
Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
Und ferner keine Not umschließt,
Macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu.”

and another translation into English is this:
“Rest well, ye holy bones and members,
Which I henceforth shall never weep for,
Rest well and bring me, too, to rest!
The tomb which for you is assigned,
And henceforth no distress will hold,
Doth open heav’n to me and shut the gates of hell. “

I definitely like “rest” as being closer to “ruht” than “sleep” is, and “rest in God’s safekeeping” seems to basically be made up. But the second translation is pretty awkward as English verse goes. I’ve not studied German so I can’t nitpick too much, and I’m a poor translator in any case, but I would like something faithful both to the meaning of the words and the metrical form.

Despite these imperfections I was thoroughly glad I went. This movement echoed in my head as I cycled home, and will probably stay with me the rest of the week.


The Week Ahead

This week is looking pretty typical in terms of what I need to do, at least musically.
I’m teaching tonight and tomorrow night. I’ve done most of the preparation for that, but need to remember to bring music with me for my students. I’ll be leaving home at 2pm each day and spending a lot of time on public transport… I usually use this time to read. Right now the important reading is all to do with psalmody and church music. I had rather hoped to have finished my psalmody-related reading by now and be well into writing workshop outlines, but the last few weeks I’ve been flagging.
Wednesday night there will be a London Gallery Quire rehearsal. Some of the music is a bit technically challenging on the serpent so I need to take some time to look at it.
Thursday night Brigantia are rehearsing at my place, and I need to practise that music beforehand, too. I also need to spend a significant amount of time on programme notes and organisational aspects of our concert on 11th July. It would be nice to get a gallery up on the website, too, but I don’t think that’s going to be realistic this week.
Friday night I am taking the choir rehearsal at St Andrew’s, and I will need to learn the hymns well enough to accompany. I also want to find recordings of some of the pieces for a joint Evensong on 27th June at which we’ve been invited sing. We’re a small choir and don’t usually have all four parts at rehearsals, and it can be disorienting to suddenly have whole sections of tenor and alto rather than one each, and any bass part at all. Since I haven’t been taking the choir rehearsals for very long, I don’t even know what the facilities are like for listening to a CD. This could be a challenge.
I’ve been working on a piece for a competition which has a deadline of 30th June. Late last week it became clear that I’d managed to go onto the wrong track and was writing something that wouldn’t really be suitable for the terms of the competition, so I went right back to the drawing board, decided to ditch the organ for now and stick to SATB a capella… I found a new text, but alas no English translation that is in the public domain in this country, so ended up commissioning someone else to make a new one for me. I ought to try and have at least a rough draft by the end of this week.
In addition to that, there is a final recital at Trinity College of Music that I’d like to attend, I need to reschedule a dentist appointment (cancelled this morning due to transport difficulties), I have two peer support meetings and one project planning meeting, perhaps some other meetings getting in there as well and a physiotherapy appointment on Friday afternoon. Errands need to get a look-in, too.
I’ll try and report back later in the week with how I’m getting on…

Brigantia Consort hath a website.

It’s very rudimentary, but Brigantia Consort now has a web presence. Yay!

Why the rush to get this done? Well, we’re busking tomorrow morning at Parliament Hill Farmers’ Market, weather permitting, to raise money for Shelter. While we’re there we’ll also hand out some flyers and maybe even sell tickets for our next concert:

With Merry Glee
An eclectic programme of psalmody,
folk music and improvisation
with an early music twist.
Anna Michel — violin
Jessie Holder — voice, recorder
Kathryn Rose — horn, serpent
Sunday, 11th July 7.30pm
St John on Bethnal Green
200 Cambridge Heath Road London E2 9PA
Tickets £5 (£4 conc.) available at the door
or contact
Pretty neat, eh? There’s a lot to do yet, of course. But the posters and tickets themselves have the address of the blog where we’re parking the website for now, so there had to be something up there, even if it’s rudimentary.
Meanwhile, I’ve not been posting here much, despite my best intentions. I think that after I stopped posting lots of degree-related things, I sort of “lost the voice” of this blog. I suspect the only way to develop it is going to be to post, though, and I make no guarantees about just how often I’ll manage that.

Back to Bach

Yesterday I went to the Early Music Festival in Greenwich.

It was a little strange being in the area again. Attending a concert in St Alfege church as a member of the public was a little odd but not hugely so, despite the fact that the last time I was there was for my final recital. It was good to hear the Trinity recorders play as I’ve been doing some playing with recorders myself recently after almost no contact with them for decades.

Stranger was going to the Old Royal Naval College Chapel and hearing Susan Sheppard play the first two Bach ‘cello suites.

The Chapel, especially in my final year at Trinity, was somewhere I went to collect my thoughts, to sit in silence and regain some calm when the bustle and noise of a music college all got a bit much for me. I went just to sit and think at least as often as I attended concerts there, probably more. If the weather was good and I had time I’d go to the park, but if I only had a few minutes and it was pouring with rain I went to the Chapel.

The repertoire was even more significant, though. In autumn 2007 I returned to my studies after taking time out for injury and illness. It was still a bit touch and go whether I’d be able to continue. Playing for very long was painful and I knew it would take time and patience to regain my former endurance. For most of the autumn it was all I could do to keep up with various ensemble performances and I really wasn’t keeping up with any personal practising.

Early in 2008 I realised that I needed to find a way to relate to the instrument again, to play music I love for the sake of playing it. It wasn’t a very conscious process at the time, but somehow I fell into playing Bach again: the third ‘cello suite, and the second and first which I had studied before. For around three months I played little else, or that’s how I remember it now. I would turn up, do a warm-up, play some Bach. Here was something that would challenge me musically as well as technically, something that I could come back to day after day after day. Here was the spiritual sustenance I needed to learn, again and yet for the first time, to do the work of making music. My long-suffering teacher didn’t scold me when I turned up lesson after lesson with yet more music written for an instrument neither of us play. He waited until I was ready to learn new repertoire, and in the meantime we worked on Bach. It worked. 

That isn’t the only time I’ve used Bach to get myself playing. When I was busking on the London Underground I also used to play Bach, and in some ways it was that, rather than the prospect of people literally throwing money at me, which got me out of the house on sluggish days. But that wasn’t as profound as the transformation in 2008, not as necessary. 

I’ve been struggling to practise the horn a little, lately; it seems I’m awfully busy, and much of my work right now is on other instruments. Yet lack of time alone doesn’t explain it. Surely it was sensible to have a brief rest from horn playing after the end of my degree, but surely it is time to get past that, to move on, to keep playing. Something feels not quite right, something I know I need to play through rather than avoid, but which also makes me reluctant to start playing.

The recital in the Chapel yesterday, the juxtaposition of that repertoire and that space, reminded me that the Bach suites, for me, will always be partly about healing. 

I think I know what I need to do differently.


I do seem to be having something of a dry spell, in terms of blogging here. I have been quite busy!

I composed an anthem; it was sung during a church service on 27th September. The sheet music is available here and a MIDI file here; I don’t yet have a suitable recording. The piece is dedicated to Rev Dr Catherine Dowland-Pillinger, on the occasion of her ordination to the priesthood of the Church of England, and the church service was the first Eucharist at which she presided. I’m very grateful to the vicar, music director and choir at St Mary’s, Addington for allowing me to contribute in this way.

Closer to home, I’ve been rehearsing with a couple of other ex-Trinity students. Between us we play an eclectic variety of instruments and it has been good fun finding and adapting repertoire to suit our sound. We’ll be playing this Sunday at the launch of the Roots and Remembrance exhibition at St Andrew’s Church, Colworth Road, London, E11 1JD. The launch begins at 11.30am, after the annual Rememberance Sunday service.

Also at St Andrew’s, I’ve been learning a bit of how to play the organ. It’s a lot of fun, this making notes with my feet, but really very difficult to co-ordinate with my hands! I’ve also been doing some singing in the choir there. We will be having a Lessons & Carols service on 13th December, and welcome anyone interested in singing in our Community Choir to join us for rehearsals on Friday nights from 7pm.

On December 9th will be the annual London Gallery Quire Christmas concert, held as last year at St George’s German Lutheran Church, 55 Alie Street, London E1 8EB. Do arrive 6.30pm for the 7pm start; tickets are £5 on the door. As well as the rare treat of listening to West Gallery music this is a good chance to see the inside of the oldest German church in Britain.

I almost forgot to mention the London Performance Collective lunchtime concert at St John’s Notting Hill at 1pm this coming Thursday, 12th November. This concert of “Known, Visible Music” will include works by Bassi, Piazzolla and Whitlock, as well as yours truly playing the Haydn Divertimento a tre for horn, violin and ‘cello.

It would be great to see some familiar faces!

Performance Collective Evening Concert

London Performance Collective
7.30pm Evening Concert
Tuesday 18th August

An Evening filled with music, wine and cake

* Rimsky-Korsakov – Flight of the Bumble Bee for bassoon and piano
* Otar Taktakishvili – Flute Sonata
* Handel – Sonata in G minor Op. 1 No. 6, violin and serpent
* Schumann – Fantasiestucke, Op. 12
* Beethoven – Trio – for flute, bassoon, and piano

Tickets: £10 (Conc. £6)

The Space (directions and map)

The London Performance Collective is a new ensemble which presents classical and modern music in new ways to help audiences to experience it afresh. We perform good music from all historical periods, but aim to present it in ways which open ears anew to its impact.

Concert diary

Some more performances coming up!

Tomorrow lunchtime I’ll be singing at Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, London W1K 2PA.

Friday 8th May, 1pm
King William Singers
directed by Hilary Campbell
present a lunchtime concert of contemporary choral music.


Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium
Brown o sapientia
Whitacre Water Night
Campbell the isle is full of noises
Whitacre Lux Aurumque
Weir Vertue
Campbell the hand that made us is divine

There will be a retiring collection for the CYM Library and for the Grosvenor Chapel Foundation.


On Sunday morning the London Gallery Quire will be singing Mattins at St Mary the Virgin Church in East Barnet. The service begins bright and early at 10am. I will be playing the serpent. I’m quite enjoying playing the serpent.

I haven’t thought further ahead than that just now. I think there are Wind Orchestra things coming up at some point.

The Garlickhythe Occasionals and the London Gallery Quire

Long time no post, I know! I’ve been working hard and learning a lot… and recently I’ve been having internet problems at home, which tends to scupper posting a bit.

I will be playing the serpent twice this weekend! Once will be with the Garlickhythe Occasionals, at a Ceilidh in Highgate on Saturday night.

For the more devoutly inclined, on Sunday at 6.30pm I’m playing with the London Gallery Quire at Choral Evensong in Dulwich at the Chapel of God’s Gift.

London Alternative Copyright Choir

Traditional copyright exists in order to protect the rights of creators. The idea is that if they know their work will be protected and they can profit from it, there will be an incentive for them to create new works. This in turn means that consumers or audiences have a wide range of works to choose from. We all benefit from the cultural richness of a diverse range of artists creating a large number of works.

That’s a nice theory, and an admirable goal. But in real life, things don’t always work smoothly. There are several problems with the laws of copyright as they exist today, and with the business models that emerged around them in the 20th century.

In the music world one of the biggest problems is that of getting your music heard. It’s not enough to write music and then leave it in a desk drawer where nobody will hear it, or not if you want to make a living. Before mass communications were around, the way to get your music heard was to perform it as much as possible and try to get your friends to do the same. The printing press and increasing literacy changed that a fair amount, but performance was still a very important factor. Audio recording and playback technology, paired with the broadcasting possibilities of radio and television, changed it profoundly. It was possible, if you could raise the funds, to have your music played to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people at once. It was possible to play your music once, twice, ten times until you got it nearly perfect, and then sell a duplicate of that nearly perfect recording without having to do it again. Word of mouth became less important than airtime.

High-quality recording equipment was still relatively expensive in the 20th century. To have a song recorded was simply beyond the means of most musicians. So a system emerged where publishers and recording companies would enter into a partnership with composers and performers. The creators of the music would give up some control over their work in exchange for money, and the recording companies would worry about the details of recording equipment and distribution of the finished product.

Again, this is alright in theory. But what happened in practise was this: recording technology got cheaper. Mass distribution got cheaper. Recording companies got better at marketing, and at making money. It was very difficult to get your music heard in the mass media unless you had a deal with a recording company, and very difficult to get a deal with a recording company at all, and even then you might not make much money unless your track was a hit. Depending on the details of the contract you might not make money even if your track was very successful. And the mass media was the only one where you were likely to make significant amounts of money. The widespread availability of cheap recorded music meant that live performances weren’t so easy to fix any more. Copyright became something the recording companies would defend in order to preserve their profits, but which didn’t necessarily benefit artists, and which actually reduced the average audience’s access to a variety of music. If you wanted something different from the offerings of the mainstream media, you had to go out of your way to find it.

This, too, is changing: technology has moved on. The biggest change is that the mass media is becoming more and more audience-controlled. I’m writing this to post on a website; I’m willing to bet that many of the people reading it will have websites or blogs of their own. People are creating, for the sake of it. Some may get paid in advertising revenue or support themselves through other means, but many don’t bother. Some of the best bloggers out there have day jobs. A significant portion of people are starting to question or outright ignore what the mainstream media says, whether that’s in journalism or visual art or written fiction or music. The thresholds to mass broadcasting are much lower than they have been before, and a lot of us have something to say.

What that means, in practical terms, is that we’re back to word-of-mouth again, but in a much different environment than the one where personal, face-to-face contact was the main form of communication. Word of mouth has gone global. And it’s noisy.

For creators this has some interesting implications. Broadcasting is cheaper than it has ever been, but so is copy&paste. Artists who try to keep their copyrighted works out of the public domain have only limited success in doing so: do a Google image search for ‘Gary Larson’ if you don’t believe me. Before the printing press if you wrote or told a story and someone stole it and claimed it as their own, there wasn’t a lot you could do, but you could try to tell the same story more than they’d have a chance to, and probably still make some profit. Mass duplication makes that a technology race as well a social skills race, and ultimately the choice to say anything at all is also an acceptance of the risk that someone else might try to steal it.

The challenges for the music industry are similar to those for the written word; the technology is different, but not far behind. The technology that lets me record a music rehearsal at a reasonable quality and put it online, should I wish, costs less than a month’s rent. The expertise required to do so really well is something I can learn. The equipment to create a CD-quality recording, isn’t much more expensive than what I’ve got. But once it’s out there, I have very little control: I can’t easily dictate whether it is duplicated or not. I certainly can’t afford legal fees against someone who attempts to profit from my own work. Participation is an act of trust.

We need new business models to deal with this environment.

We can lean toward more control, more stringent laws to prevent the theft and piracy of intellectual property. That way lies stifling bureaucracy and an endless arms race against what technology can do. And as shown, it doesn’t always benefit artists or audiences. If I hear something I like I’m going to try to show my friends by whatever technology I have available; making that illegal doesn’t benefit anyone.

Alternately we can tread the careful path toward increased openness and trust. We can build communities where intellectual property rights are respected, but not in a punitive manner: where people create for the sake of creating, not for the reward, but where reward is still possible.

The London Alternative Copyright Choir exists to explore some of the alternative business models available, at least as far as choral music is concerned. Our concert, “Songs of Freedom”, will be this Friday, 20th March, at St John on Bethnal Green Church.

The week ahead, the year ahead.

It’s Monday, just barely. I’ve had a good couple of days of teaching, and got back to Trinity for the first time in 2009 today.

I have a lunchtime recital to play in next Wednesday, so most of my practising goals this week are related to making sure I’m in good form for that. This means lots of long, gentle warm-ups, lots of mental study of the pieces I’ll be playing and lots of playing through the pieces in their entirety, both to cement my memory and to keep my endurance up. This latter is quite important as I had a few days off playing last week.

The lunchtime recital on 14th January will be at St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road. Repertoire will be:

Dunhill: Cornucopia – Six Miniatures (horn and piano)
Butler: Hunding (unaccompanied horn)
Debussy: two of the Preludes for piano
Beethoven: Sonata Op. 17 (horn and piano)

I also need to get some programme notes sorted out, and make a poster to put up!

Most of tomorrow will be spent in sectional rehearsals for Wind Orchestra (which always reminds me of my teacher in Lethbridge, Dr Tom Staples, saying, “It’s a band, folks!”). This band is playing some of the usual Ralph Vaughan-Williams but also Messiaen and some other challenging works.

Other projects I’ll be working on this week include some last bits of planning and publicity for my Year 4 Project (I’m still waiting on date confirmation so not announcing anything just yet!), and writing a cadenza for the Gliere concerto which I’ll be playing in the Soloists Competition on 25th January. And I want to get things sorted out for teaching a horn scales class again: we had one session last term and it went well, but I can’t cover twelve keys (and their relative minors) in two hours and also teach thoroughly, so these need to happen on a weekly basis if they’re going to be of any use to anyone.

I’ve also been offered a serpent. No, not the infamous reptile that once got Eve into a spot of trouble, but the musical instrument. I have been singing with the London Gallery Quire for most of the last term and enjoyed it heartily; now it seems I will be their serpentist. More on this after I actually meet the instrument in question on Wednesday night! I have wanted a serpent for some time, you might even say I have been tempted by them, but before Sunday afternoon I did not get a chance to play one. Now I’ve played one for probably the better part of 45 minutes.

So, that’s the week ahead. I believe it’s also traditional, with the new cycle of the arbitrary Gregorian calendar we use to mark time in the West, to think and write of the year ahead.

The year ahead… well, the first half of it is a matter of trying to get this degree finished without too many catastrophes. The second half of it will be the transition from being a good-for-nothing student with hardly any free time to being a good-for-nothing musician with a bit more free time. I think they call it a “portfolio career” these days. For me, that means more teaching, hopefully some of it in schools and some of it privately, and trying to keep some performance (particularly chamber music) going, perhaps with organisations like Live Music Now. It means I’ll have time to learn things as and when I’m interested in learning them and have the spare brain cycles, rather than keeping to a set syllabus: I’m very, very glad I ended up at Trinity but I am looking forward to the freedom of dipping into one thing or another at my leisure and pleasure! I’ll also be moving house at some point this summer. I cannot keep a serpent and three horns in this flat indefinitely, and I want somewhere that I’ll be able to start teaching from home, and preferably a garden too. But really, for now, it’s a focus on academic work from now until around June, and after that I’ll relax, take some deep breaths, and see what happens.