FairTrade Fortnight and Metrical Psalmody in Stoke Newington

It’s FairTrade Fortnight, which means lots of tasty, guilt-free chocolate floating around, among other things. Others have laid out, far better than I can, the reasons for buying FairTrade when possible, so I won’t add much to that except to say that I don’t buy tea, coffee or chocolate at all if they aren’t FairTrade and I try to avoid non-FT sugar, cotton and bananas.

On Sunday, 13th March the London Gallery Quire will be leading music in a service at Manor Road United Reformed Church, 102 Manor Road, N16 5NU (map). The music is that which would have been sung, played, and heard in nonconformist chapels in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it’s well worth coming along to hear. I’ll be playing the serpent and even singing a bit. There’ll be a retiring collection in aid of the FairTrade Foundation and the Quire, and the service will be followed by a tasty “Fairtrade Supper”. Visions of chocolate-dipped bananas are floating in my head, but I bet they can come up with some pretty good main courses too.
I still haven’t constructed my new, improved serpent case so I think I might be stuck with buses, trains and the like for this one, rather than the snake on a bike method of instrument transport, but I’ll see how I’m feeling on the day.

Travel time and time travel

This morning feels about a million years away! Really, I only had two main events today, but the day felt much longer.

I started with a Gregorian Chant workshop put on by RSCM EEL. I wouldn’t ordinarily have gone to something like that with such short notice — I got an e-mail about it on Thursday — but it was led by Nick Gale, director of music at St George’s RC Cathedral, and it was close to home at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Wanstead. Our first chant of the day was not Gregorian but Ambrosian chant, a setting of the Gloria. It dates from around 400 CE, and it was interesting to see how the later additions to the text of the gloria were clearly of a different musical pattern than the earlier text. There was also quite a lot of actual Gregorian chant, including some things that might be useful for Advent.

I enjoyed the workshop immensely. After that I was off to a Harvest Supper at St Mary’s Addington, where I was to play the serpent and the piano as part of the entertainments. The journey was quite horrific; I was kindly offered a lift by another workshop participant who lives near Addington, and as it had only taken him about 45 minutes to get to Wanstead in the morning I accepted. Unfortunately the southbound Blackwall Tunnel was closed and we spent about two hours on Blackwall Tunnel Approach. I couldn’t even get out and take public transport until after we’d cleared the start of the tunnel.

I got there in the end, though, and the entertainments hadn’t yet started. Phew! My piano playing was accompanying two friends singing “Misalliance” by Flanders and Swann. I was still a bit rattled after the journey and my hands were shaking badly, so I didn’t play as well as I might have, but we got through okay and the audience loved their singing — and acting! Later on was the serpent number. The choir had rehearsed “O God, my heart is fixed, ’tis bent”, a metrical setting of Psalm 57 vv7-11 from the London Gallery Quire book Your Voices Raise, but we hadn’t had a chance to play it together at all; it went well. The tune is “Lynn” by Uriah Davenport (1690-1784) and the words are from the New Version of Tate and Brady (1696). I had left my notes for the brief chat about the serpent and about West Gallery music at home, so forgot large parts of them; hopefully I didn’t baffle people too much. I closed that set with a brief rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” for reasons which I won’t go into here. I have found that, anachronistic as it might seem, some of the jazz standards work remarkably well on the serpent. Possibly it’s because I’m so accustomed to playing vocal basslines.

Then it was just the long journey home again… given the earlier transport problems, I accepted with some trepidation a lift as far as East Croydon station from a choir member, and though there were indeed some roadworks and a detour it was smooth driving all the way there. Then came the train, and the tube, and the rail replacement bus, and the walk home.

Dates for music I have sung/played today:
18th century
20th century

Types of transport I have used today:
private cars (not mine — I don’t drive!)
bus route 15
Docklands Light Railway (a sort of train)
London Overground (another sort of train)
Croydon Tramlink
British Rail
TfL rail replacement bus.

Clearly what I need is one of these:

No wonder the day felt long. It’s far past my bedtime now, though; I’ve got to get up in the morning to play the organ at church.


I’ve been on vacation for most of the past week, staying in a guesthouse in Mark, Somerset and cycling a lot.

I’m well aware that I have a shiny new job starting in September, and I didn’t want to miss too many days of practice. So I rang up the local vicar to ask if I could use the organ in Mark Church. I’m glad I did; it’s a lovely instrument in many ways and I spent a few hours on Wednesday morning playing, as well as a bit of time on Thursday. I don’t think the organ has the range of tone colour that the one at St Andrew’s has, and I’m accustomed to three manuals rather than two and a greater range of pedal stops, but the blowers were much quieter (probably on account of not being broken) and — this was exciting — all the notes work. It’s being kept in reasonably good tune, too.
Yesterday was back to work, of a sort — I was playing serpent with the London Gallery Quire at a wedding in the afternoon, and then again in the ceilidh band in the evening at the reception. The wedding itself was very long, with a range of liturgy and music that showed a fair portion of the breadth of the Church of England. After the wedding some Quire members had kindly arranged a lunch, which was very much appreciated, especially by those of us going on to play in the band. Playing the ceilidh was good fun — I’d like to do more of that sort of work — but it did mean I got home after 1am!
Today, then, is for tidying, laundry, all the post-holiday stuff, so that tomorrow I can settle into a working routine again without tripping over myself. That’s the plan, anyway…

The Week, er, Behind

On Monday I posted about all I have to do this week.

Things are some things that didn’t get done. I still haven’t rescheduled my dental appointment, and there are a few other phonecalls that have piled up, which isn’t so good. I fought with the piece for the St Paul’s competition but still I don’t have a rough draft I’m happy with, so I’m having to consider whether I’ll submit anything at all. I didn’t get around to finding recordings for the choir at St Andrew’s to listen to, and I didn’t get to the recitals at Trinity that I wanted to attend.
There were some good things, though. The choir rehearsal at St Andrew’s yesterday evening went well despite my rather shallow preparation and only having two people there. It’s quite hard work to sing with so few people present and those who did turn up worked hard and did well.
Also yesterday I met with Rev Kathryn Robinson, the newly-appointed Performing Arts Adviser for the Barking Episcopal area. It was good to meet her and to talk about some of what I do, what’s going on at St Andrew’s, and some of the collaborations that might be possible.
The Brigantia Consort rehearsal on Thursday night felt efficient and useful, despite all of us being rather exhausted. We’ve managed to share out the writing of programme notes in a way that I think makes sense, we made some decisions about clothing (always difficult if you decide you don’t want to just wear black), we narrowed down some of the repertoire for the concert on 11th July and oh, yeah, we rehearsed some music. I don’t want to speak too soon — it definitely needs more work — but tuning between serpent and violin does seem to be improving.
At Quire on Wednesday night I did not completely disgrace myself at playing a rather tricky bassline on an instrument with a turning circle the size of an elephant, and as usual I enjoyed the rehearsal immensely.
Teaching on Monday and Tuesday went well. It was the first week of trying out some new timing for Tuesdays, which looks like it’s going to work a lot better for my students as well as meaning I get home a good 45 minutes earlier. Hooray! The long-term viability of making the journey from Leytonstone to North London two days a week has been weighing on me recently; the later nights on Tuesday definitely weren’t helping. I was still too tired to do as much psalmody-related reading as I would have liked, though.
Today has been a Day Off, except that writing this post probably counts as work, oops. Tomorrow will be mostly church and another attempt at some composing, and then a look at what lies ahead next 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…

Still ticking.

What have I been up to?

I’m learning to play the organ. This is a lot of fun, but rather difficult. I try to play the right hand line with my right hand, the left hand line with my left hand, and the pedal line with my other left hand. It’s going well, though; I’ve played at a few services, and a funeral, and I have a few more lined up.
I’m also rehearsing a lot with the Brigantia Consort. No, we haven’t a website just yet, but soon, hopefully!
I’m still playing serpent with the London Gallery Quire, and enjoying both the metrical psalmody and the camaraderie.
I’m still teaching piano, and I still love it. I’m finding I do notice the commute much more than I used to, partly because it’s a little further but also because there are days when I don’t have to leave Leytonstone at all, so the days when I travel across London seem very long indeed.
Longer-term, I’m writing some bits and pieces of music, some for competitions and some for specific performance situations. It’s mostly choral, mostly liturgical. I love doing this, but I lack confidence; I’m never quite sure whether what I have written will turn out to be very good, or a bit naff. I guess that comes with experience.
I’m also planning a series of workshops on psalmody. I want to start with the origins of psalmody and then explore how the psalms would have been said, sung or chanted in different liturgical traditions. I know that I won’t be able to do a full treatment in the four to six sessions that would make this a manageable project… at this point I’m just reading a lot and letting ideas slosh around in my brain.


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!