Nothing works the frist time.

I may be up past my bedtime, having harmonised the little tune I wrote earlier.

Here’s a rough draft harmonised version:

Here’s a .pdf of the sheet music: While dead in sin 001

And here’s the problem: Revd Klages tweeted in haste, and the text he posted, while making sense, was not in fact, but rather Note the missing line and the one with the extra syllable. No problem, right? The text as I set it still makes sense…

Except that Thomas Thurman has written another verse, using

Let all that earthly life may boast
set sacrifices raising
to Father, Son and Holy Ghost
with infinite praising;
all I held dear,
all the comforts I have ever known
I am leaving here;
nothing there
to compare
to hearing Jesus calling his very own.

My brain hurts. I’m finishing some e-mails, and going to bed.

One thing leads to another…

Today has been one of those bitty days when I can’t quite settle to anything. A twitter chum of mine had a comedy exchange with a twitter chum of his, which resulted in this:

While dead in sin and error’s way,
My soul was troubled greatly.
My grief o’ertook me night and day,
Pain was all I did see.
The light of the Gospel grace did shine,
My darkened soul arose.
Made anew,
Baptized, too,
By water and the Spirit now a-living.

(by Revd Alex Klages)

I like odd metres. I like Lutheran chorales. So instead of tidying up I seem to have written a melody… here it is, played by a robot guitar:

Harmonisation to follow, and if I get appropriate permission I’ll put it on CPDL.

It has caused me to reflect slightly on my composing process. When I wrote Sweet Spirit Comfort Me I sat down and wrote pretty much the whole thing without touching a keyboard, then put it into Sibelius and cleaned it up a bit (not much). That’s my usual style when I compose for a capella SATB. But writing this tune (as yet unnamed*) my instinct was to secure the melody line and then sit at the piano to work out the other bits. I realise I used the same method for When you made this planet. It just feels a little odd, because in all my years studying keyboard harmony I rarely actually played my harmonisations on any sort of keyboard instrument — usually because I was finishing them in the aural skills class before they were due — I just relied on my ability to hear all the notes at once, as I do with a capella writing. Piano compositions (none online), on the other hand, were always done by noodling around at the piano and then writing down the results.

How odd. I’m pretty sure this is something to do with playing at least five hymns per week for the last couple of years: hymns are now as much something that I play as something that I sing.

*all serious and some tongue-in-cheek suggestions considered.

New music for Pentecost: Sweet Spirit Comfort Me

St Paul’s Cathedral had another composition competition. I only found out about it around ten days before the deadline but decided it was worth at least looking at the suggested texts and having a go at writing something.

The result? Three verses of Robert Herrick’s “Litany to the Holy Spirit”, set for SATB. It’s a bit mournful perhaps, but so is the text. Each verse is set differently, so adding further verses isn’t straightforward.

You can hear robots singing it here (MIDI file), and the sheet music is available here, both from the Choral Public Domain Library.

I’ve uploaded robot flutes playing to Soundcloud, too:

If you’d like a more cheerful setting, Dr Francis Roads has written one, available from his website under the title “In the hour of my distress”.

Give us back our NHS

Scum who don’t know how to feel
They’re so rich they have to steal
Eyes all glazed from looking west
Give us back our NHS!

We won’t take rule for the rich
While the poorest feel the pinch.
There’s no mandate for this mess
Give us back our NHS!

Words by @Eithin and @LosTheSkald, music by me. Please sing it, teach it to people, make videos, write more verses, whatever. It’s under a CC BY-SA license: this means you can make derivative works as long as you give us attribution. There’s a pdf of a leadsheet here if you want to print it; I’ve done it in landscape format for ease of fitting two onto one A4 sheet if you have access to a photocopier or whatever.

Maybe it isn’t nice, maybe it’s just a bit beyond being “polite”.

They didn’t listen to nice.

Image from

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.

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.

In Commendation of Music

Somehow, I neglected to blog about this at the time… last year I wanted to make a birthday present for Stella, who keeps everything ticking over smoothly at Quire.

So of course I wrote a piece of music. The text is by one William Strode, and I chose it (after the usual laboured searching) because it was a fairly simple metrical poem which I could set in the style of an 18th-century glee. PDF file here and the usual too-slow MIDI. As always it’s released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.

WHEN whispering strains do softly steal
With creeping passion through the heart
And when at every touch we feel
Our pulses beat and bear a part;
When threads can make
A heartstring shake
Can scarce deny
The soul consists of harmony.

When unto heavenly joy we feign
Whate’er the soul affecteth most,
Which only thus we can explain
By music of the wingàed host,
Whose lays we think
Make stars to wink,
Can scarce deny
Our souls consist of harmony.

O lull me, lull me, charming air,
My senses rock with wonder sweet;
Like snow on wool thy fallings are,
Soft, like a spirit’s, are thy feet:
Grief who need fear
That hath an ear?
Down let him lie
And slumbring die,
And change his soul for harmony.

The Lord Bless Thee

I wrote this for the King James Trust 2011 composition competition. I had intended to enter both categories but failed to get my act together in time, so this was thrown together rather hastily. However, I do like it for what it is: short, sweet, simple. It should work well with either organ or piano. If you had a flute or another instrument, it would lend itself to a descant based on the keyboard part or, for a more advanced player, a skilled music director could write a more complex descant.

The MIDI robots play this just a bit too slowly, I think, but there is a MIDI file here and a PDF file here. As usual I’ve used a Creative Commons license.

Music for St Michael and All Angels

Today I’ve been to St Paul’s Cathedral for Evensong, to hear the winning entry in the recent New Music Competition. There were 58 entrants, out of which one was chosen for the £1000 prize.

Andrew Cusworth chose the same text as I did for the competition, one previously used by Richard Dering in this gem (YouTube link). It was interesting to hear the difference in our approaches to it. I like to think that there are some similarities, and of course I can’t make a fair comparison having heard his piece once and knowing mine rather better than that, but I think his is the better composition, both in terms of technical polish and in terms of suitability for that cathedral. So congratulations to Andrew Cusworth!

I struggled over my submission, trying to be faithful to the idea of angels as strange and terrifying beings, but also to stay within strict limits — SATB + organ, under 4 minutes — and keep the piece suitable for use in a liturgical setting. In the end I knew I hadn’t quite managed the latter; what I wrote was too exciting, too dramatic, and too ragged round the edges to fit into a stately Evensong. I did start over several times with several versions of the text in English and Latin, and each time it seemed to demand such a treatment. Eventually I gave up, tidied up what I had and submitted that.

It doesn’t look like Andrew’s version is online. So, here is my version: Factum est silentium [PDF] [MIDI]. Of course, the midi version sounds like robots rather than angels, but that’s always the way of these machines! As always this is released under a CC-BY-SA license. Perhaps in a different building with a different choir it will work better, or perhaps someone else can take my ideas and develop them.

It was while I was researching the Revelation-based text of Richard Dering’s “Factum est silentium” that I happened across a blog which eventually led me to Dust, a blog I’ve been trying to keep up with and very much enjoying the last few days as its author has been to a very shiny conference. (He quotes Christopher Smart in his subtitle, too.) My own research into psalmody has mostly consisted of reading a lot and doing some singing, and is much less advanced; I expect that much of the Oxford Psalms Conference would have been beyond my grasp. Nevertheless, I’m really glad to have found this rather random connection, which I might not have otherwise stumbled upon.

Give Us Grace

Earlier this year, Rev Kathryn Fleming asked me to write something for the patronal festival of St Matthew’s, Cainscross, which was this Tuesday. It needed to be something fairly simple, a round perhaps, something the congregation would be able to pick up quickly and sing at the service; it needed to be relevant to the occasion but useful for other situations as well.

I was happy to make an attempt, of course.

I found writing a round an interesting exercise. I’ve written one before, which I released anonymously, but that one was not something I set out to write, just one of the little ditties that turns up sometimes. Keeping melodic interest while not writing too many harmonic crunches was a challenge, especially at one point when I got a deceptive (that’s interrupted to you Brits) cadence stuck in my head.

Give us grace [PDF] [MIDI] is the result. As usual, I have released it under a CC-BY-SA license; you are welcome to use this music, as long as you attribute me appropriately and as long as any derivative works are released under a similar license.