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.

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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 http://wiki.crisiscommons.org/wiki/London_Riots for information on how to do so.

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…

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.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F15296763 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.

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!

Psalm 121: Anglican Chant with a congregational response

Continuing with the inclusion of psalms to our liturgy during Lent, on 20th March at St Andrew’s we sang Psalm 121. This is a favourite of mine and of many others, and I wanted to use Anglican Chant this time. There are various chants that can be used; the one by H. Walford Davies, with solos in the first and third quarters, is certainly well-known. But it wasn’t really appropriate for our very small choir, which doesn’t have enough voices to cover four parts. Instead I used a chant by Phocion Henley, who I know better as the composer of many West Gallery tunes.

We still needed a congregational response. I made this one by using the last half of the chant, keeping the rhythm simple:


It worked a treat.

This past Sunday we had a said psalm, which I must say I didn’t find nearly as rewarding. Next week is Mothering Sunday and we are having an All Age Chaos Service. Happily the psalm appointed for that day is Psalm 34, which has actually made it into our hymnal thinly disguised as a hymn: “Through all the changing scenes of life” is from Tate and Brady’s “New Version” of the psalms, published in 1696. We will sing it to the Common Meter tune “Wiltshire”, attributed to George Smart (1776-1867) and originally set to Psalm 48. This is relatively familiar to the congregation and choir alike so everyone will sing, rather than my fussing about with responses.

That leaves me with Psalm 130 (Passion Sunday), Psalm 31 vv 9-16 (Palm Sunday), and Psalm 22 (Maundy Thursday, during the stripping of the altar) to sort out; we won’t have sung psalmody on Good Friday or during our Easter Vigil. I’m planning on metrical psalms with congregational responses for the first two, but that won’t work for Maundy Thursday; for that, I think it will be a unison chanted psalm with alternate lines by a soloist and the rest of the choir.

I’ve enjoyed working with the psalms so far and trying different ways of fitting in the congregational responses, and I will miss them.

Starts with P and that rhymes with T

Lent approaches fast and, at St Andrew’s at least, this will be a time of penitence, prayer, purple vestments and psalmody.

The latter is my concern. During Advent we tried adapting the Common Worship psalter to a simple plainchant melody from Palmer’s “Manual of Plainsong”. It worked well for the choir, who could rehearse, but the congregation struggled to join in. Even when using the same plainsong melody for the whole season, fitting unfamiliar lines of varying length to the same tune was either too difficult or too unclear.
I feel strongly about congregational participation in church music in general, and psalms in particular. While there is an argument for reverent, contemplative musical worship where a choir sings the psalms on behalf of the rest of the congregation who participate silently, I think that kind of vicarious liturgy is more suited to Choral Evensong. The psalms are a dialogue, a means by which human feelings can be honestly explored and offered to God, and I feel there is something to be gained from very direct participation in sung psalmody.
So this Lent I’m trying another approach: responsorial psalms. The term “responsorial” is a bit of a mis-nomer, I feel, but refers to psalmody in which the main body of the psalm is sung or said by cantor, choir or reader, with a refrain repeated by all present.
A lot of the chanted responsorial psalmody available today is in a particular style of simplified, interpreted Gregorian chant. Murray’s settings of the Grail psalter are by far the best known of this type of recitative chant; and for the Grail translation I understand they work very well. Copyright issues abound, however, and I can’t quite be having with a paperwork fight. New Psalms for Common Worship, compiled by Colin Mawby, also uses this style of responsorial psalmody — and also has copyright issues, as the publisher, Kevin Mayhew, do not take part in the Christian Copyright Licensing Initiative, so I cannot photocopy the chants for the choir to learn or the response for the congregation to read. In addition, the text of the Common Worship psalter, like the beloved Coverdale psalms used in the Book of Common Prayer, was not really designed to make chanting easier, and hard-to-sing accents on the last syllable of the line are common. That might eventually be okay if we had sung or chanted psalmody every weekday or even once a week on Sundays but as things stand, it only has a place during the penitential seasons, unless I get particularly insistent. This is unfamiliar stuff to the majority of the congregation and so it needs to be very easy to pick up. Besides that, I don’t want to limit myself to just one translation or one musical style. There is a rich heritage of English psalmody upon which to draw, and I don’t mean just Anglican Chant, lovely though it can be.
I’m taking a slightly different approach. Several months ago, I attended a RSCM-led psalmody workshop in Salisbury where the director suggested combining Anglican Chant with the refrains of the responsorial psalmody. Writing a refrain certainly isn’t beyond my abilities and having the congregation sing the same refrain, after hearing the choir sing it once, makes it more likely that they’ll be able to join in.
If we can do this with Anglican Chant, why not do it with other styles of psalmody?
For Ash Wednesday, Dr Francis Roads (who also conducts the London Gallery Quire) kindly furnished me with copy in Sibelius of a metrical setting of the first half of Psalm 51. The music is by Playford, set for SAB, and the text is from Sternhold and Hopkins; you can download the manuscript from the International Music Score Library Project. But while the metrical text and regular tune make this easier to learn than chanted psalmody, it’s still a bit much to ask of a congregation with no warning and no rehearsal — or so they would have me believe every time I introduce a hymn someone hasn’t heard for a while! Since I already had a shiny Sibelius file I transposed the entire lot down a tone, and modified the alto part to be less awkward. I also made this response:
to be sung in unison. That line of music, plus all the words, with the refrain in bold type, will be printed in the pew slips for the congregation to follow. As the notes are the same as the last line of the verses, I’m hoping it will be reasonably easy to follow, and that Playford is not turning in his grave.
Of course, the trouble now is that the vicar would quite like the words to all the rest of the psalms for Lent as soon as possible, so I need to find suitable settings and write responses for all of them in a bit of a hurry! I’d like to include a mix of plainchant and metrical psalmody, sticking for the most part to better-known tunes for the latter, but I might go for a chanting tune or two.
So of course this afternoon I’ve been blogging about it, instead of getting on with the actual setting. Next up is Psalm 32.

Warmer wrists!

On Saturday a pair of these arrived in the post:

They were knitted for me by my aunt, and my mum sent them along to keep my wrists warm while I’m practising at church.
St Andrew’s, like many church buildings of its time, was built with not much regard for temperature regulation. Once upon a time there was some kind of underfloor radiator system but that has since been replaced by radiant electric heaters, which are a lot of good if you’re standing directly where they are pointed (preferably wearing something dark), but not much help elsewhere. This hasn’t been the warmest winter, and while indoor morning temperatures at the moment are around 9ºC with the milder weather, over Christmas it was sometimes as low as 3ºC. I do have a radiant heater pointing at the organ keys, which does help, but the organ itself is part of the problem as a fierce draught comes down from behind it! I can’t really wear gloves, even fingerless ones, because they interfere too much with playing. Practising I can leave my coat on, but services are another matter as I can’t fit very many warm jumpers underneath cassock and surplice. Brr!
This week hasn’t seen much organ practice at church yet, and the weather is warming up here now, but I’m looking forward to trying out the wrist warmers tomorrow morning. If I can use them for playing then my work in the winter months will be far more pleasant. Many thanks, Aunt Pat!
Now to figure out how to keep my feet warm while wearing my organ shoes, which fit very closely and are just a thin layer of leather… I’m thinking fuzzy gaiters or legwarmers.

Carol Service

As part of my work as organist and choirmaster at St Andrew’s Leytonstone I am helping organise the annual Carol Service. This year the service will be on Sunday, 12th December at 4.30pm.

Choral singing is great fun, and I’ve always found it a good way of keeping my spirits up in the increasing gloom of November and December. Why not come and join us?

Rehearsals will be Fri 19th Nov, Thurs 25th Nov, Fri 3rd Dec and Thurs 9th Dec at 7.30pm, at St Andrew’s. They’re split between Thursdays and Fridays in order to accommodate those who already have commitments on one of those weeknights, and to avoid a clash with the popular Bistro Night at Cafe Refresh, our church cafe. If you’d like to participate but you can’t come to all the rehearsals please do get in touch and I’ll see if we can work something out!

All are welcome to come and sing.

Vacation

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…