What I am planning for Lent…

No, not the music — more on that anon. I’m planning something else.

I’m planning on sowing, each day of Lent, some seeds for edible plants. I’ll be posting pictures to Tumblr and those will turn up on Twitter; once a week I’ll try and do a summary post of some sort, which I’ll link to from here and FaceBorg and various other places for those of you who aren’t into Twitter.

Do feel free to join me, and whether you do or not may you have a blessed Lent.


Please can I keep it? It followed me home…

I was feeling a little unfocused and restless yesterday so decided to go for a walk after lunch.

I wandered past the charity shop on Leytonstone High Road, as I sometimes do, and decided to have a peek inside.

I came home with a musical instrument. This is why I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house unsupervised…

At first glance, it just looks like a box.

A box with strange protrusions and fittings, mind, but a box all the same.

But this is what happens when you get it open!

The “lid” goes all the way vertical…

…then folds backward. Release the little metal tab at the top…

…and you get a bellows!

The bellows are operated with one hand while the other plays the 3/4-size keys.

I don’t have enough hands to play and pump and hold the camera.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F28966256 Brother James’s Air by artsyhonker

From what the internet tells me, this is a very simple portable harmonium. More complicated ones have drone stops which, when activated, sound a drone note constantly, and some also have couplers or even separate sets of reeds to give various different textures.

I’m quite pleased with this: I finally have a keyboard instrument that can play more than one note at once which fits on my bicycle. The fact that it doesn’t require electricity is an added bonus. I think it will be really good for folk music and some bits of community music, and it suits me a lot better than trying to learn the guitar would (though that is still on the wishlist). But to be honest, I probably would have bought it anyway; I have a soft spot for weird and wonderful instruments, even if they’re not all that practical.

There are a few very low and very high notes where the tuning is a bit of an issue, and I’m wondering exactly what is involved in maintenance of an instrument like this. It looks like flathead screwdrivers are required for taking it apart, but I haven’t done more than give it a superficial dusting.

(Some of the alignment is messed up in this post, but to fix it I would have to re-upload all of those pictures, so I’m not going to. Sorry. It’s staying crooked.)

Metrical Psalms for Advent

I want to encourage the use of psalms in liturgy. To this end I have committed to compiling a small booklet of metrical psalms for use this coming Advent (Year B). As with everything else I publish I will release the work under a CC BY-SA licence so that other people can use it, free of charge, without having to bother me for permission.

I aim to have two settings of each of the psalms for the main Sunday morning service, one with a very well-known hymn tune and one perhaps a little less well-known (I might even write something myself). I will include full music, and also a “lead sheet” version with the melody line and chords. The psalms will have an optional refrain, so that they can be sung congregationally (without the refrain) or in the “responsorial” style with the choir/music group/whoever singing the verses, and the congregation joining in with the refrain. I used this method of metrical psalm singing quite successfully in my own parish, St Andrew’s Leytonstone, during Lent.

There is a catch, however. Most of the public domain metrical settings of the psalms use language that, at best, is considered archaic. Some of the older settings are quite difficult to understand. While that might be all right for the choir at St Andrew’s, where people have a fairly high tolerance for “old-fashioned” language, I do think it might be difficult in other contexts.

To this end I would like some modern metrical settings of the following psalms:

Advent I Psalm 80:1-8,18-20
Advent II Psalm 85:1-2,8-13
Advent III Psalm 126
Advent IV Psalm 89.1-4,19-26
(These are all from RSCM’s “Sunday by Sunday”, so please tell me if I’ve got the lectionary wrong…)

It would, of course, make sense to add these translations or paraphrases to Psalter Commons. Some of them have been shortened in order to be a sensible length for congregational worship; that’s the lectionary’s suggestion, not mine, so please feel free to include a bit more if the text sits better that way.

A modern metrical setting of the Magnificat (listed as an alternative to the psalm on Advent III or Advent IV) would also be useful, but this is not as crucial as there are serviceable settings already available in many hymnals (Timothy Dudley-Smith’s “Tell out my soul” is perhaps the best known).

I’ve promised people I’ll have this booklet done by mid-November, so I really, really need the text by the end of October. Do let me know if you’d like to help out.

Multi-tracking chant experiment

This is a brief experiment with multi-tracking chant.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F19235111 Creator lucis optime (English) by artsyhonker

You see, I’ve got this hare-brained idea about podcasting a sung Compline online, possibly in some kind of Whitacre-style virtual choir. That’s hard to coordinate, with chant: the pulse is directed by the words, so metronome markings are no help, for starters. But gathering together a little schola cantorum to come and sing with me in person once a week or once a month seems equally daunting. And I worry that singing Compline by myself is just going to sound a bit daft; there are too many responsorial bits, really.

So I thought I’d take something simple and see whether I can sing chant with myself, so to speak. In went the headphones and out came the hymnal to select something I’d not sung before. The results are… instructive, really. This will need a lot of work on intonation and timing before I’m happy to do an entire Compline. I did actually cheat and “mute” some sections of some voices in one or two places where the timing was just unbearably out of sync; I didn’t do any other fancy stuff, though. What you hear is what I sang.

I guess if I want an online Compline to be a recording of an actual prayer, rather than something that takes hours of editing and re-recording to get into acceptable shape for posting online, I need to find some people to sing with me, or get used to the idea of singing alone.

There are, of course, other folks who put this sort of thing online. Most seem to be regular “Compline choirs” in the US, who rehearse regularly, or monastic groups with their daily Office available as podcasts. I’m not entirely sure how what I want to offer would be significantly different, and maybe I need to figure that out, too. On a very basic level, I’d like it to be something that encourages people to join in. That means providing links to the text and preferably to notation with the text underlaid, not just an audio file as I have above.