The GCM for March is Ian Hare, who is a former organ scholar of King’s College, Cambridge.
In his own words:
“Composition has always been important to me since my earliest efforts as a
schoolboy, although it has often had to take second place to my other commitments as a
performer, teacher and examiner. Many of my pieces have been written for specific choirs or
organs, which has provided the stimulus and opportunity for creativity.
There are details on my website (www.ianhare.org.uk) of some anthems, carols and
organ pieces which have been published by Oxford, Banks, Animus and others. However,
there are also some unpublished longer choral works which have been dedicated to the Abbey
Singers and Cumbria Rural Choirs, including The Vale of Keswick, A Cumbrian Canticle
and Springtime in Lakeland, all settings of Lake District poets.
Most recently I am pleased that my organ piece ‘Corona Fantasia’ has been accepted
by Merula Music. It was composed during lockdown and has been performed in Blackburn
Cathedral and elsewhere. The title references both the pandemic and also the architectural
feature which points heavenward above Newcastle Cathedral.
Having studied composition at Cambridge with Alan Ridout and Professor Robin Orr,
it was helpful to experience the tuition offered by Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainbleau
summer school and in Paris. My work has also benefitted from the closer study of harmony
and counterpoint when a Lecturer in Music at Lancaster University, and from continued
involvement with practical music-making as an organist and musical director.”
Here is fine example of Ian’s modern, but highly approachable style:
In his own words:
“Singing in a choir is about the most environmentally friendly possible way of performing music: we just need our voices and maybe a few bits of paper.
Until the Covid-19 pandemic, over 2m people sang regularly in choirs – that’s 1 in 30 people in the UK. As community groups, choirs and their members have a great ability to reach out and make a difference: when we encourage members and their families and friends to use trains instead of flying, switch to green energy, use public transport, get rid of plastic water bottles, or other activities, we can be leaders of individual change – and it’s great to see many choirs already doing this. (Visit choirsforclimate.com for suggestions of what your choir can do!)
But if the world as we know it is to survive the effects of climate change, we also need governments and corporations to make major changes – and while individual changes can influence this sometimes, the outreach that choirs can perform to their audiences can have an impact beyond anything that the individual members can do (unless your choir includes, say, the CEO of Shell or a large number of MPs).
‘A memorable song – be it a protest chant, a children’s song or a concert work – will communicate its subject not just to the ears and minds of its hearers, but to their hearts and souls…’MakingMusic.org.uk, 19 August 2021
This is because choirs, performing with music as well as words, have a unique ability to communicate with their listeners. This is why choirs have been such an important part of the Christian tradition for centuries; a choral setting of a religious text will have a completely different impact compared to reading it out loud. A memorable song – be it a protest chant, a children’s song or a concert work – will communicate its subject not just to the ears and minds of its hearers, but to their hearts and souls, and will often be remembered long after the impact of just hearing the same words spoken would have vanished. (“Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory…”)
We are in a climate emergency which needs drastic action: so choose music with a message, and send the message loud and clear. If you can, sing it where it can be heard by people who can cause big changes – whether that’s in the street or outside Parliament. Invite your local MP to your concert (or send them a recording if they’re busy), invite prominent local or global businesses – the types of people who are placed to make global change are often classical music lovers because of their demographics. Tell them in the concert why you’re singing what you’re singing.
Choirs are uniquely placed to speak truth to the powerful with the songs that we choose for them to hear, and I believe that someday, the right song in the right place will help to save our world. I hope you do too.
The main event coming up is of course the Choirs for Climate concert on 5th March – this is funded by Creative Scotland and we have almost 100 people singing in it! This will feature works about the climate crisis by 11 different individual composers, and many of them are world premieres, including several which are part of the Choirs for Ecocide Law project that will be formally launched at the World Symposium on Choral Music in Istanbul in April. We’ll be raising money for environmental causes, and hopefully giving the audience many different ways to get involved in environmental work and campaigning.”
Here are some more examples of Chris’s work:
Adeste Fideles — Chris describes this as “probably my favourite commissioned piece”. It certainly is a refreshing and joyful take on the classic text!
My GCM for October was another Multitude of Voyces “stablemate”, Katharine Parton. Katharine was Director of Music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge from 2014 to 2017, and is now a leading conductor, research, and, of course, a composer whose works have been widely performed by many famous ensembles.
Here is Katharine’s magnificently rhythmic and exciting Gaudebat et Ridebat!
Detailed Information About Katharine Parton
Katharine Parton is a researcher, conductor and composer who has held positions in both the UK and Australia. Most notably as Director of Music at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge (2014-17) where she was the first woman to hold the position. Katharine was also elected as a Bye-Fellow of the College each year during this period. Katharine’s research, including a PhD completed in 2020 at The University of Melbourne, has focused on the roles of interaction, cognition and creativity in rehearsal, with a particular focus on the use of gesture by both conductors and players within orchestral settings. She has also taught conducting across a variety of settings; from running innovative workshops for young people from groups which are under-represented on the podium to lecturing and coaching emerging professional conductors.
Katharine began composing in response to being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She centres the experiences of parenting and disability as themes in her creative work exploring the emotional landscapes and physicality of pregnancy, mothering, diagnosis, and grief in both her choral and instrumental work. Her compositions have been performed by ensembles & soloists in the UK, Germany and Australia including the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Chorus, the Gesualdo Six, Fitzwilliam College Chapel Choir and Leuphana Ensembles. Her choral works are published by Multitude of Voyces and Encore Publications.
Katharine’s own words: Aesthetic positions
“My compositions explore the physicality of experience; the physicality of performing, the physicality of listening and the physicality of experiencing the world outside of music. I am particularly interested in how sounds can be experienced and re-experienced differently in new contexts. I include women’s perspectives in genres where those perspectives have not always been given space whether that is through the themes I am exploring, the texts or musical quotations I use.
The types of sounds I use could be described as found sounds or inspired by found sounds. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that my writing starts from a sound, and physical experience of that sound, which I translate into music.
One of the most important factors for me in writing music is that musicians find it physically enjoyable, or at least satisfying, to perform. I also try to write music which I believe is practical to perform and would work well across multiple contexts – useful repertoire which can be recycled!
Major compositional influences have been Ros Bandt, Deborah Cheetham and I have more recently realised, somewhat to my surprise, Benjamin Britten. “
I’m delighted, thrilled and honoured to welcome Melanie DeMore as Guest Composer for September. I first encountered Melanie’s music via Multitude of Voyces, which contains a lovely piece called Blessed be!, which combines rhythmic energy and play with bright, crisp harmony and contrapuntal texture in a way that speaks to my own aesthetic goals and preferences. Intrigued, I explored Melanie’s music and activities and found it to be the gateway to the wonders of Gullah Geechee music and culture, and to be the expression of human strength and love in the face of cruelty, tragedy and oppression.
To start off, here is Blessed be!
And here is an hour-long conversation:
GCM will be on hiatus for August. However, I have lined up two fantastic composers for September and October and look forward to sharing their music with you then!
GCM for July is Bernard Hughes. I first encountered his music, in the form of his Shepherd’s Carol, in a livestream of carols from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. I was intrigued by his clever modal language and skill in changing between textures. I’ve become a fan of his music, and especially love his setting of Burns’s The Winter it is past. Give it a listen:
Another piece that I like very much is this one:
In his own words
“I aim to write music that works for whatever its context: children’s choir, amateur orchestra or the BBC Singers. I like to write choral music that singers enjoy singing, even where it is challenging. I like to write modally as a way of avoiding the obviousnesses of straightforward tonality (I’m not good at writing perfect cadences). I enjoy dissonance and finding interesting ways to get choirs to sing dissonances, while not seeing consonance as anathema. I want people to enjoy listening to my music while still writing the kind of music that I like to listen to.”
“I like the journey this goes on, from the anxious, stressed opening (‘My enemies will daily swallow me up’) to the humble, sincere ‘Miserere mei’ at the end.”
Death of Balder: Interlude https://open.spotify.com/track/5BKmSqKQladovunT2TznkP?si=3a36cd4eb61c4e92
“This is from probably my best choral piece, large-scale and virtuosic – but this middle section is very simple and restrained. And without being morbid, I’d like it at my own funeral.”
Previous Guest Composers of the Month
Here is Lux Aeterna, a gorgeous composition in which a chant melody floats serenely through clouds of gentle harmony while the harp provides glittering highlights.
In her own words
“I consider it an enormous privilege to be a composer. There is something immensely humbling about having a piece chosen for performance; it is a thrill for me every time this happens. I relish the opportunity to hear how the choir and their conductor interpret my piece, and how they bring the music to life. I enjoy all the little variations, the special performance decisions, the shaping of the phrase and, in particular, hearing how they communicate the meaning. It is an honour to make a contribution to the field of sacred choral music, and to be responsible for augmenting the repertoire by providing a new voice to sit alongside the great history of music for worship.
I enjoy exploring what it is possible to create from a very small amount of material. As part of this technique I use repetition to try to achieve a sense of flow, when the passing of time is, perhaps, momentarily less discernible. I meditate on the texts to find the central point, or a word of focus, or a particular sentiment that I bring out through my setting of the lyrics, often considering the theological context of the text, and using this as a starting point. Rhythmic vitality is also a feature of my style, used to punctuate the music, sometimes in contrast to slow-moving sections. I like to establish a harmonic end-point, and then use modulation to create a journey from a distant beginning to an emphatic end.
Dona nobis pacem
I would like to introduce Dona nobis pacem, a piece I wrote for SATB, conceived to mark 100 years of female suffrage and the centenary of the armistice of WW1. In the piece, the L’homme armé tune (‘the armed man should be feared’) is set to the words dona nobis pacem (give us peace). The piece quotes the ‘Dona nobis pacem’ from a mass by the 16th century Scottish composer Robert Carver. The sentiment, give us peace, could not be more heartfelt, and the use of the tune, ‘the armed man should be feared’, feels particularly poignant in light of recent events.
A Renewal of Faith
A Renewal of Faith was written just as choirs were beginning to come back to sing after the enforced silence during the covid-19 pandemic. I sought to create a straight-forward, direct piece that captures something of a spirit of renewal. Intentionally restrained, the piece provides a harmonic journey, with a syllabic word-setting for every word apart from ‘resurrection’, which marks the climax of the piece.”
The GCM for May 2022 was Helen Williams, a fellow composer in the Multitude of Voyces project.
Helen and Nigel Williams are the owners of Canossa Music, which offers a range of beautiful pieces for liturgical use and other occasions. If you are in a viol consort, you can find a number of new pieces by Helen and Nigel here.
Here are two of Helen’s most characteristic pieces:
Helen only undertakes commissions very rarely. Roger Miller is a bass in Epsom Chamber Choir, so had sung many of her works already. When he stepped down as chairman of near neighbours Guildford Chamber Choir, he requested a setting of a poem by John Fletcher. Helen wrote this, ready just before covid arrived.
Like so much else, plans to perform it had to be deferred, but the choir and conductor stuck with it and gave it its first airing in November 2021.
Love is the Key
Helen’s most sung choral piece is Love is the Key, her setting of a Christina Rossetti poem called Song for the Least of All Saints. Unaccompanied, in four parts, it fits into almost any church service. This year, Glasgow Cathedral sang it in Advent, St David’s Baltimore on Good Friday, St Peter’s College Oxford after Easter. Trinity Wall Street and Salford Cathedral sang it even during covid restrictions. Helen loves hearing it done by subtly different voices each time. If you would like to add yours, this video has the score in it too.
Paul Ayres, from whom I have learned much, was April’s GCM. Paul’s music is approachable yet subtle. In his own words:
“Composing and arranging gives me great joy, and my hope is that performers and audiences will share in that joy. That’s about as far as it goes, in terms of “artistic credo”! I’d like to share three pieces with your website visitors.
Love is the spirit of this church is a simple song, setting a Unitarian text. The melody works in canon. Perhaps because I’m an organist, I love canons, fugues, and strict contrapuntal forms…
[Editorial comment from Tamsin: I highly approve of contrapuntal fun and games!]
Something more bracing next: If music be the food of love (link to MIDI demo with score), for three-part voices (SABar or SAA) with piano duet accompaniment. Written for a youth choir – I tried to keep the vocal parts fairly straightforward, with the rhythmic drive taken by the accompaniment.
“Mostly Bach’s Toccata and Fugue” is an example of how I love to play around with, and “re-write” Baroque pieces. The original BWV565 (which may not be by Bach, and which may not have been written for organ – these are subjects for other chats!) is in 4-4 time, with almost continuous semiquaver movement. What happens if one plays only 7 out of every 8 notes? Bach with 12.5% off..
Having looked through all the links above, I see that they are all in D minor. I’d like to reassure readers that I can write in other keys too.”
Mitch Boucher was Guest Composer for February. A native of Maine, this promising young American composer is a fellow champion for the “New Baroque” aesthetic. As he puts it:
“I find it to be expressive, and I think it is the perfect conduit for the human condition. Music should not only be something that challenges the performer, but it should be something that the listener might relate to. Through its many constraints of form (like a canon, fugue, or a gigue) one can still find room to tell a story. Given that one of the ideals behind the Baroque era was emotional expression, I believe that the music can still be relevant and able to be appreciated by audiences today.”
Duet for Two Saxophones is a charming duo, with elegant interplay between the players, which takes advantage of the saxophone’s ability to articulate lines cleanly, while bringing a more contemporary tone-colour to the style.
GCM for January was Tim Knight, a Classic FM nominee and internationally acclaimed composer whose music encompasses everything from chamber music to large-scale orchestral works, but who is perhaps best known for his accessible and attractive church music.
Tim’s music is evocative and emotionally direct (perhaps that’s because he’s a Yorkshireman!), and says much with great economy of means. One of Tim’s most attractive strengths is his ability to create a memorable tune, and his anthem I will lift up mine eyes to the hills is a great example of that:
Another example is The Lord bless you and keep you for 2 soprano parts and piano, which radiates tranquility and contains some sparingly used, but well judged, flashes of colourful harmony. As it shows, less is often more:
Felicity Mazur-Park kindly agreed to be the inaugural guest composer on my website.
Felicity is a composer, organist, and pianist with British and Latvian heritage who is currently based in Dallas, Texas. Here is a wonderful example of her work, the terrific One Language is Never Enough, which seamlessly takes the listener on an exciting international adventure, taking in sounds from Africa, Asia, Central America and North America: