Thursday, January 28, 2010

An Agnus Dei in a Dei or Two

Well, I'm a couple of days later than promised, which isn't very good, but I have been beavering away on a second choral composition, and have got it to a state where I can share my thoughts about it.

This week's work has been a setting of the Agnus Dei, the text of which can be found at the bottom of the post.

This setting is more of a lullaby, and stays fairly quiet and gentle. There is only one time signature change at this time, and that is just to create a faux pause towards the end. Otherwise it maintains a lilting three beat, which i have intended to convey a sort of manger-side lullaby or rocking cradle, much like some good old-fashioned carols.

Oddly, this piece has one of the clearer structures I've written, while all the time blurring the divisions between sections. I like the piece because it leads you to expect certain things, and instead challenges these expectations by changing the ideas. There are a couple of places where the harmonic end of one section is the beginning of the next.

Stylistically i tried to move into a more accessible range, drawing from the modal language of the Kyrie, as well as the modality of some renaissance music. Hence the Tierce de Picardie which hits you over the head at the end. Also the romanticisms of the English choral school is present, with some nice (approximately) diatonic chromatic and leading notes falling throughout the work. Although these two roots seem incompatible, they seem to fit in interesting ways, as each mode of tension and release can be swapped with the other, meaning you can blend elements of style by purpose, rather than theory.

The middle section sits quite low on all the voices, particularly the sopranos, and should end up with a dark, low and deep timbre, which could sound quite nice against the higher and more lyrical sections at the beginning and end. Again I wrote for unaccompanied choir, this time not even going beyond the four lines, (no split parts), and I am enjoying the tone and harmonic resonance a choir can create without a more rhythmical instrument accompanying.

Thinking ahead to the next few movements it would be good to experiment with some energy and rhythm, perhapps adding an organ accompaniment. Organ seems fitting considering the sacred intentions and traditions behind this work. I have no ideas for the next few movements, but the point is that I have a deadline, so I'm sure the ideas will come.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem.
If you want to have a look/listen and give me some feedback or thoughts, just let me know and I'll send something through. I don't want to make them public just yet, but when the project is up I'll make them available to view and listen in a non downloadable format.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Back after extended delays.

Hello world!

At this point I doubt if anyone reads this thing, but I have decided to attempt a return to the rigour of blogging in order to update the world as to the comings and goings of my life.

The main purpose of this return however, is to force me to get routine in my writing, particularly my composing. I tend to go for far to long without putting pen to paper as it were (I usually write straight into my computer) and so end up with massive block when I do finally decide to try write something. Consequently, I have decided that I will endeavor to write something every week at least, whether I have any grand ideas or not, and work on either sketches, miniatures, movements, or even sections of a larger work.

I have also decided to inflict whatever I write upon my poor audience, if not in published score, then at least a brief discussion or description of the work. This way I can assess how my writing and motivate myself to get a certain amount done during the week. As I often write at the weekend or later in the week I will endeavor to blog somewhere in Monday-Wednesday bracket.

Anyway, enough self-proscribed rules. I will now put a little update of my work over the weekend. Please read and leave me comments, ideas, requests and suggestions.


Well, as a little mini-project I have decided to work on a little setting of the traditional mass. Starting with the Kyrie, I am going to attempt to work through each movement in about a week or so (longer if necessary). I am using the traditional Latin text, as it is always fun to remove the constraints of understandability in singing, but retaining the meaning of the medieval texts.

Starting with the Kyrie, I spent a good chunk of my weekend playing around with chromatic and non tonal clusters. The atmosphere is quiet, still, but ever so slightly restless. While obviously not diatonic, I tried to experiment with various modes and scales, and build scales out of perfect inversion and sequence of contour. Using the SATB choir means that semitones and chromaticisms (in the original sense of the word: colour) are deliciously crunchy, and can maintain an etheriality that a percussion ensemble or chamber group often cannot.

The hardest area for me when writing in this style is developing structure. Often I will listen to a work and notice how poorly structured and thus boring it is, and so I am always conscious of the direction and construction of the work as I begin it. With this i started with the opening statement, which defined the style, tonality and atmosphere. I then had to experiment with the layout of the work. As I was trying to write a piece that did not directly follow the conventions of Mozart, Dowland, Bach and all the boys I didn't feel that a motific based structure was particularly applicable. As such I tried not to use 'statements' of themes and motifs establishing a pattern, but rather let a series of interlocking ideas flow forward loosely. I suppose the closest literary style would be a cross between chain-of-consciousness and the haiku. Eventually I ended up with a parabolic arc of a structure: starting and ending in unison with pitch/range expanding and contracting to fill the space. The texture also thus waxes and wains.

It was only after writing the piece that i found the unisons that start and finish the work are a tone apart. I am not sure what I think about it: either the piece should have some stronger unity and depart and arrive at the same point, or I make the step a motif for the mass setting as a whole, having at least some thread tying the whole work together.

I am not sure if I will continue this style throughout the larger work, but I have genuinely enjoyed writing in a way that is not attempting to draw from any existing style, but just writing as i see fit. I am hoping that as this blog progresses over 2010, I will gradually see the development of a distinctive personal style. I can tell I'm moving towards one, but until i have great things to say, I will practice my language until i can write without thinking.

After all, music is a language.


Sunday, January 25, 2009


Good day to you, my erstwhile if infrequent readers. I have exciting news to announce.
I would heartily urge you all to visit and have a look around.
There's not much more i can say about it, except to say that it isn't necesarily concrete yet, and any feedback you make will in all probabilty be incorporated.
So, critique away, and help me build up that often all to vital thing that is hyped up as a "web-presence" - phft


Two Sacred Songs

Here are two pieces which I have written. One was done over a year ago, the other is more recent. While I am not brilliantly happy with them, i thought i'd put them out for people to see. I'm working out how to place music files on here, as blogger stupidly lets you upload video and picture files, but not music. I can only presume that this is for anti-piracy, and not some deformed sort of logic.
If you can read music, please comment and tell me what you think, and if you would like a recording (i do own the copyright after all) let me know and i'll try and send you one by some other channel.
So... please enjoy, these were basically an attempt/excercise at setting text to music, and i hope i've done it in a way that makes it sound half decent.
God Be in My Head

A New Song

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It takes someone supremely clever to seem supremely silly

This guy is probably an acquired taste, but it takes a hell of a lot of talent to appear that hopeless that effortlessly.
It may sound corny, but i think this is something all of us performers could aspire to. To be that effortless on stage is a gift.
That said, one of the most important things in life is not to take oneself too seriously, especially as performers. The best artists are those that can step back and just have a good laugh at themselves, and not view themselves as gods gift to man kind.

I hope to be like that one day.

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)

I think that it takes a certain kind of genius to be a clown. True there are the horrendous clowns who you just want to go away, but that isn't the laugh of humour. That is the nervous knee jerk laugh as (in the most extreme cases) a reaction to pain.

A Genius clown, however, makes us laugh, not for being stupid, but for mirroring ourselves. It is the genius of a clown (or Pierrot or Punch or Harlequin or Fool or Shakespeare's Porter) that they can encapsulate humanity in a way that transcends time.

I think that it takes as much genius to do this as to get a plane off the ground or to invent the telephone. It certainly uses the same ingredients as Edison's favourite method:

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% Perspiration
Thomas Alva Edison
A genius performer works as hard as anyone else to show us our world, and they do so eight nights a week. They may have spent their entire life honing their craft, and their efforts still ring true after many many years. Take for example Harry Houdini, William Kemp, Grimauldi, and my personal idol, Charlie Chaplin. a century has passed and we can still completely engage with their works. This is genius.

And it is a genius we all can aspire to

Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.
Brendan Gill

Friday, October 10, 2008

Shakespeare Summarised

Here is a not quite comprehesnsive list of shakespeares plays. Followed by a brief summary or pertinent point. Accuracy not Guaranteed. No money returned.

Romeo & Juliet

Teen Pregnancy boosts the Italian tourist industry. And the balcony construction industry. And the modern mafia

A Midsummer’s Nights Dream

Homeless people on drugs. Has a man named bottom. He turns into an Ass.


Warning: This play is unsuitable for minors as it glamorises knife crime. Contains the first Knock Knock joke. It isn’t very funny.


Prince Harry in ten years time, complete with the unorthodox fashion sense.

Julius Caesar

A towering indictment of antisemitism in a totalitarian regime.


Bloody Foreigners

Taming of the Shrew

Bloody Women

Comedy of Errors

Brith Birth-control failures causes much stupidyti idiyoc hilarity.

Anthony and Cleopatra

Dance like an Egyptian. Just do it.

The Tempest

Meteorology gone mad.

Henry VI part 1 2 and 3

Elizabethan Star Wars. Episodes 5,6 and 7 are now lost. Or the Wagner's Ring Cycle, depending on your educational background.


‘Is it becoz I iz black?’ Mostly.

Two Gentlemen of Verona

See Julius Caesar.

As You Like It

All the worlds a stage. And all the men and women merely players. But none of them know any of the other lines except that speech. Makes for a boring (if short) performance. Also, where does the audience sit?

Loves Labours Lost

Ironically, this one is not lost, while Loves Labours Won is. If only that were as funny as it could be.

King Lear

Proudly providing job opportunities for mad old men since 1605


The bit next to the Coriorectum. Man I’m funny.

Much Ado about Nothing

I’m rapidly running out of good material. Better pad it out with some bad puns.

All’s well that ends well

Stuff it, I’m out of here.

Well, that ends my first blog post. Leave a comment, or a summary of any other work. I'll post the best ones at a later date. Maybe.

Don't bother telling me how unfunny I am. I know.