Salisbury Fauxbourdons first performance

It has been confirmed that the first performance of my setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis will be performed in Salisbury Cathedral at Evensong on Wednesday 5th April 2017. A fauxbourdon setting is one in which the choir sing plainsong verses, and some verses that are harmonised for full choir – in my setting the plainsong still runs through the tenor part, which proved a challenge when harmonising the long repeated reciting notes!

You can view a sample score and pre-order copies (in stock from May 2017) by clicking here.

Salisbury Cathedral

Seasonal Music

With Lent, Holy Week and Easter not that far away (at least, not for those of us planning music!), visitors to my website might be interested in two short and simple pieces that are available freely here:

Were you there?
Were you there?

Were you there? Suitable for use during Passiontide (the period immediately before Easter, when Christians focus on the Crucifixion of Jesus), it is an arrangement of the American Spiritual melody for 2 voices, and adaptable for use by many different combinations to suit your singers. More information…

Easter Anthems
Easter Anthems

Easter Anthems The Easter Anthems are traditionally sung at Mattins during Eastertide, but are equally suitable for being sung at any other service during that time. This is a setting to a single Anglican Chant with the text pointed accordingly. More information…

If you are looking for something more substantial for a Lent or Passiontide service, then you may be interested in looking at Teach me, O Lord which places more demands on the singers and organist. It was first performed in Salisbury Cathedral in Passiontide 2011, on the day that The Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam was announced as the new Bishop of Salisbury, and sung in front of the entire Chapter and packed cathedral during Evensong. More information…

Recorded in Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday 29th March 2012, sung by the choir of St Stephen’s Church, Canterbury.


Well, after a few final tweaks to notes and typesetting, today I passed the completed scores on to David Flood, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Canterbury Cathedral, so that he could begin to work on the piece with the Trebles. To be honest, I don’t think it will take them very long to learn it at all – they are very talented musicians who sing seven services a week and regularly tackle repertoire far more complex than my piece!

Having passed it over, it’s now a case of waiting – perhaps for a question or two from David – there may be something in the score that I haven’t made clear or something that he feels doesn’t quite work.

With under two weeks until the Baptism, at least I don’t have to wait too long to hear my piece performed. I’m hoping that I may be allowed to take a recording – if so, I’ll post it on here, and make the final complete copy available to view and purchase, should you wish to use the piece with your own singers.

Final draft

In my last post, you could hopefully see from the image that I had finished the melody and had mapped out the harmony of the accompanying, but hadn’t got particularly far with the accompaniment patters. One restriction on the accompaniment for the first performance is that, because the service is taking place in the Eastern Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, the only instrument for accompaniment is a small one manual chamber organ with three stops (8′, 4′ & 2′). Originally built to accompany Tudor music in the Quire, it is more than capable of filling the space, but the restrictions it imposes on me is both that the accompaniment must easily lie under the hands – there are no pedals to take the bass notes, or a sustain pedal as you would get on a piano, and the dynamic range is restricted due to the small number of stops – an organ doesn’t play louder or quieter depending on how hard you press the keys like a piano would, so the dynamic contrasts can only be made by adding or reducing the number of stops, or what is called more correctly, the registration.

Personally, I find it easier to compose on a piano, but I was careful to regularly try my accompaniment out on an organ, just with a single 8′ flute stop, to make sure that what worked on the piano (and in my mind), worked equally well on the organ.

There are two main styles to the accompaniment: one loosely based on an arpeggio-style pattern, and one on repeated syncopated chords. Both of these include my own fingerprint of added notes that aren’t in the basic triad, and some counter-melodies hidden within the accompaniment textures. To give the piece a sense of completion, I wanted to return to the opening style towards the end – to give the piece a sense of winding down, of regaining the calmness that the opening held; the repetition of the opening melodic material and text helped to make this easier. The change in the middle to the more syncopated style gave the piece a drive and a contrast. It is essential in a good piece of music to carefully balance repetition with contrast. Hopefully I’m somewhere close to getting this right in this piece – I’ll have to wait and hear the opinion of others to see if they agree.

First stages in typesetting

OK, I’ll confess, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to typesetting. I like to make my score look as professional as possible. I also like to get some of the music into Sibelius (my preferred choice of score writing package at the moment) and then continue to work in pencil on the half-finished score. If you look closely at the image below, you’ll see that I’ve already started to do this – adding tempo direction that wasn’t there before, some repeat bars as I decided to repeat the opening theme – first time with a solo treble, and the full treble line joining on the repeat.

Early draft of typeset work.
Early draft of typeset work.

You’ll also noticed that I’ve started to think more carefully about the harmony of the accompaniment. I think that I said in an earlier post that writing a piece based on a single melodic line, without other voices to build the vocal textures, is something that I haven’t done for a while – my other mst recent pieces have been for full SATB choir, sometimes with further divisions. I’ve been thinking in terms of chords, and reasonably conventional chord sequences – at one point I found myself writing a complete cycle of fifths, but decided that was too obvious! Despite this, my use of harmony includes a number of added non-harmonic notes; these can be dissonances that may or may not be resolved, they can be notes that are added as part of hidden counter-melodies within the accompaniment, or it may just be a chord that seems to ‘work’ – yes, I firmly believe that composers should trust their ears and if it sounds right, use it! However, the caveat to that is to ensure that it really does sound right, and you’re not just settling for something that might be ok, but could be better; is that phrase really as good as you can make it? I’m not pretending to get it right every time, but I do question everything that I write.

By the time I write again, I’m expecting that I will have a complete first draft… better get on with it!

Word Setting and Melody Writing

It’s been a little while since I last posted an update on the composition I’m working on; as a church musician, Easter does take over any spare time that I might have had (we had 11 services and rehearsals between Palm Sunday and Easter Day!). However, work has been progressing on the composition, and at the stage of writing this, the melody line and harmonic structure for the accompaniment are now complete. I use the word ‘complete’ reluctantly as I’m pretty sure that there will be a number of small changes (or maybe more significant ones) as the piece moves towards completion.

One difficulty that I have had to work hard to overcome is the fitting the natural rhythm of the words. In a nice piece of poetry, there is usually a regular pattern to the number of syllables in a line – what’s called the metre; we have it in hymns too, where a verse may have four lines with a pattern of, say, 7-6-7-6 (have you ever wondered what those numbers were next to the name of a hymn tune? they tell you exactly that – how many syllables there are in each line, so you can chose an alternative tune with the same metre and know that it should fit). Unfortunately, with this text, there isn’t a particularly regular metre – I’ve introduced the text in an earlier post, but I’ll repeat it again below so that you can see what I mean:

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; <-- 11 syllables to give and not to count the cost; <-- 8 to fight and not to heed the wounds; <-- 8 to toil and not to seek for rest; <-- 8 to labour and not to ask for any reward, <-- 12 save that of knowing that we do your will. <-- 10 Amen. <-- 2

There are some patterns in the text – the three lines with 8 syllables each are not only regular, but also have a similar pattern of emphasis too, so these were quite straightforward to set. However the following long line with 12 syllables disrupts that flow. After trying several different options, I settled on breaking up that line, using a small amount of repetition to create two shorter phrases:

to labour and not to ask, <-- 7 not to ask for any reward, <-- 8

A line with an odd number of syllables can sound, as it does here, incomplete, emphasising the comma, whereas a line that has an even number of syllables has a sense of conclusion to it.

I used that same theory to break up the final line and give an odd number of syllables (7) which seemed to draw the melody into the ‘Amen’.

save that of knowing that we do your will, <--10 knowing that we do your will. <-- 7 Amen...

As you’ll see from previous posts, the main melodies that I used, particularly for the opening and the recapitulation in the Amen, came very quickly. However, setting the middle part of the text (with it’s uneven metre in places) went through several different iterations. I knew that harmonically, I wanted the piece to go in a slightly different direction in the middle, to provide contrast with the relatively static harmony of the opening ideas which predominantly moves between chords I and IV (B-flat and E-flat). Close inspection of some of the images in previous posts may uncover some of the ideas that never made it to the final piece! Of course, it’s not unusual for composers to discard material as they go – sometimes keeping it to one side to use in another piece sometime in the future; Elgar was known for having a pool of melodies in his head that he would wait to use when the right situation came along.

Composing and developing motifs


Right from the start, the final performance of the composition is in my mind: who will be performing it? how many parts? will there be accompaniment? what is the performance venue like? etc. Obviously many of these will change in subsequent performances (we all hope that there will be more than one performance of our compositions, don’t we?!) but I do find it useful and inspirational to be thinking about that premiere.

With this particular composition, unusually for me, I am limited to just treble voices (boy choristers), although being the Cathedral Choristers, they are very able and often split into two or three parts. The service is taking place in the crypt, and the only instrument available for accompaniment is a small one manual chamber organ with three stops (and no pedals) so this poses a few challenges, although if it were to be performed again at some point, I imagine the accompanying instrument might be significantly more versatile, so this can also be borne in mind.

First sketches of a few ideas

The image to the left (click on it to enlarge) shows how the first few ideas are taking shape. I’ve composed a short motif for the words ‘Teach us, good Lord’, which I’ve begun to develop – in particular I felt particularly inspired to use the motif for an extended ‘Amen’ section which will eventually conclude the piece. I remember once being told to make sure when performing that you have a really good opening piece, as that will capture your audience, and a really good final piece, as that is what the audience will remember most after the performance is over; I guess that composition is similar – have a good opening that captures the listener, and leave them with a good ending that carries on in their mind after the piece has finished – a bit of an ear-worm perhaps!

Also on this page are a few ideas for how I might use the voices in certain places to vary the texture, particularly the contrast between all singing in unison and singing in two – or maybe three – parts. I’ve also given thought to how some of the harmony might develop, but this is very early days, and has come from playing a few ideas at the piano rather than giving it any structured thought.

Finally there are some ideas for how the first line of text might develop, but this is the area that I am least confident about at the moment so will want to spend some time thinking about how the ideas might develop through this. It would be very easy to set the words in such a way that the text was rushed through rather quickly, and I don’t think this is the overall effect that I am after; having taken such care in choosing some excellent words, some time needs to be given for the listener to absorb these as well.

Throughout all this, lingering in the back of my mind is the pressures of writing something that both my friend and his musical family will like, and also something that the Master of the Choristers at Canterbury Cathedral feels is worthy of spending rehearsal time on; of course it would be wonderful if he went on to incorporate it into the Trebles regular repertoire, but that might be hoping for a bit too much!

By the time I write my next post, hopefully some of these ideas will have become more structured.

Starting with the text

Over the next few weeks, I shall be working on a composition for a friend of mine whose son is being Baptised in Canterbury Cathedral in a couple of months time.

I asked him for a text that he felt would be suitable for the occasion, and he came back with three possibilities, from which we decided to use the Prayer of St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556).

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.

St Ignatius Loyola was a Spanish priest and theologian who founded the Society of jesus, or Jesuits as they became more widely known.

For some visitors to my website, it might be of casual interest to see the process that I go through when composing, but I also know that my students don’t believe me when I say that they have to plan their work more carefully. Perhaps by showing what I do when I compose, it might give them an insight into what makes a (hopefully) successful final piece.

My next post will show how I’m progressing with some melodic motifs, beginning to get an idea of the word setting, and perhaps a few harmonic ideas.

Choral Day in France

Famous for its horse racing, on 14 February 2015, Chantilly will be the venue for a Choral Singing Day. I will be leading choristers from across northern France in a workshop of music from the English choral tradition, culminating in a service of Choral Evensong in St Peter’s Church.

More details, including the music being sung in the workshop will be posted in due course.

Fauré’s Requiem for Katherine House Hospice

On Saturday 25th October 2014, I directed be directing a ‘Come and Sing’ rehearsal and performance of Fauré’s Requiem in St Mary’s Church, Banbury. The concert was a fundraising event for the Katherine House Hospice, where my mother was cared for in the weeks before she passed away – Fauré’s Requiem was one of her favourite pieces and one of the first larger choral works that she introduced me to.

The first half of the concert will included an organ recital on St Mary’s unique Hill, Norman and Beard organ.

I am pleased to be able to report that the day raised £1,800 for the hospice, and it is hoped that we may be able to do another follow-up event next year – watch this space for details!

Below are some photographs from the rehearsal during the afternoon, taken by Sophie Tate, who also sang the Soprano solo in the concert.

London Première of Lullay mine liking

On Tuesday 31st December, my Christmas anthem ‘Lullay, mine liking’ is being performed for the first time in London, at Evensong in Westminster Abbey. This follows a performance in Canterbury at the Carol Service in St Stephen’s Church on Sunday 22nd December. Anyone is welcome to attend either event and it would be lovely to speak to you afterwards if you make yourself known to me.

O Magnum Mysterium in Cambridge

On Thursday 12th December at 7.30pm, my setting of O Magnum Mysterium is being sung in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge as part of ‘Christmas at the Fitzwilliam with Granta Chorale’ in Gallery 3.

Tickets: £17.50 (£14.50 concessions and Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum), including interval glass of wine. Available from City Centre Box Office, Wheeler Street, Cambridge. Tel: 01223 357851

See other forthcoming performances.

Vivaldi ‘Gloria’ for the Pilgrim’s Hospice

On Saturday 20th July I am accompanying a workshop and performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria at St Mary’s Church, Chartham, Kent. The day is being led by Emily Temmel, and features singers from St Mary’s Church Choir, local schools, and friends. Any money raised on the day is being split between St Mary’s Church and the Pilgrim’s Hospice. If anyone is interested in coming along to sing, please contact me directly, and I’ll give you further details.

Music in a Liturgical Parish Church

On Saturday 20th April I’m presenting a short lecture at Canterbury Christ Church University entitled Music in a Liturgical Parish Church which will look at the role that music plays at St Stephen’s Church, Canterbury and how it becomes a way of reaching out to the local community.  My lecture is part of a one day conference on church music called Sound Ministry.  More details and links from my lecture are available by following this link.

Music for Passiontide and Easter

Visitors to my website might be interested in two short and simple pieces that are available freely here:

Were you there?
Were you there?

Were you there?

Suitable for use during Passiontide (the period immediately before Easter, when Christians focus on the Crucifixion of Jesus), it is an arrangement of the American Spiritual melody for 2 voices, and adaptable for use by many different combinations to suit your singers. More information…

Easter Anthems
Easter Anthems

Easter Anthems

The Easter Anthems are traditionally sung at Mattins during Eastertide, but are equally suitable for being sung at any other service during that time. This is a setting to a single Anglican Chant with the text pointed accordingly. More information…

‘Bring and Sing’ Stainer’s Crucifixion

Bring and Sing Stainer's Crucifixion

On Saturday 16th March, I am conducting a ‘Bring and Sing’ workshop and performance of John Stainer’s Passiontide Oratorio “The Crucifixion”.

It’s taking place in Holy Trinity Church, Broadstairs between 2 and 6pm and anyone is welcome, whether a member of an RSCM affiliated choir or not. For more details, click on the image to the left to see the full poster, and make contact with the Canterbury Area RSCM secretary, Tracey Laws, who will take you booking.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Recording for BBC South East Today

Stephen conducting during a recording for BBC South East Today
Stephen conducting during a recording for BBC South East Today

St Stephen’s Church Choir, Canterbury, under Stephen’s direction, have recorded a carol for broadcast on BBC South East Today. It will go out on Friday 21st December on BBC1 between 6.30 and 7.00pm in the South East region. For more information about St Stephen’s Choir, please visit their website.

The Choir will be singing for a number of Christmas services at St Stephen’s including the Carol Service of readings and music for Christmas at 6pm on Sunday 23rd December. On Christmas Eve they will be singing for Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury only days before he leaves the position. In 2013 St Stephen’s will be singing services in Winchester and Southwark Cathedrals and have been invited to sing at Westminster Abbey again at the end of the year.

Performance of ‘Hail, gladdening light’ in Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral at dusk
Canterbury Cathedral at dusk

On Thursday 25th October 2012, my composition Hail, gladdening light will be performed as the anthem at Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, sung by the choir of St Stephen’s Church, Canterbury.

A recording of the performance will be available here shortly afterwards.

To purchase copies of Hail, gladdening light, please order online.

New composition to be premièred in Portsmouth Cathedral

Portsmouth Cathedral
Portsmouth Cathedral

On Saturday 4th August, my latest composition Hail, gladdening light will be premièred in Portsmouth Cathedral during Choral Evensong. The service begins at 5pm and anyone is welcome to join the congregation. If you do come to hear my piece, please come and speak to me afterwards – I look forward to meeting some of you there!

A recording will be uploaded to this website over the summer, and scores will be available to purchase in the autumn – do keep an eye on this website for more information, or why not follow me on Twitter?

North-West Europe RSCM Choir Festival

Rehearsal in progress
Rehearsal in progress

Last Saturday (12th May) I had the pleasure of directing the North-West Europe RSCM (Royal School of Church Music) Choir Festival. Held in Brussels, Belgium, participants travelled from far and wide, including Holland, Luxembourg, and Germany, as well as those from cities in Belgium and, of course, me from the UK!

The music was taken from the RSCM‘s recent publication The Word Revealed, focusing on last year’s 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and included And the glory of the Lord from The Messiah, by Handel and an excellent new anthem commissioned for the book, Vox Christi by Philip Wilby.

The enthusiasm from all taking part was excellent, and the quality of the singing really quite superb for a choir that had come together for the first time that morning.

A couple of videos are available on Youtube, although they were recorded on my mobile phone, and the quality of audio is very poor, clipping most of the way through – however, it gives a sense of the occasion:

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time and would like to thank everyone who was involved.

If you are looking for someone to lead a choral workshop – particularly amateur singers in church choirs, then I would be very pleased to hear from you via the contact page.

American Première

The Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, Texas, USA
The Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, Texas, USA

UPDATE: You can see and hear the performance on their video stream here – helpfully it’s the first 2 minutes so easy to find!

On 2nd May, my anthem Spiritus Domine super me, which was written several years ago for the induction of the present Rector of St Stephen’s Church, Canterbury, will be sung at the Mass of Ordination for Bishop-elect George A. Sheltz in the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, Texas, USA.


Two forthcoming performances

Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral

Over the coming weeks there are two performances of my anthem ‘Teach me, O Lord’.

The first is in Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday 29th March, sung by the Choir of St Stephen’s Church, Canterbury as the anthem during Choral Evensong. The service begins at 5.30pm and anyone wishing to attend is advised to be seating by 5.15. This is a service – part of the daily cycle of worship in the Cathedral – so there is no charge to attend.

The second performance is in a concert by the newly formed choir, Cantus Amoris, a newly formed choir of high quality singers based in the south of England. The concert is part of the Eastbourne Festival and tickets are available here in advance, or on the door if you want to risk it!

It would be lovely to meet anyone attending either of these performances.

Composition Première in Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

St Stephen’s Church Choir will be performing an original composition by Stephen Barker when they sing in Salisbury Cathedral in April.

The anthem – Teach me, O Lord – sets selected verses from Psalm 119 as appointed for the Offertory on the Fifth Sunday of Lent interspersed with a refrain and concluding with a prayer from the Common Worship Psalter.

Music staff at Salisbury Cathedral saw a first draft of the composition last week and were pleased to approve it.

You can hear Teach me, O Lord during Choral Evensong on Tuesday 12th April in Salisbury Cathedral. It is hoped to make a recording available on this website shortly afterwards.