To compose or not to compose?


With our up-coming visit to Ballachulish, we felt it would be nice to make something special out of our Service of Sung Evensong at St John’s. The building, the beautiful rural setting, the local history (gory as it is) …they all tell of a long-standing place of worship in this somewhat isolated (and perhaps a bit sad), community, close to the Vale of Weeping, Glencoe.

The choice of music for such a location and occasion must be determined by the wish of people to join in music they know, and the fact that evening hymns must be there. The Chants may or may not be known, the Responses should be known by a least some.

But to make it somewhat special, perhaps an anthem would be in order. So what should we do ?….pick an old favourite, do something extrovert with modern harmonies etc, or write and learn something original.

Scottish music has some rather unique features….the drone of the bagpipes, the scotch ‘snap’, the almost-plainchant simplicity of the melodic line of local music, and the obvious ‘sadness’ in much of the music, stemming from the nation’s history.

The name, St John’s, led me to thinking of some verses from Revelation about the ‘new heaven and earth’ replacing the ‘old heaven and earth’.

I used a mysterious organ introduction (with simulated bagpipe-drone) leading to a simple tune by the men, and a response from the ladies. A harmony of thirds gives the plainchant ‘feel’, small triplet figures simulate waves on the adjacent loch, and the climb to the high notes and descent indicate the soaring peaks of the area. Two part harmony only appears two thirds of the way through. A reprise of the early mysterious notes sweeps to the final phrases…’He shall wipe away each tear’, by the ladies, and then two- and four-part harmony take us to the final words of …’the former things have now passed away’. Instead of a gloriously-loud ending, the organ gives us a simple rendition of the original melody line……..

So there we have the dissection of this new piece. When it sees the light of day, I hope that it achieves the effects I wanted from it, but that has to be left to the listeners to decide. Let’s hope the Good Lord is forgiving of the paucity of the content, and the presence of all my errors!

‘Early one morning…..’


I was on Radio 4 this morning….maybe you didn’t notice! To be honest, it was more a case of my croaky voice, and cough!

St Mary’s Cathedral is convenient for the BBC in Glasgow, and is often used for services. Today Morning Service was live from there from 8.10 am. That meant we had to be seated by 7.45!  The Choir of 40 was its usual wonderful self with some unusual pieces (including one from a Salvation Army book)For this wonderful piece of music listen to the anthem just after the Sermon….’The Quiet Heart….’  (words by James Morgan, and music by June Collin)….superb!

The uniquitous cold/cough which I brought into the Cathedral had to be stifled several times, and even my singing of the hymns had to be done with caution. I had two microphones quite close to where I was sitting, and I am sure that at least  one cough may now be in the BBC archives. If you are a desperately-sad case, and want to see if you can spot it, then click on the link below…at least for about a week, and then the BBC will probably decide to edit it out after numerous complaints!