S.S. Wesley anniversary


A special Choral Evensong event to celebrate S.S Wesley’s birthday 200 years ago, will be held on Saturday 14th August at St Mary’s Cathedral, Great Western Road, Glasgow.

The service will be at 4.30pm and the music will be :- Introit:- ‘Cast me not away’ (S S Wesley), Responses:- (Rose), Canticles :- (Wesley in E), Anthem:- ‘Ascribe unto the Lord’ (S S Wesley).

Rutter CDs

For a birthday which I would rather numerically forget, I was given two memorable CDs…both of music by John Rutter.

‘Be Thou My Vision’…..is a collection of sacred music and includes many of his well-known items such as ‘A Gaelic Blessing’, ‘God be in my Head’, ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’, ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’….and many I did not know….

He conducts the Cambridge Singers, and City of London Sinfonia, and it is available from Collegium Records under CSCD 514.

The Sprig of Thyme…..is a collection of traditional songs including ones from England and Ireland, arranged by J.R……there is also one from Newfoundland! Ralph vaughan Williams is also represented with arrangements of five English Folk Songs. It shows the un-mistakeable hand of J.R., not just in his own arrangements, but also in his conducting skill with the same musical accomplices as in the other CD.

This CD is available as CSCD 517.

So I shall be happily singing lustily along the highways and byways of Scotland accompanied by the marvellous music emanating from my car speakers!

Crucifixion at St Mary’s


We spent Good Friday evening at our cathedral, listening to ‘The Crucifixion’ by Sir John Stainer. The Choir did its usual excellent job with two good soloists, a young (most people are young, when you get to my age!) and very capable organist, and it was conducted by Mrs Christine Walker. I did a blog about about the history of the piece and the composer, some time ago, but am still at a loss to determine the exact reason (or reasons) for the popularity it holds in our psyche.


Double Joy!

Had you been fortunate enough to watch the Lessons and Carols service from Kings College on Christmas Eve, and then attend St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow for the Midnight Eucharist, you would have a chance to join in a magic moment twice in the same day!

On both occasions the choirs sang ‘O magnum mysterium’. by Morten Lauridsen….see photo above. The words are few….’O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord lying in their manger. Alleluia!

This is one of those pieces which seem to transcend all time, all space, all religions, all emotions, all words or language. Anyone who fails to be moved in some way by it really has not yet gripped the concept of something existing beyond us. On an emotional par with the Allegri ‘Miserere’, this piece should be listened to in a quiet place and with the mind at peace. 

Such was St Mary’s, just after Communion, and with the lights gradually dimming , we were led into some other inner world, where not even a cough was heard, the breath was held, and the faint lights around the window ledges and over the Choir screen seeming to sparkle even brighter. As the final notes faded, the silence became more intense and some kind of tiredness set in as if we had been part of the choir and that heavenly host.

The link below gives you the music but not the sensation, as the audience permits no pause between the final notes and the applause……such a piece needs no applause only appreciation!


 Far better to get a CD, and sit at peace in your own space, and let the music and emotion wash over you……you are unlikely to ever be the same again!


Gabriel Faure

The RSNO organised a Workshop on the above, in Sherbrook-St Gilbert’s Church in Glasgow on Sunday. It was intended to encourage more people to join the Chorus, as, like many institutions, they can always take on more members.

This was the first time I had taken part as a singer, as previouslyI had conducted it! I would reckon that there were over 100 ladies, with about 30 men….so we were well out-numbered!

We practised from 2pm to 5pm, during which we had periods of vocal training which I found very useful. It was during this time I found out the nitty-gritty problems of  trying to pitch some of the notes. It is a complex piece as far as a singer is concerned. I would actually say that there was an element of in-built orchestral writing and harmony. This may have been influenced by the fact that both his parents died about the time of writing, and his mind was in a turmoil.

The performance at 6pm had an audience of about 30 brave souls. There were moments when I felt I had lost it, but just kept an ear open for clues. So whatever the difficulty it still has a certain solemnity/reverence/tunefulness which no doubt accounts for the popularity of this wonderful piece.

Gerald Finzi

Gerald Finzi

At our Ascension Day Service on Thursday evening, in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, we sang all the good old favourites, such as ‘Hail the Day…’ words by Charles Wesley, ‘The Head that once…..’ with Jeremiah Clarke’s tune St Magnus, and Saward’s ‘Christ Triumphant….’ to John Barnard’s  great tune  ‘Guiting Power’.  ALL GOOD STUFF !!

The music of the Liturgy was Haydn’s Kleine Orgelmesse…..very much a ‘no-nonsense’ setting which does exactly what it says on the tin.

For the anthem, the Cathedral Choir sang  ‘God is Gone Up’…..a title which is highly-suitable for such  an occasion. It was written by Gerald Finzi, the son of a father of Italian/ Jewish descent and mother of German/Jewish parentage.

He was born in London in 1901, into a well-off household and was able to be educated privately. He lost his father at 7 and during the First World War the family moved to Harrogate. In his early years he also lost three of his brothers…..which no doubt had an influence on his writing. He took the chance to study with Edward Bairstow who was close-by, at York Minster.

At the age of 21 he moved to Gloucestershire where he could compose in the lovely rural countryside. However, five years later he returned to London where he became acquainted with Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and Sir Arthur Bliss. He married artist Joy Black in 1933 and moved to Wiltshire.

At the outbreak of war he moved to a farm in Hampshire, where he opened the house to German and Czech refugees, and he formed the amateur group the Newbury String Players. This allowed him to work on eighteenth century pieces, and several premieres by his contempories were given.

He was diagnosed in 1951 as having Hodgkin’s Disease but he continued with his work. In 1954 there was an all-Finzi concert in the Royal Festival Hall, and Sir John Barbirolli commissioned his Cello Concerto for the Cheltenham Festival of 1955. He died in 1956.

Whilst he is not a common name in the average listener’s vocabulary, and I don’t find ‘God is Gone up’ an easy piece to listen-to, I have to admit that perhaps his music does require a little more investigation.



Today, at the Cathedral, we used a tune so well-known to church-goers and non-church-goers alike, that it is one of the favourites used at Burial Services (you just have to lookat the most-thumbed page in Burial Service Sheets!). The words are a paraphrase of Psalm 23, and the name of the tune is Crimond.

Jessie Seymour Irvine was born in July 1836, the daughter of a Scottish clergyman who served in Peterhead, and then in the village of Crimond, in Aberdeenshire. Whilst studying the organ, she wrote a tune, which was harmonised by David Grant in 1872, when it appeared in the Northern Psalter. It was thought that the original tune was by Grant but in the 1929 Scottish Psalter, she was acknowledged as the composer.

It seems to be a perfect example of the Scottish Psalter compositions, and whilst to some it may smack of sentimentality but it does have that simplicity of tune which makes it easy to learn and remember, and difficult to forget….it truly passes the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’.

She died in 1887 and is buried in St Machar’s Cathedral, in Aberdeen…..and while she is mainly remembered for this tune alone….surely that is sufficient epitaph alone!

Felix Mendelssohn


We recently spent a weekend in Skye which has many interesting geological structures, and shows similarities to other islands off the north coast of Ireland and the west of Scotland, especially those of the Hebrides. When we think of Staffa we think of the Hebridean Overture by Felix Mendelssohn.

The picture above, which was painted in 1829 (by Thomas Duncan), during his trip to Scotland, has been loaned to the ‘Mendelssohn on Mull’ Festival. It will be on display in St John’s Oban Episcopal Cathedral during the opening concert on July 4th.

He was born in Hamburg 200 years ago, a German Jew, into an intellectual, well-to-do family and this no doubt allowed his precocious skill to develop.

His parents took the step of converting to the Lutheran Church, which would make them more socially-acceptable outside their ghettos, and they moved to Berlin where his parents took the added name of Bartholdy. It was here that he studied composition and piano playing. He was also very competent on the violin and was a good linguist.

Travelling to Paris, he studied the music of Mozart and J.S.Bach and started his prolific compositions. At the age of 12 he visited Goethe, with whom he continued to correspond. The overture to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was composed at the age of 17! This was just before he went to study music at Berlin University. Following his studies he travelled all over Europe, including, Italy, France, England and of course Scotland where he was intrigued by the landscape. It was from the same type of scenery as we saw recently, that he derived the inspiration for Fingal’s Cave.

As far as vocal music was concerned St Paul and Elijah are probably the best known. Now if he only lived longer than his 38 years, he might have given us an interpretation of the Isle of Skye!