Anna, Surprised – a new piece for Candlemas

Premiered 2nd Feb 2020, St Andrew’s Church, Denver, conducted by Tim Kreuger – listen below!

This piece was inspired by Euan Tait‘s wonderful new poem about Anna and Simeon at Candlemas, below:

Anna consumed by song,
prophet who had not seen
how wing-sweep and strange
the holy is, the Divine
a baby given, presented
like any little child; Anna,
sharpened by laughter
and rough-edge awareness,
surprised, swept up
in Simeon’s reckless ecstasy,
that this Child was the end,
the final wisp of the smoke
of all his prayers, the light
to lighten the human heart
and God’s final yes to his life,
yes, you may now depart, run
to your wild-water Amen.

(Euan has also written libretti for composers including Kim Andre Arnesen, Timothy Tharaldson, Paul Spicer, and many more.)

Download a sample copy of the choral score

Download a sample with piano reduction added

Hear a demo recording (made with MIDI)

Difficulty: the piece is for SATB choir a cappella (although I’m happy for it to be performed with a light doubling on piano or organ if needed), with some easy 2-part divisi plus a short soprano solo (minimum numbers 3-2-2-2 to get all the notes, would probably work fine 2 to a part if you omit the soprano 1’s D in bar 11; I imagine it with 4-10 per part). It contains several chords with added notes, but very few strong or sustained dissonances or tricky jumps, and could be learned by ear if needed; any music-reading choir should have no problem with the notes.

Price: £2 per printed copy, or £25 for a PDF if you would like to print your own copies.

Choral ranges:
soprano – middle C to high G
alto – G below middle C to C above middle C
tenor – E below middle C to F above middle C (quite a few sustained high Es)
bass – first, low A to middle C; seconds, low G to middle C

“We Are One Voice” – a very flexible choir piece

“We Are One Voice” was commissioned by Beaconsfield Festival of Choirs for their 2018 festival, as a piece that could be sung by all the choirs who were in the festival, both individually, and together at the end of each concert. There is also a more challenging section in the middle, which can be sung by advanced choirs, or omitted if desired (it requires 3 or 4 parts).

“In the end it was very successful – we had 5 choirs in each of the three remaining concerts, and they performed well – huge variety of styles and standards, which is typical of the festival, but everyone is very attentive and gains a lot from singing to each other.  The first concert was the most successful in terms of your song – most of the choirs had learnt the middle section, so we could perform it in its entirety.  The other two concerts we only did the outer sections.  I rehearsed it with them all together (in front of the audience) first, to check over the difficult bits, and then we did a performance.  Lots of people said that they’d really enjoyed singing it together, and at the end the church was really ringing with the sound.” – Jane Smith, director, Beaconsfield Festival of Choirs

The words were commissioned from Euan Tait, who has also written words for pieces by Kim Andre Arnesen, Timothy Tharaldson, Paul Spicer and Janet Wheeler, among other composers.

Now available from MusicSpoke! Click here to order a copy for your choir.

The piece is available for the following choir voicings (all accompanied by piano):

unison (with short optional call-and-response divisi)

2-part flexible: can be S/A, T/B, ST/B, S/AB, etc., no divisi needed beyond 2 parts(this version will soon be published in the Hong Kong Children’s Chorus 50th Anniversary Songbook)

3-part: mixed SABar choir, upper voices SSA or lower voices TBarB (email me if you would like an STB or ATB version), all no divisi

4-part: SATB choir, no divisi

All of these can be performed simultaneously; email me if you’d like a conductor’s score with multiple parts. Several different choirs can be heard singing the piece together below:

Hear the piano part alone below:

Full libretto:

I have a voice,
I have a song,
I have a cry,
and you shall hear me!

I am a heartbeat,
I am a life,
I am a yes,
and you shall sing me!

I am a drum,
I am a rhythm,
I am a choir,
and we shall dance you!

I am the broken tree:
heal me.
We the injured bird,
call me,
we the bird-call forest
you have planted.

We the heartbeats of our song,
we the streets that pulse the city.

My life is a drum,
and I am the drumbeat,
my song is my life,
and we are one voice!

Euan Tait

The Birlinn

“The Birlinn” is an epic Gaelic poem about a sea voyage. It’s been translated into English by Edinburgh poet Donald Campbell, and we’ve worked together to set it to music: the first three movements (in their versions for SATB and piano) were premiered on 12th November 2017 by Edinburgh Napier Chamber Choir, conducted by Michael Harris and with Peter Backhouse on piano.

“Incitement to Sailing” was selected for London City Chorus’ concert on 6th July 2018, one of 3 works chosen from over 100 submissions (“They” by Alison Willis, with my words, was also selected!) See concert details here.

You can listen to two of the movements below:

Perusal scores for the SATB versions:
Blessing on the Ship – SATB and piano
On The Savage Sea – SATB or SABar
Incitement to Sailing – SATB and piano

Perusal scores for the TBarB versions:
Blessing on the Ship – TBarB and piano
On The Savage Sea – TBarB
Incitement to Sailing – TBarB and piano

I’m also working on arranging these for 2-part and SABar choirs – contact me if you’re interested in performing the piece in any of those versions.

For SATB choirs, please order copies from MusicSpoke.

For TBarB or other choirs: for all three movements together, the price is £3 + postage for a printed copy, or £40 flat rate for a PDF to print as many copies as you need for your choir.

Individual movements: Blessing on the Ship £20 (£1.50/copy), On The Savage Sea £10 (50p/copy), Incitement to Sailing £25 (£2/copy).

I would also be very happy to hear from any choir wishing to commission further movements for performance: there are many more sections of The Birlinn that I am keen to set to music, especially if a choir wants to sing them.

A Bicycle Wheel – pay what you want for a very silly 3-part round

Here is a very silly 3-part round about bicycles. You can pay whatever you want for it – just email me ( and say how much you’d like to pay for it, and your choir’s name. I’ll send you the score. I can send you an invoice if you need one for tax purposes. You can pay as little as £1, or as much as $100 if you’re feeling generous! Payment by Paypal preferred.

If your choir genuinely has zero budget (no payments for performing, no ticket sales, etc.) I’ll still happily send you a copy, just email me the choir’s name.

It’s not quite a typical round – most rounds for choir singing have a repeated structure of 2 or 4 chords, but this one has a circular chord structure (which is why it doesn’t work in more than 3 parts). The underlying chords go D – F#m – A – C#dim – Em – G – Bm – D, moving up by a third each time – so if you have a class who are working on music theory, they might find this quite interesting.

Preview the score as a PDF

Hear a MIDI demo

You can see the score as a picture below (click on it for a full-size version):

The Kindness of Strangers

Brian Bilston, the unofficial poet laureate of Twitter, has very kindly allowed me to set his poem “The Kindness of Strangers” to music. It’s written in memory of the bombings in London and Manchester (and set to music also with the tragedy at Grenfell in mind). It’s about 3 minutes long, for SATB (maximum divisi to SSAATBB, ideal if you’re a bit short on tenors), easy to medium difficulty.

If you’d like to perform the piece, please order copies from MusicSpoke.

It was premiered by the University of Glasgow Chapel Choir on 21st November 2017 – hear it below:

Download a sample choral score (PDF)
Hear it on SoundCloud
Download a sample score with piano reduction

Best new pieces in 2016-17

I seem to have turned a corner compositionally in 2016/17 – suddenly things I write sound almost *exactly* the way I want them to once I’ve finished them, instead of mostly or kind of the way I want them to. Here’s a selection of pieces written in the last year or so – I hope you’ll agree.

My #choirsagainstracism project has been essential to this – having something that I’m passionately angry about has been a massive creative force – and all the pieces written through that are free, so why not try them with your choir?

Hear “My Father” in a beautiful new recording by KC VITAs chamber choir, Kansas:
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Voces Inauditae in Edinburgh will also be singing it (SSAATTBB version) in September.

“In Springtime” has just been recorded by the Reid Consort in Edinburgh, and will be released on CD soon. Hear it below:
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“The Beach”, the final piece from the same set, will be workshopped by the BBC Singers in October – recording coming soon hopefully… would your choir like to premiere it? Available for SSSSAAAA or SSAATTBB – get the score at #choirsagainstracism.

Also unpremiered so far: Brian Bilston, the unofficial poet laureate of Twitter, has very kindly allowed me to set his poem “The Kindness of Strangers” to music. It’s written in memory of the bombings in London and Manchester (and set to music also with the tragedy at Grenfell in mind). It’s about 3 minutes long, for SATB (maximum divisi to SSAATBB, ideal if you’re a bit short on tenors), easy to medium difficulty.
Download a sample score
Download a sample score with piano reduction
Hear an audio demo

Adeste Fideles has been accepted for Project: Encore (it was originally written for Neil Ferris and Wimbledon Choral Society), which aims to get second (and further) performances for new choral works. Hear it below:
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New! A New Year Carol – SATB with a few bars of soprano divisi. Would make a good closer or encore for a concert near Christmas, or (ideally!) for a concert around the start of the year. Download the score and hear an audio demo. £20 for a PDF to print unlimited copies, or £1 per printed copy (plus postage if outside the UK).

I’m also rather pleased with how “Incitement to Sailing”, the first part of “The Birlinn” to be completed, has come out – it’s available for SATB and piano or for TBarB and piano. Premiere of SATB version coming November 2017.

Janya – rescored for full orchestra – needs a fairly big orchestra (3-3-3-2 winds, 4-3-3-1 brass, perc, timp, strings).

“No Man Is An Island” is also rather good: hear the version for men’s voices below:
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Versions for SABar and SSA are also available at #choirsagainstracism: ATB version on request.

“I Was Listening To A Pogrom” still needs a good recording – for singer(s), piano, and speaking voice(s), words by Michael Rosen (Children’s Poet Laureate). Again, score at #choirsagainstracism.

And finally, “Welcome Carol”, also part of #choirsagainstracism:
[soundcloud url=”″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”150″ iframe=”true” /]

I hope some of these will suit your choir (there are pieces for all sorts of choirs here, from unison beginners to 8-part advanced) – please get in touch at if you’re interested in performing any of them, or commissioning a new work.

Janya – the premiere!

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the wonderful premiere of “Janya” last weekend!
The Jan Modelski chamber orchestra and their wonderful conductor, who engaged with the piece at every stage with brilliant enthusiasm and produced a wonderful performance;
BBC Radio 3, who recorded the piece and will broadcast it later (date tbc), and Andy who recorded the piece and the interview;
Sally, Richard, and all the teams at Making Music, Sound and Music and the PRS Foundation;
Roanne and all the JMCO committee, who signed up for #AdoptAComposer and got the project started;
Chester Zoo, for all their help promoting the concert;
the audience, who packed out Caldy Valley Church;
my family, for letting me get down there for the performance and providing a large chunk of the inspiration for the piece;
Annette Yarrow, who sculpted the little elephant “Janya” who started the whole thing;
and many many more.

Here are a few comments:
“It was fantastic and the group seemed to love performing it, it suited them so well and pushed them into new areas (loved the sound effects)”
“The piece by the young composer was absolutely brilliant and the orchestra played it beautifully! It seemed as if he composed it using the orchestra’s constellation eg strong brass section as a strength. I loved it”

We had a packed audience at Caldy Valley, who seemed to really enjoy the piece, and hopefully I’ll have some word about future performances soon…

EDIT: comments have been turned off due to spam. If you have anything you’d like to add to this post, please contact me directly.

Programme notes for Janya

A general update on #AdoptAComposer, and the programme notes that I’ve given to JMCO for “Janya” – these may not be exactly what appears in the programme, but hopefully you’ll all find them interesting. The performance is on 9th July, at 7.30pm in Caldy Valley Church, Chester – if you’re coming along please get in touch! Tickets are reasonably priced, but I can probably arrange a couple of comps if necessary.

“Janya” was written for JMCO through Making Music’s Adopt A Composer
scheme. It’s been great to get to know the orchestra personally, and have
time to try out several drafts and sections of the piece before finalising
them; everyone in the orchestra has been really enthusiastic about having
a new piece written for them, and I couldn’t have done it without them.

The genesis of the piece came from my first visit to Chester, back in
December; after meeting with the orchestra and hearing them play, we went
for lunch in Chester Cathedral, and outside the cathedral I encountered
the statue of Janya by Annette Yarrow (who sadly died in November 2015).
This little elephant made a big impact on me! The celebratory opening
fanfare of the piece came to me a few days later, and everything launched
from there…

Working with this orchestra has been a great experience too. The makeup of
the orchestra is unusual – with 5 or 6 flutes and clarinets, a saxophone
section, and rather fewer strings than usual, but that has also driven the
development of the piece; you’ll hear the flutes and clarinets playing
multi-part chords and imitating flocks of birds, which I couldn’t do with
only two of each, and the saxophones add an unusual tone colour.

The piece is essentially programmatic, or a tone poem. Our little elephant
Janya is born, finds her feet and learns to walk, finds her own voice and
learns to sing with her herd – and then there’s a forest fire and the herd
has to flee! Finally, after swimming a river to escape, the family are
reunited, and a new life begins – maybe Janya’s own child?

(Janya is an Asian elephant – they often live in forests, so fleeing a
forest fire is sometimes part of their lives.)

The piece is also more personal than it might appear. I have two young
children (born in 2012 and 2015) and the process of raising them has been
wonderful but hectic. “Janya” is partly about a little elephant and her
journey – but it’s also about my children, everyone’s children, and the
journey of life, whether you’re a human or an elephant.

Adopt A Composer – February update

Last week I met with the orchestra again! My mentor David Horne was able to come to this rehearsal, which was very useful.

I now have the first 2 or 3 minutes of the piece pretty much completed the way I want them, and a plan for the rest. The piece is developing into a tone poem based on a baby elephant growing up – she’s born, finds her feet, finds her voice, flees a forest fire, and finds her family again afterwards. I might be a little biased here as I’ve got two young daughters – as I said to the orchestra, you work with what you know…

At first I hadn’t mentioned the programme of the piece to them, and the first few minutes of the rehearsal were a bit stop-start. But as soon as I started talking about that, there was suddenly a “click” in the sound of the orchestra as they knew what they were portraying, and the reasons I’d written what I had.

There have been a few changes in lineup for the concert – we now have 2 trumpets and 1 trombone instead of vice versa, rather more French horns than I thought, and more percussion instruments available. The number of clarinets and flutes has meant I’ve ended up using each section as a homophonic block quite frequently, and the brass also form a block. This has meant a lot of five-note chords emerging as I’m estimating we have 5-6 of each (maybe 7 brass), which I’ve built on quartal harmony. A four-note quartal chord sounds a bit empty (A-D-G-C) but add an E to that and suddenly you’ve got a C major with a couple of notes added, or an A minor chord with a couple of notes added, depending on how the listener wants to hear it. We have three saxophones to contrast with that, as well.

I met with David afterwards (for info, the Stamford Bridge pub in Barrow does a lovely lunch) and we were able to talk about how the piece is going.

Journeys were a little chaotic again, still due to the same floods! There’s a bridge washed out between Edinburgh and Lockerbie, so trains are replaced by buses – ugh. Fortunately I’d travelled over the night before, so the unexpected 2-hour delay on the way didn’t matter.

I have a lot of work to do over the next few weeks, so I’d better get back to it!

Adopt A Composer – December

On December 5th I was able to meet with the Jan Modelski Community Orchestra again. Despite a distinct lack of sleep the night before, things went very well! I was able to try out several different passages of music and ideas with the orchestra, getting a lot of sound effects and actual music (yes, there are real tunes in this piece already, they’ve got key signatures and everything).

Working with an orchestra with a slightly unconventional layout has enabled a lot of possibilities. The number of flutes and clarinets that we’ve got (on the 5th we had 5 flutes and 5 clarinets, plus a bass clarinet, S A and T saxes, and an oboe) means that several things are possible that wouldn’t be approachable with a usual woodwind-by-twos setup (or even woodwind-by-threes).

One example is the volume that we can get using key clicks. Normally, with only a maximum of 8 wind players and at least 25 string players, these don’t carry enough to be useful in an orchestra context, but with 15 wind players (and several brass and horns) the effect of everyone doing key clicks at once is kind of like a rainstorm, or rattling branches in a forest. And I was able to add gentle body taps (with the wood of the bow) from string players – again, in a normal sized orchestra this wouldn’t work the same way, as the string players would drown out the key clicks from the winds, but here they balance very nicely. The tuba’s valve rattle is rather more predominating, but I think there’s a place for that elsewhere.

I was also able to do a lot of varied textures with the upper winds, letting them play independently (e.g. everyone choose notes of the C major scale and play them staccato, quietly, to get a background that sounds a bit like loads of birds chirping – and then I could add a unison melody in the lower instruments for contrast).

We’re a little shorter on bass instruments than usual (no bassoons for example, and only one double bass) but I was able to get some interesting sounds from the lower instruments playing their lowest notes. The piece is going to be partly about wildlife, with a fair bit of inspiration from Chester Zoo (I was able to spend an hour there on Friday, and saw real elephants for, I think, the first time ever), and elephants are quite a big thing (as it were) for Chester. Elephants in the wild use calls at 4-5Hz (two octaves lower than the lowest sound human beings can hear). Of course no orchestral instrument can play that low, but that note is about the F or E two-and-a-bit octaves below the lowest A on the piano. Taking its upper harmonics and mashing them all together should, theoretically, produce a difference tone of 4-5Hz. I have no way of checking if it did, but a cluster of white notes from the low F of the double bass upwards definitely sounded interesting – quite intimidating, but a very useful effect! (The full set of notes – double bass low F, tuba low G, bass trombone low A, French horn low B – it’s just possible!, cello low C on their bottom string, and a bass clarinet on the D just above that – and then moving to E-F#-G#-B-C#-D# on the next chord).

I got a recording of the session, and hopefully I’ll be able to share bits of it here.

Not everything quite worked the way I thought it would – but that’s what’s great about this project, I have the freedom to try things without worrying about whether they’ll be exactly right first time.

(The rest of the weekend was fairly awful. My baby daughter threw up all over our hotel bed at 5am on Saturday morning, our train back was cancelled due to flooding, and we had to spend an unexpected and expensive extra night in York as the alternative was rail replacement bus which we weren’t even sure was running and would probably not have got us home until well after midnight. But the meeting with the orchestra was great!)