Piece of the week – A Summer Garland

As we approach the Summer Solstice, I’ve chosen A Summer Garland for this week’s piece. A suite of songs for SATB unaccompanied, it was commissioned by The Waltham Singers in 2002 as part of a project designed to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee – as well as writing the piece I also led composition workshops in Essex schools, and the resulting student compositions were performed alongside my piece, in concerts in Great Waltham and Dedham.

A Summer Garland has five movements, which can also all be performed separately.
The first, May, Queen of blossoms, sets a poem by the early 19th-centruy poet Edward Thurlow: it anticipates Summer with blossom, bees, and bird-song.
It is followed by The Rose in June (poem by Thomas Howell, 17th cent.) – rich harmonies depict the ‘mildest month of June’ which is also the ‘lustiest time’ – and a final key-change introduces the ‘beauteous red rose’.
I had a lot of fun writing the third song, Busy Fly, and the words of the 18th-century William Oldys gave rise to many effects and buzzes!
Calmness is restored in the expressive July Evening (Lewis Carroll), ending with the words ‘Life, what is it but a dream?’.
Finally, Summer Queen brings celebration with a poem by Thomas Dekker (17th cent.) in which a country fair welcomes the holiday season with dancing and singing.

A Summer Garland has been performed by quite a few choirs, and this summer they include The Kelvedon Singers (Essex) and Capella Nova (Bath).
Here’s a link to the first performance on YouTube  I hope you enjoy it!
And here’s a link to the publisher

Piece of the Week: Three Blues for clarinet and piano

I wrote Three Blues over twenty years ago for three clarinettist colleagues at Colchester Institute, all of whom taught clarinet to the degree and post-graduate students at that time, and they attempted to capture something of the character of the three performers:
Carefree Blues is designed to capture the easy-going character of Stuart Allen: Meditative Blues shows Charles Hine in reflective and sombre mood, and Agile Blues depicts the late Angela Fussell, who was always rushing from place to place in her busy life, and very keen on her students playing scales!
They are not really blues in the traditional sense, but they feature much of the characteristic blues harmony with the occasional hint (in Agile Blues) of the 12-bar blues shape.
I had a lot of fun writing them, and they are quite often performed. In fact the next performance is Saturday 17th June, 3 pm., Castle Methodist Church in Colchester, alongside a number of other works by Essex composers.

Here is a link to a performance on Youtube

And here is a link to the publisher, Spartan Press, who also publish a version for Eb saxophone and piano.

A new choral work for Lent

Last year The Waltham Singers approached me for a new piece for their Lent concert this year in Chelmsford, Essex, followed by a Belgian tour. The Waltham Singers, based in the Chelmsford area, and conducted by Andrew Fardell, are an excellent amateur choir who have performed several of my pieces and who commissioned A Summer Garland from me some years ago.
As it was for a Lenten work, the request was for a setting of the Penitential Psalms lasting about 15 minutes for choir and organ – and my challenge was to energise a work of this length, with the necessary contrast and drama, while using texts which were very focused on penitence – no ‘Glorias’ or ‘Alleluias’ allowed! I decided to use the Latin version of the Psalms, choosing extracts from three of them, to make three main movements.
Within each of these three movements I made short references to the plainchant antiphon for Maundy Thursday, Ubi Caritas, and then I made the Ubi Caritas melody appear complete four times – each time arranged differently – to make a prelude, interludes, and postlude. So the shape of the work is as follows:

Psalmos Penitentiales
1. Ubi Caritas (Where charity and love are, God is there)
2. Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me (O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger) – from Psalm 6
3. Ubi Caritas
4. De profundis clamavi ad te (Out of the depths I have cried to you) – from Psalm 129 or 130
5. Ubi Caritas
6. Domine, exaudi orationem meam (O Lord, hear my prayer) – from Psalm 101 or 102
7. Ubi Caritas

I hope that by framing the music in this way I have achieved the focus on penitence while also communicating the caring aspects, and the joy, of the Christian message. I went to a rehearsal last week and it was an uplifting experience to hear the choir responding to my music, and I am looking forward very much to the first performance!

Psalmos Penitientiales was commissioned by the Waltham Singers with a generous bequest from Peter Andrews. It is planned to be published by Oxford University Press later in the year.
The first performance is at the King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, on Saturday 18 March at 7.30.

POSTCRIPT
The first performance, to a packed house, was most successful – the performers gave a wonderful interpretation and the composer was very pleased! Please contact him if you would like to hear a recording. The choir are now taking the work on the Belgian tour.

Twelve or Thirteen Preludes, Set 1

About four years ago I started writing some piano preludes in odd moments between writing other things, partly to play myself, but also for others to play, of around Grade 6-8 standard. They grew into a set of twelve, on in each major key – hardly an original concept, but one which gave me an opportunity to think hard about variety within my self-imposed limit of only two pages per piece!

I’ve always liked some kind of limitation in my work, whether it be the necessity for sticking to a five-finger position in a very easy piano piece, the demands of a certain key or mode, a specific motif or shape, or the expectations and skills of a particular group of singers, real or imagined. It releases the mind to concentrate on other parameters of musical invention. In these pieces, the aim for variety of style and texture was an important consideration, without ever (I hope) losing sight of my own musical voice. Some movements suggest the romantic, some the neo-classic, some the minimalist, and it was surprising how the requirement for one piece in each key suggested different moods: a lively D major, a simple and repetitive F sharp major, a quixotic F major, and a mysteriously floating B major, for instance. There has been much written about the association of colours with particular keys in composer’s minds – usually different for each composer – and actually I think my views on key and colour relationships has moderated and changed over time, particularly as, due to sometimes playing in baroque performances at A=414, my sense of absolute pitch has become a little less reliable.

To take one example, my view of the key of E flat was often associated with something martial, military, and ‘valiant’ – possibly because of the decisive E-flat-ness of the hymn ‘He who would valiant be’ (tune: ‘Monk’s Gate’) much sung in my youth. And yet, when I came to write my prelude in E flat, it turned out to be reflective and calm, with lots of rubato – the furthest from a military march that one can get!

The sheet music of Twelve or Thirteen Preludes, Set 1 is available from Spartan Press:

And you can hear me playing them here:

 

 

 

The ‘Thirteen’ simply refers to the fact that if played complete you can round them off by repeating the first prelude!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve really enjoyed writing these preludes, and I hope you enjoy listening or playing them too. In fact I’ve started another set – in minor or modal keys – and I hope it won’t take me as long as four years to complete them!

Flexible Choirs

 

More than 10 years ago I started to discuss with colleagues at Oxford University Press the concept of a book for those smaller church choirs who didn’t always have enough singers to cover all four voice parts, and we explored a number of possibilities, such as a book for upper voices only, or a book for upper voices and a unison men’s part.

But the real area of need, we felt, was for a book that covered the variable vocal scoring eventualities that might arise from Sunday to Sunday in the smaller choir. A choir that might be happily SATB one week may become SAB when one tenor goes on holiday and the other falls ill: similarly, there may be days when the only safe option is to sing in two parts, or in unison. The choir in which I sing is such a one, and it was from this experience that the concept of ‘Flexible Anthems’ was born.

Each book follows the same basic formula, containing about 65 flexibly-scored pieces, ranging from well-known and less-well-known music of the past to brand new works by leading choral composers. All of these can be performed by a mixed choir, but the flexible arrangements enable them to be performed by a wide variety of other groups such as upper-voice choirs, choirs with few men, and unison choirs. Some are unaccompanied, but the majority have accompaniments, which are suitable for either piano or organ (with or without pedals). The Oxford Book of Flexible Anthems came out in 2007, followed by The Oxford Book of Flexible Carols in 2009. And now, published this month, is The Oxford Book of Easy Flexible Anthems.

Many choirs have used ‘Flexible Anthems’ and ‘Flexible Carols’ over the years – they are a staple diet for our choir – and so I’m really pleased to announce this new collection, The Oxford Book of Easy Flexible Anthems – over 65 anthems covering the whole of the church year and the various festivals and themes, except for Christmas.

The ‘easy’ aspect is not only in the music itself, it’s also associated with ease of learning within limited rehearsal time, with accessible keyboard accompaniments, and with a clear ‘performance note’ on the first page of each anthem highlighting the different scoring options available and saving time in assigning the voice parts to your particular group of singers. With such a wide range of composers and styles, inevitably some will be found ‘easier’ than others, but the emphasis is always on ease of performance and accessibility, without compromising on musical integrity or quality.

Almost all the anthems in the book can be sung by unison voices or as a solo, and all of them can be sung in two parts. Some add an optional third voice to this two-part texture, and many are in a traditional SATB scoring, though can, of course, be sung effectively by fewer voice parts. The week-by-week choice of anthems is also facilitated by a comprehensive index which lists the anthems by liturgical year and themes.

Compiling and editing this book was really exciting, and took up a substantial part of the last fifteen months – and I couldn’t have done it without the expert help of a number of OUP colleagues and free-lance advisers. From a very wide range of possible material, I think we have achieved a great balance – works by well-known composers such as Byrd, Tallis, J.S. Bach, Mozart, Boyce, Dyson, and Stainer rub shoulders with less-well known figures from the past such as Casciolini, Clemens, Marcello, Goss, Maunder, Simper, and de Arriaga. And of course there are many anthems and arrangements by some of the best contemporary church composers from the UK and the USA (and Norway and Canada) – too many to mention them all, but they include Malcolm Archer, Bob Chilcott, Thomas Hewitt-Jones, Edmund Jolliffe, Cecilia MacDowall, Philip Moore, Sarah Quartel, John Rutter, Will Todd, and Mack Wilberg, and also some who are relatively new to the OUP choral catalogue such as Ian Assersohn, Michael Bedford, James Davy, David Fawcett, Richard Hubbard, Russell Pascoe, Oliver Tarney, and Rebecca Groom te Velde. There’s also a fair sprinkling of anthems and arrangements of mine, and overall I think there really is something for every church choir.

You can hear a good cross-section of the contents on the still-developing companion website or on the free promotional CD that OUP have just produced. The website also includes sample pages from many of the anthems.

Although they are not all completely finalised yet, I am planning to do several workshops in which the collection will be introduced and sung: please email me for details of the person to contact if you are interested:
8 April 2017 – Taunton, Somerset (RSCM)
20 May 2017 – Wells, Somerset (MMA)
30 September 2017 – Hornchurch, Essex (RSCM)
And I shall also be attending the American Choral Directors Association conference in Minneapolis, USA (March 8-11 2017) where the book will be on display and introduced.

I can’t wait to try the book out!!

Wondrous Cross

As we approach Passiontide I thought I’d write a few words about my cantata Wondrous Cross – some of this was in my previous blog so you may have already read it.

At the school I attended from age 11 we sung J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion every Easter: so I probably sung all the voices over the years, and also played keyboard continuo, and the memory of that great work has stuck with me ever since, particularly the final chorus and the joyous exultation of the concluding chorale. It was pointed out to me after I wrote Wondrous Cross that one of the motifs in it is close to the beautiful descending three-note phrases of the penultimate chorus of the Bach Passion, and somehow, unintentionally, several elements of Bach’s Passion must have found their way into my Passion-tide work – Wondrous Cross (OUP 2012): details here.
I wrote Wondrous Cross in 2011 for Lion Walk Church in Colchester, where I worship regularly. My aim was to write a Passiontide work which was dramatic and accessible to a range of choirs, by giving some flexibility with regard to solo voices and forces used. Our small amateur choir performed it during Holy Week 2012 with strings and organ (you can hear this performance here; despite its imperfections I think it is a devoted and meaningful performance within a church service)
Later in the year it was recorded by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College Cambridge, director Sarah MacDonald, who later recorded it for Regent Records – details here

In presenting the Passiontide story I decided to focus on the crucifixion by using the ‘Seven Last Words’ of Jesus on the Cross and the Bible narration leading up to each. I set the narration for unison voice(s) and Jesus’s words for four-part choir, thus putting Jesus’s words into the mouths of all. I linked these passages by settings of other related texts and some traditional Passiontide hymns – and one spiritual. If it is performed in a worship situation, the congregation can join in with these. Underlying the whole work is the eighteenth-century hymn-tune ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’ which appears in the Prelude, in the background at various points in the work, and complete at the end. Here’s a link on Youtube with me talking about it.

Since publication in 2012 it has had a good and increasing number of performances – all over the UK and Scotland, but also in the Netherlands and the US, in concert halls, abbeys, cathedrals, and parish churches. I’m looking forward to singing it again this Passiontide!

You can obtain the Wondrous Cross CD from all good record shops including http://colchesterclassics.co.uk/ and from Regent Records
You can obtain the Wondrous Cross score from OUP and all good music shops including Forwoods Music

Performances 2017

This post will be updated as more information becomes available

7 January 2017
Glory to the Christ Child
Southwark Cathedral, Choral Evensong
Fever Pitch

8 February 2017
Three Blues
Lion Walk Church, Colchester
Samantha Christopher (clarinet), Ian Ray (piano)

18 March 2017
Psalmos Penetentiales (First performance)
King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford
Waltham Singers / Andrew Fardell

22 March 2017
Spring Pictures
Lion Walk Church, Colchester (1.00)
Melinda Blackman (violin), Alan Bullard (piano)

25 March 2017
Three Poems of W B Yeats
Brandenburg Choral Festival, St. Clement Dane’s Church, London
Ionian Singers / Timothy Salter

1 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Radyr Parish Church, near Cardiff
Radyr and Morganstown Choral Society / Peter Esswood

8 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Nottingham Hospitals Choir / Nicholas Milburn

8 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Clacton Choral Society / Gillian Dulieu

8 April 2017
Love on my heart from heaven fell
Dorking Halls
Leith Hill Festival Choir / Jonathan Willocks

9 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Red Wing Singers
First Lutheran Church, Red Wing, Minnesota, USA

9 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Lion Walk Church, Colchester (evening worship)
Lion Walk Church Choir / Ian Ray

9 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
St Andrew’s Church, Roxbourne, Harrow (evening worship)

6 May 2017
Journey through Time
St. James’ Church, Sussex Gardens, Paddington
Bloomsbury Woodwind Ensemble / Shea Lolin

4 June 2017
Selwyn Service
Selwyn College Chapel, Cambridge (6pm Evensong)
Selwyn College Chapel Choir / Sarah MacDonald

4 June 2017
Come, O Creator Spirit
Lion Walk Church Colchester, Pentecost Service
Lion Walk Choir / Ian Ray

4 June 2017
Come, O Creator Spirit
Bruton Parish Church, Willamsburg, Virginia, USA, Pentecost Service
Bruton Parish Choir / Rebecca Davy

10 June
The Darkling Thrush
St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford, 7.30 pm
Commotio / Matthew Berry

17 June 2017
Three Blues
Castle Methodist Church, Colchester (afternoon)
Charles Hine (clarinet), Alan Bullard (piano)

17 June 2017
A Swan, A Man
Castle Methodist Church Colchester (afternoon)
Tim Torry (baritone), Alan Bullard (piano)

1 July 2017
A Summer Garland
St Swithun’s Church, The Paragon, Bath
Cappella Nova / Tony Shield

15 December 2017
Glory to the Christ Child
St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford, 7.45 pm
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

17 December 2017
Glory to the Christ Child
St David’s Hall, Cardiff, 3.oo pm
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

12 April 2018
Stocking and Shirt
Leith Hill Festival, Dorking

Recent recordings

And all the stars looked down
Song of the Nativity
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro COR16146
BBC Music Magazine Christmas Choice 2016
Details here

And all the stars looked down
There is no rose
Vocal Group Concert Clemens / Carsten Seyer-Hansen
Orchid Classics ORC100062
Details here

Hark Hark, the Lark
Sing Willow
Les Sirenes / Andrew Nunn
Albion Records ALBCD030
Details here

The Essex Service (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis)
Sing Praise to Christ
The Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral / James Davy
Chorum CHORCD450

Performances Christmas 2016

 

Alan Bullard: selected performances Advent and Christmas 2016

26 November 2016
A Light in the Stable
St Andrew’s Methodist Church, Cowling, Yorkshire
KVU Singers / Frank Smith

27 November 2016
There is a rose tree
Raydon Parish Church, Suffolk (Evensong, 5pm)
The Marenzio Singers

27 November 2016
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
Great Missenden Parish Church
Great Missenden Church Choir

3 December 2016
A Feast for Christmas
Davis High School, California
Davis Chorale

3 December 2016
O Come Emmanuel
St Mary’s Church, Ely
Ely Choral Society / Andrew Parnell

3 December 2016
O Come Emmanuel
Holy Trinity, Claygate
Claygate Choral Society / Ed Jones

3 December 2016
A Light in the Stable
United Reformed Church, Billericay, Essex
The Choir for all Seasons / Michael Hewitt

4 December 2016
I saw a stable, Angel Alleluias
Wiston Church, Wissington, Suffolk, 6pm
The Marenzio Singers

4 December 2016
Glory to the Christ-Child
Neskirkja, Hagatorg, 107 Reykjavík
Neskirkja Choir

4 December 2016
O Come Emmanuel
Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, Maryland, USA
Takoma Park Presbyterian Church Choir, Pro Musica, and members of Washington Adventist University / James Bingham

5 December 2016
O Come Emmanuel
Mint Methodist Church, Exeter
Exeter Choral Society

6 December 2016
Snow and Wisselton, Wasselton
Walnut Hills Baptist Church, Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg Women’s Chorus and Youth Chorale / Rebecca Davy

7 December 2016
Shepherds, guarding their flocks
St Silas Church, Blackburn
Rawstorne Singers / Michael Sands

10 December 2016
O Come Emmanuel
St Mark’s Church, Barton Road, Newnham, Cambridge
Cantus Sings of Cambridge, dir. Alan Howard

10 December 2016
Scots Nativity, Glory to the Christ-Child
St Nicholas Church, Chadlington / Matthew Smallwood
North Cotswold Chamber Choir

10 December 2016
O Come Emmanuel
Papendrecht, Netherlands
Cantica / Henk Van Andel

10 December 2016
I saw a stable
Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge
Fairhaven Singers / Ralph Woodward

11 December 2016
This is the truth sent from above
Nottingham Hospitals Choir / Nicholas Milburn

11 December 2016
O Come Emmanuel
First Presbyterian Church of Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA
Chancel Choir of First Presbyterian Church / David Kunkel

12 December 2016
I saw a stable
Church of St John the Evangelist, Bridge Street, Derby
Sitwell Singers / Malcolm Goldring

17 December 2016
A Light in the Stable
St. Andrew’s Church, Surbiton
Kingston Choral Society / Andrew Griffiths

18 December 2016
There is a rose tree
Lion Walk Church, Colchester, evening carol service
Lion Walk Church Choir / Ian Ray

20 December 2016
Shepherds, guarding their flocks
Blackmore Church, Essex
Stondon Singers / Christopher Tinker

20 December 2016
Ideo, ideo
St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich
Norwich Philharmonic Choir / David Dunnett

22 December and 24 December 2016
Glory to the Christ Child
Norwich Cathedral (Christmas Procession Service)
Norwich Cathedral Choir / Ashley Grote

24 December 2016
A light for today
Plymouth Congregational Church, Minneapolis
Choir of Plymouth Congregational Church / Philip Brunelle

7 January 2017
Glory to the Christ Child
Southwark Cathedral, Choral Evensong
Fever Pitch

New recordings, Autumn / Winter 2016

And all the stars looked down
Song of the Nativity
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro COR16146
BBC Music Magazine Christmas Choice 2016
Details here

And all the stars looked down
There is no rose
Vocal Group Concert Clemens / Carsten Seyer-Hansen
Orchid Classics ORC100062
Details here

Hark Hark, the Lark
Sing Willow
Les Sirenes / Andrew Nunn
Albion Records ALBCD030
Details here

The Essex Service (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis)
Sing Praise to Christ
The Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral / James Davy
Chorum CHORCD450