Piece of the Week 40: ‘He will speak peace’

As regular readers will know, alongside my current composing and arranging I have been going through my earlier music and making some of it more easily available – and an anthem that I came across recently was He will speak peace. I wrote this anthem in 1992 for the 350th anniversary of the foundation in 1642 of Lion Walk Church, the United Reformed Church in the centre of Colchester, Essex, in which I have worshipped for nearly forty years. Over time it has had several buildings, and the current one (opened a few years before this anniversary) retains the Victorian spire alongside a lovely and comfortable modern building above the shops with an octagonal worship area, a fine three-manual pipe organ (see picture) and an assortment of halls, kitchens, and other rooms.

During the year 1992 we had a number of special services, and a particular one focussed on the music ministry of the church, organised and led by the late Norman Hart, with Dr Ian Ray (who has been organist and choirmaster for longer than I can remember) in charge of the music – and for this I wrote a song for the youth group, another for the ladies’ choir, and this anthem for the SATB choir. The texts for all the music were selected or written by Norman Hart, and for He will speak peace he chose two verses from Psalm 85:

I will hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace unto his people, peace unto his saints.
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

One of the hymns chosen for the service was ‘Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round’ for which the tune is ‘Song 1’ by Orlando Gibbons, and I incorporated this into my setting – mainly in the organ part, but with the choir taking up and developing the tune in the final bars. The year 1992 was also the 100th anniversary of the birth of my teacher Herbert Howells, and so I decided to dedicate the anthem to his memory. The last bar, in quotation marks in the score, is a characteristic Howells cadence (itself derived from late renaissance English musical language), but I think many of the other passages bear Howells’ influence too, and alongside that I enjoyed the opportunity to blend Gibbons’ seventeenth-century style with a twentieth-century one.

It strikes me now that the words of this anthem are as important today as it ever was, and I have really enjoyed looking through it again and making it available once more, and already it has started to regain interest amongst choir directors.

Here’s a link to a scrolling score, and you can see purchase details of the anthem here.

A few days after I wrote the above, the anthem was performed at a Remembrance Day service by The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, director Sarah MacDonald. You can hear it here