I’ve often said that if I were to compare myself to an animal it would be a bear. A Grizzly, to be more specific. Grizzlies eat half the year and sleep the remaining half. And they spend a lot of time in a cave. They are okay being alone. That describes the life of the composer/arranger in a lot of ways, actually.
I work in a cave – a very nice cave, mind you. I have high-speed internet, quality studio gear, central heat & air, and a bathroom and kitchen very nearby. But it’s still essentially a cave. And when I’m not working, all too often I am either eating or sleeping. Oh, and I growl a lot, but that’s more about my personality. All in all, I’m okay in my cave.
But for the past eighteen months or so, the whole world has been in a cave, isolated from our fellow bears (I mean human beings) except for Netflix, Prime Video, and Zoom. That is not normal for the vast majority of people. Now, we are slowly emerging to see if the world outside has changed much, and if so, how.
Guest post by composers Lee & Susan Dengler introducing Restore Our Song: A Resource for Restarting Your Choir, which includes an opening “kick-off” fellowship and service, devotions on the themes of deliverance and renewal, easy anthem suggestions to get the choir back in shape quickly, service ideas including a hymn sing, recruitment tips, a simple chorus for choir and congregation titled “Restore Our Song,” and more.
Finally, they were on their way! After years of exile in Babylon, God’s people were returning to Judah. Though some had decided to remain in Babylon, a contingent, led by the priest and scribe, Ezra, began the journey home. To them, Babylon was still a land where they simply could not sing the Lord’s song, even when coaxed by their captors. All they had been able to do was to hang their harps, the instruments that had once accompanied their voices, on the willow trees that stood guard by the river. The drooping branches of the trees had served as a visual reminder of their own weeping.
And then, they were home in their beloved native land! In the second chapter of the book of Ezra, we find the listing of folks who returned to Jerusalem and other Judean towns. There were the priests, the temple servants, the gatekeepers of the temple. And, there were the singers!
As the foundations of the new temple were laid, the singers began their song, as they praised and gave thanks to the Lord. For those who listened, there was a mixture of emotions. While some shouted for joy, others, who had remembered the former temple and all they had endured, wept with a loud voice. It was hard to distinguish the shouts of joy from the noise of their crying. Nevertheless, the combined sound of joyous shouts, sorrowful weeping and glorious singing could be heard for miles around.
We have thought about these people many times during the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after we learned that singing in groups had the ability to spread the virus more virulently than almost anything else. How could we sing the Lord’s song in such a land? But now, it seems that we too are on our way home. Almost daily, we learn of positive indicators that tell us that choirs can safely return to in-person, close-up, full-choir singing. Thanks be to God! This is the news for which we have been waiting over these past, long months!
Guest post by Joseph M. Martin, Composer and Director of Sacred Publications for Shawnee Press
The quest to combine ministry with artistry has been a lifelong calling for me. I have always found my place and purpose in this pursuit. Composing animates me and breathes into my spirit an inner peace that is deeply sacred.
Reassuring rituals are part of my writing process—simple disciplines made special by repetition, reminding me to be grateful for the labor to which I have been called. With faithful regularity the process unfolds over and over, familiar yet surprising, comfortable yet challenging.
In this approximately hour-long express session, Mark and Lloyd tell stories, look ahead to our future opportunities for ministry and community as church singers, and preview new music perfect for distanced, streaming and virtual choirs from Mary McDonald, Lloyd Larson, Tom Fettke and more.
Here are just a few of the titles featured in StreamSing:
“Now Winter Nights” by British composer and baritone Roderick Williams uses an evocative poem by Thomas Campion as its text, helping him to pinpoint the excitement of Christmas he felt as a child and still holds onto.
Guest post by Curran Mahowald, a choral singer who participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6 in May 2020
In the spring of 2020, Eric Whitacre assembled his sixth global virtual choir to premiere his new piece, “Sing Gently.” Following a series of virtual rehearsals led by Whitacre himself, 17,572 singers from 129 countries submitted videos of themselves singing their individual lines.
From there, a team of film editors and audio engineers from 59 Productions and Floating Earth assembled the individual submissions into one final virtual performance:
Here is what it was like to contribute my voice to that video.
In a January 2019 survey, BPI (British Phonographic Industry) found that British state schools had seen a 21% decrease in music provision over the previous five years, with this decrease disproportionately affecting schools serving less affluent communities.
To address this situation, TV star and conductor Gareth Malone of BBC Two’s The Choir has joined forces with teacher Catherine de Sybel to create an exciting new music resource for schools, Bright Star: Inclusive Songs for Whole-Group Singing. Catchy, heartfelt, accessible and fun, the book includes a song co-written with Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Equally suitable for small groups, school choirs or the entire school, these engaging songs cover a wide range of themes including life choices, friendship and community, the environment, bereavement and growing up.
The songs are written to get the whole school singing confidently and are appropriate for all ages, with a particular focus on children aged 8–14, bridging the gap between Key Stages 2 and 3, when children are more likely to give up singing.
“We believe that singing has enormous benefits to children’s mental and physical well-being and that it should be an integral part of every child’s school day. The simple act of breathing and singing together can be so valuable in fostering a sense of community and shared values. We hope that the subject matter will resonate with pupils and their teachers and we have included some pointers for discussion in the introduction to each song. We want pupils of all faiths and none to experience the joy of singing and most importantly for every school to be a singing school!”
— Gareth & Catherine
Designed to be user-friendly for music teachers and particularly non-specialist teachers, the Bright Star pack includes full scores, demo and backing tracks to download, and photocopiable melody and lyric sheets. Introductory notes on the songs provide support in learning and performing, as well as discussion points for use in the classroom.
About Gareth Malone
Gareth Malone OBE, is well-known around the world as a broadcaster, composer and choral animateur. He has won two BAFTAs for his BBC Two series The Choir, and has been making programs for the BBC for over 14 years. Other achievements include working as an artistic director for a Royal Opera House community opera, and working with orchestra and opera education departments, including the LSO, Philharmonia, Glyndebourne and ENO Baylis.
Gareth has had two number-one singles in the UK, the first in 2011 with the Military Wives Choir, followed by the Gareth Malone All Star Choir for Children in Need three years later. He has also had two number one albums: In My Dreams with the Military Wives, and his latest, Music for Healing, which is currently at the top of the specialist classical charts. His 2014 series The Big Performance 3 won the Royal Television Society award for best children’s television, and Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne won an International Emmy in 2011. In 2012 he was honored with an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen for services to music.
Gareth continues to compose with young people and to work with emerging artists. He has recorded with some of the leading performers in the UK and has just released his third album, Music for Healing.
About Catherine de Sybel
Catherine de Sybel is a composer, pianist and music educator. She read music at the University of Cambridge and continued with postgraduate studies in composition at the École Normale de Musique in Paris, where she won the prestigious Premier Prix for her work for mezzo-soprano and piano, Imagination.
Her teaching career, spanning over twenty years, has encompassed work in mainstream, private and specialist schools, always driving inclusive music education to the forefront of the curriculum. As Head of Music at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, she facilitated outreach projects with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, as well as high profile performances for Her Majesty the Queen and Michelle Obama.
In addition to her work inside the classroom, she has led music composition workshops for trainee teachers at the University of Cambridge, mentored beginner teachers from the Institute of Education and worked as Schools Projects Manager at the London Symphony Orchestra.
Catherine believes passionately in the power of music to inspire and educate and has dedicated her career to enabling the finest musical opportunities for children from all backgrounds whilst encouraging young voices to be heard from every corner of her school.
Guest post by composer Pepper Choplinintroducing his new cantata, Once upon a Morning: From Resurrection to Pentecost. Choplin is known as one of the most creative writers in church music today. With a diverse musical background, Choplin incorporates varied styles such as folk, Gospel, classical, and jazz. His published works include over 300 anthems for church and school choir with 20 church cantatas and two books of piano arrangements, and over 120 groups have commissioned him to write original works for them. Since 1991, his choral music has sold several million copies. Choplin has conducted eight New York concerts of his music at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center with 250 voices and full orchestra. In his hometown of Raleigh, he has conducted eight mass performances of his cantatas at Meymandi Auditorium (home to the NC Symphony) with over two hundred voices and orchestra. In 2019, he conducted Handel’s Messiah (Christmas portion) with the 150-voice Cary Community Choir with orchestra. He also visits many schools, churches and conferences to conduct and to entertain.
I always wanted to write this cantata. Then a church in Pennsylvania commissioned me to write a spring cantata outside of the typical Easter work. For a year, I surveyed directors and singers about different potential subjects. This idea got them most excited.
I loved writing this cantata. These wonderful stories don’t receive much attention in church music. Yet, they contain so much drama and passion.