April 2021: Zoomy Composing

April 28th

I’ve started on my next Ian McMillan setting today, and at either end of the day I did the Swarland Loop. It’s two hours of walking up and down the hill to Swarland, so twice in a day is quite a bit. In the morning there was a brief glimpse of the almost full moon over the river before it disappeared behind lots of cloud – the same cloud that blocked out the sunrise too. In the afternoon there was plenty of sun and lots of blossom to see and photograph. There was also a blue tit munching away at the buds and videoing this prompted me to gather together a few more short birdy videos from the last week or so:

Blue tit, woodpecker, chaffinch, goldfinch, bullfinch and the ever-present background rumble of the A1.
We messed about beside the flume. I love the flume.

April 27th

Jamie and I went to Cragside today for our Tuesday adventure. We roamed around there for over three and a half hours in the on-and-off drizzle – so refreshing after many days with no rain at all up here. In the evening we replenished our supplies of food so the day ended happily with all manner of treats to choose from for our evening snacks!

April 26th

Choir night tonight and we had a go at my new song using words by Ian McMillan. Jamie and I spent the day putting together a singalong learning video for that and also for our version of Love Of My Life, the Queen song, which we were going to sing last year at our Queens-themed concerts – the idea is still to do that same concert whenever we’re able to. 28 people were at the Zoom so enthusiasm is not waning too much even though it’s been going on so long!

April 25th

I think I’ve finished my new song. I’ll have another look at it first thing in the morning and no doubt there’ll be tweaking, but essentially, it’s done. This morning on my walk the moon was glowing orangely as it set, and the sun was glowing orangely as it rose – I suspect the two were connected.

I love to see a robin singing its heart out, don’t you?!

April 24th

News of Jamie’s wall-building has spread and following on from a minor collapse at our friends Rebekah and Ian’s place, he was asked for advice, so we went round to their garden for a chat. So lovely to see people in real life and sit down and talk like the old days. I made good progress on my next Ian McMillan song today…maybe there’ll be something to share tomorrow!?

Long-tailed tit in amongst the blossom

April 23rd

I made a blog of my Lullaby Of Robert Landreth song today and sent the recording off to a variety of people, particularly in News Zealand.

There’s been quite a bit of feedback from Glenda and her family and friends, to the recording too!

  • Received just this morning is my wonderful birthday present created by my composer friend Cheryl Camm in Northumberland. It features a song she composed for the Landreth reunion in 2010 and which Matt sang at the reunion. It is about the arrival of Robert Landreth to Otago Peninsula in 1860 from Scotland and his work as a stonemason on Larnach’s Castle, and there are also photos of his son James’ first cottage which Robert helped James to build at Middlemarch on a small farm there. James later moved to the Catlins to our farm here 1889/1890. This will be of special interest to all Landreth rellies I’m sure.
  • Absolutely beautiful. Really brings to life the story of our Great great grandparents Robert and Helen Landreth. I am proud to be named after her.
  • Wow! This is fabulous. Thanks for the work of all that put this together. A very special momento.
  • This is wonderful. Thanks for sharing.
  • How very special. Something for the Landreth family to treasure. Wonderful!

Anyway, here’s the blog! Song Stories: Lullaby Of Robert Landreth

Two lambs form a partial map of Australia in front of the rising sun.

April 22nd

I was lining up the lamb on the right with its glorious halo of sunlight around its extremities when the other one walked into my shot. I didn’t even notice until people started pointing it out that the legs and chins were making the shape of a map of Australia. I’ve quite a few comments from people who have not spotted the lambs, and only seen Australia!

Chiffchafff close by as well!

April 21st

A tired day, but still enough energy for a sunrise stroll with woodpeckers, curlews, my first swallow of the year and a blackcap being the main highlights. The sun was quite good too.

April 20th

Jamie and I went to Ross Sands for the first time since December. There were over 1000 seals at the northern end of the beach amongst many other treats, and it was exhilarating. It was also the day of News 400. Every day since the first lockdown started, I have written an email to the choir with news, recordings, artsy suggestions, jokes etc etc. On the 100th, 200th and 300th days I have written “100 Positive Things” to mark the day….so I did it again today with news of my Robert Landreth song, our walk at Ross Sands, some Ian McMillan early stroll tweets, some words of the day from Suzy Dent.

Lots of singing seals, a bit of wind and the North Sea
Three lambs on a mound of manure

April 19th

Choir night with some work on Under The Masks – very encouraging comments too. Earlier in the day I finished my new video of The Lullaby Of Robert Landreth for my pal Glenda in New Zealand whose birthday is tomorrow. I composed it in 2010 for the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Robert Landreth in Otago. His many descendants had a reunion in 2010 and this song was performed then by Matt Landreth. Glenda gave me some photos she’d taken of some places that are important in the Robert Landreth story, and these photos have been used to illustrate this recording.

A song I wrote in 2010 – this is a new recording made this week with photographs from my New Zealand pal Glenda Landreth. It is her birthday on 20th April!
Yellowhammer hammering

April 18th

I’ve been working on a recording of an old song with Jamie today. I can’t say much more as it’s a surprise for someone – more on 20th! I did go for a walk this morning, though and there were woodpeckers and this yellowhammer. Their song is a mere “chop” like a hammer, so to actually catch the delivery of this, beak open, is quite a thrill, even if it is bit out of focus!!

April 17th

A rather glorious sunrise this morning and photo that has had a popular reaction elsewhere! Someone suggested I was at the Savannah, but no – it’s the spiky tree and the North Sea!

April 16th

I’ve spotted bullfinches at a different spot on the last few mornings, so I waited until 10 am for my walk and took my pal Anne to where I’d seen them. Our last bullfinch hunt a few weeks ago ended in failure, although we did see a friend for the first time in well over a year, so it wasn’t a complete disaster. This time…success! Two bullfinches and one sat very still for us so we could snap him feasting!

April 15th

Another morning photograph. This time it’s the knees that go with the ears from a few weeks ago!

Long-tailed tit

April 14th

I am writing some music, I promise, but nothing’s finished to share so….A morning photograph:

April 13th

This is a photo from this morning’s sunrise of my current favourite barn with the sea and sunrising sky in the background, and you’ll notice a bird. That bird is a barn owl which earlier had flapped around in generally the same area as I was standing stock still gazing at it, before it honed in on, and headed straight towards, me. As it approached I saw its face so very clearly, and even its eyes as we stared at each other. The owl came so close that my hand involuntarily came up to my face to protect it, but then the owl languidly veered away towards the barn. It was exceedingly thrilling.

Goldfinches on the lines during a frosty sunrise walk

April 12th

Choir night. We had a go at my new song which everyone seemed to like. Jamie and I did spend a lot of the day making a recording of it to help. Shuna told us that her friend who listened to the recordings from our “live” concert the other night thought that Lullaby Of Silences was was the most beautiful thing she’s ever heard. Also, someone I don’t know bought Salsa Salsa.

Under The Masks with words by Ian McMillan

April 11th

We had a walk in Swarland Woods this afternoon with friends – first time we’ve seen them in real life since before Christmas. We walked up to Swarland and saw bullfinches in a new place, also deer and long-tailed tits. I’ve also finished my new Ian McMillan song – another of his morning tweets with “silence” in it.

April 10th

We both felt poorly today so nothing was done and no photos were taken.

April 9th

Today we went to Washington. It took quite a bit of the day. We came back through the middle of Newcastle which was a thrill after over a year. Earlier there were lots of chiffchaffs in the rather glorious sunrise.

I took away the uninteresting noise of the car going over all the bumps and have replaced it with a snippet of The Bridge Singers on one of last year’s lockdown videos “Water Of Tyne”.

If you want to hear the whole song:

A very loud wren
Two blue tits
A very yellow yellowhammer

April 8th

There were lots of birds today, including distant barn owls again, and also the sound of curlews and the sight and sound of an oystercatcher. The hedges are at the stage where the tops of them are still clearly defined from the winter cutting, but now with leaves starting to burst through – I like these hedges as the birds sit atop them and show up very well against the background. Also the camera like to focus on the hedges! Lots of people were listening to my primary school songs today too – in New Zealand, which is heartening.

(1) Songs for EYFS and KS1 – YouTube

Songs for KS2 – YouTube

April 7th

A different view of Coquet Island at sunrise, this time from the top of the road in Swarland near the spiky tree. That tree is my current favourite tree and it’s hard to tell if it’s alive or dead.

As I strode through the silent freezing air this morning, pondering on the circumstance that bullfinches and woodpeckers and greenfinches and reed buntings and yellowhammers and chiffchaffs and all the other creatures that I love to spot of a morning were being more sensible than I was and staying in their cosy nests until the sun came up and warmed their shivering feathers, my eye was caught of a sudden by the large white swooping of a barn owl crossing my path less than 50 metres away.

The moon rises over the shed and the sea – clearly it had risen half an hour or so earlier, but it was only now that it became visible!

It emerged from the trees on the right tilting widely, wings outstretched, then headed straight for me. I saw its face so clearly…the heart shape, you know? It then saw me and decided that I was not to be snacked on and veered back off into the trees on the right. That’s all. It was magical and lasted about 10 seconds.

Later on, I watched the orange crook of a moon rise through the apricot wispy clouds over the ocean, cheerily hello-ed with Sharon and Ivey, heard a woodpecker over near the Felton Sycamores, watched a yellowhammer play peekaboo in the hawthorn near the recycling bins and watched the dipping dipper bathing in the river. All in all a good morning’s stomp as it turned out.

For the rest of the day I made this – another reworking of an old video with lyrics now attached and with some better photos of flowering plants at different stages of their life cycle, taken more recently.

Since sharing this, I have discovered that it is only female bees who take the pollen to and from the plants, so there is a “he” in the lyrics that should be a “she”. I don’t feel inclined to do the video again, so I shall leave it be.

April 6th

Tuesday tiredness with some minor attempts at composing

Grumpy greenfinch

April 5th

We had a choir practice tonight even though it was Easter Monday – we’ve found that Bank Holiday Mondays are always well-attended as people still like to sing on a holiday weekend, so I see no reason to change just because we cannot meet up in person. It’s also the first rehearsal after a “concert” and these two things combined usually result in a somewhat relaxed rehearsal.

It was an icy morning for my walk this morning – needed my big orange coat on and found icy puddles by the side of the road.

I asked the choir for requests and they picked three of my pieces amongst others: Skydancer (because someone had seen a hen harrier in Thrunton Woods at the weekend); Even A Subdued Sky (because they wanted o try it as a round); Mustering in Siberia (we haven’t sung this since 2018 so we had a reminder of the tune).

Earlier in the day, Jamie and I were putting this together. It’s a song about chaffinches I wrote for a workshop in Gilsland in 2018 in a threshing barn for Hadrian Singers. ‘Twas a good day. Anyway there are some nice pictures of chaffinches and it’s a gentle song with some interesting vocabulary and folklore. I’ve added the world premiere onto the end of the video too.

A song of chaffinches

April 4th

Sunrise at the seaside
Nice to get the leaping and sunrise in the same photo
Sunrise stonechat
Coquet Island and the windy waves

Jamie and I went to the beach this morning for the sunrise. We picked a good morning as the sun has been shrouded in cloud for the last few days, but not today. It was glorious – a very special occasion: it’ll be the last time I manage to get Jamie up for sunrise until about October, I should think; it was the first time at the beach for either of us since Boxing Day; the sun came out of the sea; the moon was in attendance; there were oystercatchers, linnets, rock pipits, goldfinches, and up at the car park, four bullfinches; there was also a beautiful stonechat posing for me; the only thing between me and Coquet Island were the wind-splashy waves; it was the first time I’ve driven our car in 2021.

April 3rd

Yesterday there was a pheasant. There are always pheasants, of course. We even sometimes have one in our garden. Anyway, yesterday’s stuck around long enough for me to take this photo of it instead of squawking and flapping at great speed in any available direction to escape in dramatic fashion the attentions of my harmless camera lens. What beautiful creatures they are though if you manage perchance to gaze at their astonishing feathers. And look at the frost in the background! Brrr.

Pheasant in the frost

I remember when I was growing up in Worksop, pheasants were a thing we only saw from the car window at a distance when we drove to visit my Grandma in Whitwell. I remember once visiting my friend’s house once. She lived in the countryside nearby and there were pheasants in the field outside her window, close enough to see the colours, patterns and iridescence. I was beside myself with excitement, but she thought I was being a tad too exuberant, as they were as common to her as house sparrows were to me. Anyway, now I’m a grown-up I can be as exuberant as I like about house sparrows and pheasants, no matter what anyone says, so here’s my pheasant photo

April 2nd

A long-tailed tit with a feather for its nest.

And I spent most of today working on a new recording and video for this Easter Week song. It speaks of all the different moods in the Easter Week story. I wrote it in 2011 for Warkworth CofE First School to perform at their end of term Paschal Pageant in the school field. I’ve been meaning to make a recording and video of it, and if I didn’t do it today, there’d be no point for another year, eh?! All the images are of my sunrise walk this morning. The sun barely made an appearance, although it did make its presence felt, visually if not thermally! The moon was out and about though…for a while at least. I also watched a barn owl swooping and gliding – quite a treat. Anyway, I had the song in mind while I was taking the photos so they’re mostly a bit scary and quiet.

April 1st

Peeping lamb

I spent most of the day working on a new video for this arrangement, including the lyrics unlike the previous one. People say these videos are more useful if the lyrics are included. It’s an Easter song, so a good time to do this task in Easter Week!

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