February 2019: A Song A Day

February 28th
Using up leftovers today in what ended up being quite a bit of cooking and baking. Not much music happening, alas. But so much food made that there won’t need to be any cooking for the next couple of days. Here’s one I made earlier:

February 27th
Early to Worksop for merry pre-birthday celebrations for Mum with my brother and sister. Before I embarked on my trains home we went for a wander around Langold Lake, and I was very taken with the great-crested grebes, like I always am. This was the song going through my head of course.

February 26th
I made a cake. I choir-chatted with friends. It’s Tuesday. Who knows what’s going on inside my head?! I do know that I shared this song on the #febmusicchallenge19 Twitter thingamy in response to the theme of “intros that make you want to carry on listening”:
“Not sure if it elicits further listening, but the intro’s the key here. It simulates the buildup of water behind a hilltop dam. Lead miners released the water to strip off the top soil, then they could see where the seams were. Hush!”

February 25th
Listening lots to Jakob Handl’s Ascendit Deus. Then rehearsing the same piece and encouraging it to sound wonderful with The Bridge Singers this evening. I love it when we get to the stage where we’re content enough with the notes and rhythms and pronunciation to insert all the musicality we care to into it. We sang a few old and not-so old ones too including Darling Daddy, The Hallelujah Chorus, Goodbyee, When I’m Cleaning Windows and this one. All coming up and requested by various people for weddings, guest spots and ordinary concerts.

February 24th
A day of bits and bobs capped off with the cheering news of royalties from Australia and New Zealand. It appears that The Swing and Hodie Christus Natus Est have been on the telly in New Zealand during 2018, Rain is being used on someone’s website in Australia and the biggest payment of all comes from No-Umbrella Blues, category: “Other”. The amount of money itself is miniscule, as I think I’ve mentioned before, but knowing that these pieces are still being performed over there is very pleasing. This is a performance of the world premiere of No-Umbrella Blues in Auckland way back by The Orlando Singers. The day started with the sunrise at Warkworth and this little fellow – a stonechatting moonhopper.

February 23rd
This morning we had a rehearsal for the upcoming Rock Festival Choir concert (March 17th, St. Paul’s Church, Alnwick, 6pm) including my piece Aves Beati Cuthberti. It was rather lovely hearing the piece come together after a rather dodgy first practice a few weeks ago. The thrill of hearing people sing and play your pieces never seems to diminish. This is a little fragment from the end accompanied by a recent reed bunting.

February 22nd
Lots of practising for various choirs today. Lots of recordering this evening. Again lots of YouTube views. I even had a phone call from someone wanting to use some of my music in a film and someone wanting me to do some workshops. A cheery day. Meanwhile here’s a song that I composed for a Year 2 class who were embarking on a Nursery Rhyme Unit with their class teacher. We listened to and sang along with the song, thinking as they went which bursary rhymes they already thought they could recognise, and then it led on to researching some new ones.

February 21st
Sniffs of interest in this today – from a primary school class studying wolves and a local history project. Also, over 200 views on my YouTube channel in one day which is quite a lot for me. Also, practising for Rock Festival Choir. This song was composed for the Something Special project in Lupset, Wakefield and imagines what the landscape there was like in Medieval times before the coal mines and housing and hospitals that we already knew about.

February 20th
Slow day. Slow song.

Some sea bubbles from Sunday!

February 19th
Someone today asked me if I had any songs that primary schools enjoy. Well the answer is, of course, “Yes!” Here are the top ten I sent to him, but of course there are many more! Click on the song title to hear the song!

Robinson Crusoe  Composed for a year 6 class in Australia who were reading the book with their teacher. It’s since been incredibly popular with all manner of primary schools in NZ and the UK as well. Single line with optional harmony in the chorus.
The Great Crested Grebe  Composed to help some Year 6s with a river study. Unison song. Flowing melody.
Banana Boy  Composed to help a school learn about nutrition. Unison song with optional percussion.
Autumn Sea  I actually composed this one in Otago for an area school. Unison song with optional harmony in verse 2 and repeating patterns in the chorus.
Stanley Dreaming  Composed to help some Brownies learn about the art works of Stanley Spencer. Unison song with optional round in the chorus
Banana Fanfare  Silly song using just the word banana. It’s brilliant for a warm-up, but also if you can get the three parts happening is quite a dramatic concert piece too. Very popular with all ages including adult choirs.
Chocolate River  Three songs in one really. I originally composed it for Year 2-3 and they sang it as three separate songs. They work together as partner songs and this arrangement works well for older children.
Henry Hotspur Percy  Another 3-way partner song which can be done as one single song or you can layer all three bits on top of one another. Also optional drumming. Very popular with boys, I’ve found.
The Lamb  Originally composed for a Year 3-6 choir as a unison song with potential round in the chorus. Incredibly popular with them and subsequently several others. They take a while to warm to it, but then it becomes their favourite! I’ve arranged it since for SATB choir and choir with brass band. (This recording is the latter – I don’t have a single line recording, alas, but you get the idea, I’m sure!)
Tiny, Flickering Flame  It’s a Christingle song really, so the timing might be wrong, but is sung by this entire school every year (Pre-year 1 up to Year 6), and by a few others.

February 18th
I learnt a new word today: pépite It is French and means nugget. It appeared in this response to me sharing my song Pigeon Hands on Twitter: “…j’espère que Cheryl continuera à nous offrir tres longtemps de belles pépites comme celle-ci…” (I hope that Cheryl will continue to offer us beautiful nuggets like this for a long time) My distant A-Level French got me through most of this cheering sentence, but I had to look up pépite. In a follow-up message about the word: “C’est un joli mot et c’est quand on désigne quelque chose de rare! Bonne journée Cheryl et encore merci d’ensoleiller mes journées …” (it’s a nice word and it’s when you designate something rare! Good day Cheryl and thank you again for brightening my days …) Nugget is a word that I use quite often, so pépite may well find its way into my vocabulary now. A very cheering exchange indeed.
Tonight was exhilarating choir and we started work on “The Leaves That Are Green” and the Sanctus from Missa Luba. I was able to do a bit of drumming and I find that I’m better at it than previous attempts. I even did a reasonably even roll at the end. I keep advising the other drummer to be more relaxed (as if I know anything about drumming) and I wonder if that’s why I’m better now….I’m just so chilled out these days!!!!!
I’ll finish with today’s pépite.

February 17th
Today I’ve been working on my drinking song from Tam O’Shanter, but before all that I went to Warkworth Beach for the first time in ages. The sunrise was grand! Later tonight, I heard that a boys’ high school in New Zealand is learning my Henry Hotspur Percy song. We also ate the rest of Friday’s shepherd’s pie and it was just as delicious. Mmm.

February 16th
What a treat it is to have a joint day off. We hightailed it to Wallington for garden-admiring and river-strolling. We espied three nuthatches, a tree creeper and a dipper, which made us happy. As we stared at the dipper dipping impishly, a couple strolled by and we heard one of them enquire, when they were not quite out of earshot, “What on earth were those two staring at?” We smiled and didn’t care. We then did some shopping at Kingston Park, ticking off everything from our list. The came home for telly and ready meals from M&S. Perfection. I did not do any music today, although in my head I was singing several of my songs as we strolled, including this one which features a different historic building in the vivcinity!

February 15th
I made a shepherd’s pie today. It was a thing of beauty and deliciousness. I threw lots of leftovers into the meaty bit at the bottom as well as lots of fresh things too. The combination made for an exceedingly pleasing texture and taste, and also rendered the fridge ready for new supplies. The topping included kumara and potatoes. A shepherd’s pie is a versatile meal. I made it in the morning and then it sat there waiting for Jamie to complete all his phone meetings – meetings that were continuous from 9am until 4.45pm. Jamie is very important to lots of people. An hour before his scheduled meeting finish time, I popped the luscious shepherd’s pie in the oven and at 4.45 when we dished half of it out, the underneath was bubbling tantalizingly and the top was gently crisped. There is enough for tomorrow as well. Tomorrow we’re buying a new phone, I hear. The old one is slightly dysfunctional in that you have to remain perfectly still while using it otherwise something becomes disconnected and hearing what’s said becomes impossible. Musically, today was a bummer. No ideas. Music that was going to be performed now deemed too impractical. Ah well. Here’s one that has also been deemed impractical in the past, and yet still gets itself performed by those who have a bit of ambition!

February 14th
Bits an bobs sort of a day, ending with Lionheart Harmony. Here we are singing No-Umbrella Blues around the coffee table. It’s become part of our general repertoire now and everyone seems to like it. Nice feeling – no big deal, we just sing it. The picture is of a curlew in Hull fossicking in the mud last Saturday. I discovered a thing called 3d-effects on this new video-making programme. Alas, this makes the video too big to upload to the website, so here’s the no-rain version:

February 13th
I’ve been updating the portfolio section of my website with some recent news. Have a look here!

I was reminded of this song particularly, inspired by my friends Bob and Alan, and I discovered that in the switch from old laptop to new, that the rest of this recording has vamoosed 🙁

February 12th
The piano was tuned this afternoon. It was very flat, and flatter further up. “I had to go through your top notes twice,” he lamented. While he plonked, I made salmon coleslaw and cheese scones. Also today, I was asked by a choral director about this song. I composed it about ten years ago for the unveiling of a statue, A school of 9-14 year olds practised it in readiness, but the unveiling was delayed and therefore happened in the summer holidays, so the school was not involved in the end. Since then, this video has been the most popular on my YouTube channel. It’s a 3-way partner song.

February 11th
I’ve been grappling with my new video-making programme. It’s good, but every step of the way, there’s new stuff to get to grips with. Anyway, I’ve made one using some pictures from our day out in Hull on Saturday and one of my oldest choir songs: a setting for SSAA choir of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem. It takes the form of a lullaby with rocking patterns in the accompaniment. It is the fifth of a set of five songs for upper voices, including Marching Song, The Moon, From A Railway Carriage, and The Swing. This evening there was The Bridge Singers. It was exhilarating as ever. What a brilliant bunch they are.

February 10th
After driving home in rain and sun, I was fiddling about with my Cuthbert song amongst other things. Here’s my arrangement of him for high voices and strings. The video is slightly more accomplished than the older one, but is less informative!

Gentlemen’s Phone Box, Kingston Upon Hull.

February 9th
We went to Hull to meet up with Mum and Michael. It was Michael’s birthday so we were having an outing. We gathered them up next to Philip Larkin at the train station and went to The Deep and looked at fish and penguins. It was a brilliant day with tasty snacks too. Then back to Worksop for more tasty snacks and cricket on the telly. While we were in Hull I was very eager to see the cream phone boxes!


February 8th
A day of I’m not sure what – lists were gone through and tasks ticked off. Tonight was Rock Festival Choir including the start of us learning my Aves Beati Cuthberti. The most compliments I received were for the quality of the paper I used to print the scores on, but it’s a start! Here we are many years ago on the first ever performance of the choir version. The pictures include some footage of the first performance of the original version by the Year 2s at Grangetown Primary School! Having just watched this video again after quite a while, I realise that on the positive side, it is also quite informative and on the negative side, the captions aren’t quite aligned properly, but still, you get the idea!

February 7th
This morning I went to Wooler to take the Cheviot Singers for Veronica. She asked me to go over my arrangement of Bonny At Morn with them, so I did. I also started teaching them Autumn Sea, which they seemed to like. This evening it was Lionheart Harmony – just four of us what with work, pub quizzes and the Strictly Tour, but one per part so a cheerful practice and so very tight. Here’s the last verse of Bonny At Morn with some seed heads at morn too!

February 6th
New video! 10-year old song. Photos from my bullfinch sunrise on 30th January. It can only mean one thing – the new laptop is working properly at last, thanks to the very lovely Ally Lee who ministered to it yesterday with all his cleverness….. fired up by haggis, I believe. It’s one of my Hotspur Festival songs – the one about the river outside here. The first ever performance was by the Alnwick Playhouse Community Choir during the Hotspur Festival in 2008 or 2009.

February 5th
Fighting off my usual Tuesday lethargy, I went to Morpeth to do a guest appearance with “Sing Morpeth” during which we had a go at “Come And Go” and also my Hey Little Hen/Boo To My Ration Book combo. Much fun was had. There were loads of them too, including my lovely friend Terry. Then I went to see the brilliant Ally in Alnwick who solved my main “no sound in Cubase” laptop problem, so now I can work again on some music files. More of that tomorrow, but for today’s song of the day, I give you Boo To My Ration Book – one of my banana songs, composed for St. Michael’s Primary School in Wakefield to help them learn about rationing in WW2, but also a jolly good rollicking song. It works as a partner song with another song about food shortages, Hey Little Hen!


February 4th
Sorting out music for a guest appearance tomorrow, and choir night tonight makes for a fun day of musicking. Elsewhere…
A song about a swing. Wheeeeeh! What larks. This would be the first piece for choir that I ever did compose, and it’s Jamie’s favourite. It’s been sung quite a lot of times too, all around the world, most recently in Canada and South Africa. This is it’s world premiere, from New Zealand in the 1990s and Judy says, “Wow! It’s lovely! x”

February 3rd
Today’s song of the day us not by me but by William Byrd. I spent much of the morning practising it, then Rock Festival Choir sang it at Candlemas Evensong at Longhoughton. Jamie cleared up the last of the paint spillage today too, and I continued with my drinking song. The snow has started to melt.

February 2nd
I peeped from my window this morning and like much of the rest of the country, there was this. It resulted in this afternoon’s singing with Lionheart Harmony being cancelled. So onward with today’s song and a bit of sport-listening: England won the rugby; Cardiff won the football; England lost the cricket. In the evening Jamie and I watched Manchester By The Sea on the BBCiPlayer. Very cool film with some excellent music.

Today’s song, then. When I did by DMus, I set the entirety of Robert Burns’ Tam O’Shanter to music. A big effort and somewhat impractical, although it did demonstrate my ability to sustain a longer work over a considerable amount of time. Anyway, in my current world of shorter pieces and real life performing situations, I have decided to extract from that mammoth epic (and re-arrange/compose) five or six self-contained extracts that can be performed as a set or individually by a regular choir with piano accompaniment instead of the somewhat Doctory and rarified ensemble of three oboes, three violas, bassoon, cello, percussion and piccolo! So today it was Ae Market Night – a drinking song. Rollicking it is. Anyway, I can’t send you an extract of that yet, so instead here’s another rollicking one, which was today described as “beautiful and atmospheric” by a dragon boat enthusiast.

February 1st
I’ve been working on the score of Bede, Moon, Sea, Tide. I was going to record some of it to use here, but all the laptops have been tricky today, so instead I’ll give you my response to a criticism that came my way today. Also, an order came in for this book of songs which somewhat disproves the earlier criticism! Also, someone said this about one of the songs in this booklet, Slow Down! Red Squirrels! “Love that song and it often comes to mind when I see a red squirrel”.

They say all my music’s too tricky. It’s not true! 😲 Others say it’s too simplistic. That’s not true either….but let’s deal with the first one. Look at and listen to this – twenty songs that are just right for learner choirs starting out on their part-singing journey…and yet, the same songs can be sung by more advanced 4-part-and-more choirs if you go for all the part-singing options available, and the same songs can be sung in unison by choiry learners! Perfectly manageable by any choir whatsoever 😀 And, what’s more – there are plenty more where these 20 came from.

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