Musical Advent Calendar 2018

December 21st-28th
We’ve been to Cumbria for Christmas! These photos are from Portinscale, Buttermere, St.Bees, Bassenthwaite, Keswick.

December 24th
It’s a final festive fanfare and one of the most successful and frequently performed pieces I’ve every composed. You can hear it on Christmas Day this year if you happen to be in Guildford Cathedral during their service of lessons and carols in the afternoon. Here’s it’s performed by Rock Festival Choir.

December 23rd
I have too many Christmas and wintry songs for one Advent Calendar, but a decision has to be made as I am running out of days, so I will go for this song of winter which is about the Medieval pastime of hunting with wolves across the wintry Yorkshire countryside. I composed it several years ago for Yew Tree Youth Theatre in Wakefield and this recording features the lovely Jamie singing. This was the learning video I made for the original singers to help them memorise the melody and lyrics.

December 22nd
Following on from yesterday’s camels, it’s another Epiphany item, this time a choral fanfare with Medieval tendencies.

December 21st
It’s a poem about camels…the camels that took the kings to see the baby Jesus in the Nativity story. I wrote it way back, when I worked in Sunderland, for Janet and Pam’s Yr 1&2 classes. Here it’s read by my lovely pal Sid about whom I wrote earlier in the month.

December 20th
It’s a Christingle song performed here by Swansfield Park Primary School Choir with Anne Mari at the helm.

I composed it for this school. It’s their Christingle service today in fact. I haven’t heard if they’re singing it again for what would be the fourth year in a row. I went to their service last year and it’s a wonderful sound to hear an entire school singing your work especially in a reverberant acoustic like St. Paul’s Church in Alnwick.

December 19th
It’s a jolly one! With bells on!

Also this morning I’ve been reminiscing about my tiling exploits in August, and so of course, I’ve made a video about the tiles. The music is The Bridge Singers performing my Red, Red Rose at Brinkburn Priory in July.

December 18th
It’s a song about a soldier who has retired from a life of bravery and action to a cottage where he is perhaps enjoying a quiet life. Or perhaps he has taken on another role…

December 17th
It’s a cheery folk song about the Sunderland glass industry – all verses are about winter and all mention Christmas, so it’s highly appropriate!

Today, I’m remembering my dad who died this year, and have made this video in memory of him.
One splendid day we had recently was in 2016 when The Flying Scotsman stopped in Retford Station on its way south as part of an excursion for some lucky people. Dad and I caught the local train from Worksop and joined quite a throng on the platform. It reminded Dad of many times he’d been at that station when he was a boy, and we agreed that the next morning he would record some of the stories for me to use at a later date. He could not sleep during the night, so got up and wrote out his stories in case we didn’t have time in the morning. As it turned out, we did, so he read out loud what he had written. Three of those stories are combined here in this video, with the sound of the train arriving at then leaving the station that day. Also, you can hear in the background a couple of my songs – one of which he is known to have actually liked, and the other of which he would have been proud of (even if he may not have actually liked it – he did declare more than once that my music was not exactly to his taste!) if he’d been here this Christmas. What you’re seeing is a selection of the 80 photos we gathered together for his 80th birthday party when they were displayed around the walls of the church hall, and also a few from the years since then. You can see that he almost always had a smile on his face and we used to laugh a lot. In these last few years, I considered it one of my principal jobs to make him laugh at every opportunity, and you can hear and see some evidence of that here.

December 16th
It’s a very lively Christmas fanfare with some pictures of people laughing or making me laugh. Ho ho ho!

It’s been a fun day of sunrise walk with Mum, planning our Christmas menus, dropping Mum off at Morpeth Station and then while Jamie did some work I went to Alnwick Choral’s Christmas concert in Alnwick and sang along heartily with all the carols.

December 15th
It’s the first of the Five Christmas Fanfares and is being performed tonight in Manchester by Kantos in their Christmas Concert. Also tonight: Southern Voices in Winchester performing Hodie Christus Natus est. Also tonight The Bridge Singers performing Hodie Christus Natus Est, The Lamb and Chantry Chapel Carol. Also today Cantus of Minneapolis performing Alleluia! Into The Light! In Apple Valley, Minnesota. Wheeeeh!

Satinny bark

Sunset crabapples

Album: Christmas at Wallington.
Yesterday Mum arrived in town to see tonight’s concert, so after gathering her up at Cramlington Station, we graced both Sainsbury’s and M&S with our presence and purchased many tasty treats deserving of one’s mother on a mini-break, stopped off at home for home-made fish pie and then drove out to Wallington principally to see the berries in the winter sun and also to experience “Wallington at Christmas”

Yellow berries…..

….red berries.

– they’ve decked out the interior of the house with garlands and home-made paper decorations to simulate what it would have been like at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, and they’re opening in the evening after dark so you get a proper magical effect – there’s a story-teller in one room and cooks in the kitchen making biscuits and mince pies

Christmas tree with dried flowers and watering can atop.

Festive fuscias

and a pianist in the atrium playing carols on the old family grand piano. Santa’s there too apparently at the end of a corridor of twinkly lights, but we forewent the thrill of sitting on his lap. Delightful it was. Enchanting. I hope it does well – it’s on again next Friday.

Mushroom and moon

Moon and mushroom

Big moon, little fairy lights

Have a look!



December 14th
Another traditional carol today, but this time given a barbershop tweak and performed here by some members of Lionheart Harmony.

December 13th
One of my favourite traditional carols, I like to do it wherever I work. I made this arrangement for the Duchess’ Community High School Band and Choir. I like the jolliness and cheery speed. Yesterday I walked to Tim’s to deliver the prototype of Saturday’s programme for printing and on my way back I met Mary and had a chat, waved at Alison as she drove past in the car, called cheery greetings to Julia as she strode by, then Julie came along to puppy-sit for Rebekah, so I went with Julie and chatted for well over an hour while Connie the puppy had a nap in Julie’s arms – friendly choir, friendly village, cute puppy, excellent chat, top afternoon.

December 12th
It’s another wintry song I composed at the very beginning of this year for The Bridge Singers’ Burns Night Celebration in January. It was performed on that occasion in a world premiere by Gary Steward with his guitar. This video is my attempt at providing something to help Gary learn the song in what was quite a short space of time. As you hear I got a bit carried away with the arrangement, but still, we all coped perfectly in the end, and he gave a wonderful performance, and I do believe performed it on one or two more occasions. The images are from New Year’s Day – a glorious sunrise up near Bamburgh Castle.

December 11th
It’s a medieval song about the onset of winter. We’re currently learning it in The Bridge Singers for Saturday’s concert. This is my arrangement and is here performed by Bailiffgate Singers in 2014.

December 10th
It’s a merry French carol which we’re learning this year in The Bridge Singers. These pictures are of a trip we made to St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall a few years ago. In other news, I went to The Hepworth Wakefield yesterday and was exceedingly jolly with the “Footpath of Detritus” composing. Fifty people passed through the workshops during the day, which is not bad for a sunny afternoon in December when there are festive events a-plenty around town and shopping to be done. In the next door studio, lots of gentle, quiet wreath-makers were making the place smell very piney and festive. Meanwhile I was being noisy and energetic as usual.

December 9th
It’s a festive song that always reminds me of my hometown Worksop – partly because the lyrics were written by Sister Bernadette Ward who was resident in Worksop at the time, and also because since the very first recording of it, it’s been combined with these delightful pictures of the town. In other news, I’m off to Wakefield this morning for some Musical Sculptures workshops, responding to Michael Dean’s entry in the Hepworth Prize exhibitions. It should be exhausting, but fun.

December 8th
It’s a Christmas Fanfare performed here by Rock Festival Choir and part 2 of the Five Christmas Fanfares.

Also, in my extended version of this calendar which is sent with news from my daily life to friends and family around the world, I told today of our new bathroom and illustrated it with this new video:

December 7th
It’s The Lamb, performed by The Bridge Singers with pictures by Dawn Minto. The solos at the beginning are Jamie, and Peter Hall. We’re performing this one again on Saturday 15th December and we also performed it earlier in the year at Brinkburn Priory.

December 6th
It’s a song about a robin. The words are by Robert Burns. The music is sort of by me – it’s based on a tune Burns used, but I’ve tweaked it so that it can be sung as a round. The art work is by Yvonne Steward. The Bridge Singers performed it at their Burns Night Celebration in January.

In other news, I am struggling to adapt to British time. Most of these Advent Calendar entries are being written at 3am – I may as well make use of these times of being awake, but still it’s rather frustrating. Yesterday, unlike every day since we’ve been back (RFC rehearsal, concert, TBS rehearsal, research trip to Wakefield) I did not have any actual meetings or things that had to be done by a particular time, so I (mistakenly as it turns out) thought that if I slept whenever I was tired I would catch up and therefore be sleepy at proper bedtime. No. Hardly slept during the day, still so sleepy that I cannot keep my eyes open at 6.30pm. Up at 2.30am. I shall try harder today. I have a meeting at 10 am and then Lionheart Harmony at 6.30pm so maybe these will help. Meanwhile, I’ve had a brainwave about Sunday’s Hepworth workshops, so plenty to keep my brain occupied….

December 5th
Here’s an arrangement of Gabriel Fram Heven King which I did for The Bridge Singers a couple of years ago. We sang it in our Magical Glass concert in 2017 as it relates to Gabriel who features in the windows at St. Michael’s Church in the village. We’re singing it again on December 15th in our Christmas Recital. The trickiest thing about this song is the pronunciation of the medieval English. We do find it hard to get into our heads and as a result we’re heads down for most of it. I made this video to help with the learning and pronouncing!

December 4th
I’m off to Wakefield today and so here’s a carol about a building in Wakefield. I’m heading to the Hepworth today to check out the new exhibition. I have workshops there on Sunday and the exhibitions have recently changed, so I shall be spending the rest of the week planning what to do. I can’t do that until I’ve seen what’s on. This particular carol’s being performed by The Bridge Singers on 15th December in Felton Village Hall if you want to hear it in real life.

December 3rd
It’s a festive poem about sheep performed by my wonderful, funny friend and singing colleague Sid.

In other news, yesterday’s Rock Festival Choir Advent concert was exceedingly successful with what seemed like a huge audience including lots of friends from The Bridge Singers who were there supporting the four of us who are in both choirs. I was happy with my piece and one or two said the same, adding that it was one of their favourites of mine. Other feedback included, “it sounded odd from where I was sitting. Is that what you intended?” and “I really liked the Poulenc, actually.” Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all! Today, I’m back with The (afore-mentioned) Bridge Singers as we prepare for our own Christmas recital. I’ve missed them so much while I’ve been away. It will be splendid to be back amongst them.

December 2nd
This afternoon the choir that Jamie and I sing in will be performing its annual Advent Recital at 3pm in St. Paul’s Church Alnwick, Northumberland. Do come along if you’re in the area. The repertoire list includes music by Britten, Taverner, Chilcott, Mealor, Camm, Poulenc, Whitacre, Howells, McDowall. The Camm piece is this one, performed this afternoon by the sopranos and altos of the choir. Apart from my own piece my favourite other pieces are Quem Vidistis by Poulenc and David Blackwell’s arrangement of Lo, How A Rose. I love this last one and it has inspired in my head an idea for The Bridge Singers Christmas recital 2019!

December 1st
Musical Advent Calendar 2018:1 In The Bleak Midwinter. Yesterday Jamie and I came home from Australia where for the last few days I’ve been struggling with temperatures of well over 30 degrees and humidity of over 80% at times. While the weather here was not snowy or frosty for our return, it did require the use of my new big coat for our foray to the supermarket for supplies, so I give you Jamie singing about the cold weather for this year’s advent calendar opening!

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