Why “Sea Pie Parcel”?

…they ask. SPP front cover

So here’s the reason:

I’m often asked by schools or directors of choirs of youngsters to compose something for them that will prove a little bit of a challenge, but not be too difficult for either the children or the teacher/conductor to get to grips with.

I’ve gathered together 20 of these songs into a collection called Sea Pie Parcel. One of the songs in the collection, Autumn Sea, contains the line “Sea pie parcel skywardly fly…”. This song is inspired by Warkworth Beach in Northumberland, one of my favourite places to catch the sunrise and also a great place for watching the families of oystercatchers who fly off as I or a rogue wave approaches. The colloquial name for oystercatchers is sea pie, and the collective noun for a group of oystercatchers is a parcel.

I liked it, so used it for the song, then the collection, and then my username on Twitter and my composer page of Facebook. sea parcel front cover musicThe music on the front cover of the collection is the melody for that phrase of the lyrics.

So let me tell you about the collection which is proving very popular at the moment.

  • The collection of songs was composed for groups of young people aged 7-12.
  • Many have lyrics which are also suitable for older choirs.
  • All were initially used as single line songs to enhance learning in some other curriculum area, or with the optional parts in primary school choirs.
  • They all have part singing opportunities.
  • This part singing takes the form of rounds, partner songs, repeating patterns, descants and simple harmony.
  • The accompaniments provided include chords, piano parts and a CD of backing tracks which will hopefully assist all types of accompanists.
  • All 20 songs have been enthusiastically received by young singers, teachers and audiences.
  • Each song is also available individually, should you require multiple copies of just one song.
Go to Sea Pie Parcel


Notes About The Songs

John Hudson’s Bound For Botany Bay

These words were initially composed to help a class of year 6 students learn more about transportation to Australia in Victorian times curing a study of convict life. The song has also helped with understanding of Victorian life in general. The original tune is called Bound for Botany Bay. Newgate is the name of a famous gaol in London at the time.

Go to John Hudson’s Bound For Botany Bay


Robinson Crusoe

This is just a tuneful song that people find very moving indeed. I’ve found that if I first teach the chorus melody very thoroughly to everyone and then teach a small handful the descant, both parts can be maintained even by students as young as Year 3. If there is no instrumentalist for the fourth verse it can be “ooh-ed”.

Go to Robinson Crusoe More information about Robinson Crusoe


 No-Umbrella Blues

This has quite tricky harmony parts, but works perfectly well as a single line song. There is a large statue of Robert Burns, who is the most famous Scottish poet of all time with a fine sense of humour, in the Octagon in Dunedin. This song is available in an SATB version too.

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23rd march 001Rain

Children find the rests tricky in this melody initially, but not for long. It’s fun to compose dripping and soaking instrumental music to go along with this song.

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Autumn Sea

Inspired by Warkworth Beach in Northumberland on a grey morning, the metaphorical language in this poem has been used to inspire young writers to come up with their own sea poems. The use of kennings (pool-gobbler, wrack-comber) has spurned entire lessons from other teachers, the results of which can be seen in Hymn Of The Ancient Greeks. Sea pie is a colloquial term for oystercatchers and the collective noun for them is a parcel.

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Spring Burst

I’ve used this song with 4-5 year olds as well – they like the exclamations at the ends of the phrases. Indeed I initially thought that the song was too young for anyone older than about 6, but I’ve used it very successfully with 7-9 year olds – they also like the exclamations!

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In The Bleak Midwinter

This simple song has been popular with choirs and classes of all ages in fact, and is available in many different versions for mixed, high and low voiced choirs.

Go to In the Bleak Midwinter More information about In the Bleak Midwinter


That First Christmas Night

A reflection on the true meaning of Christmas. The lyricist, Sister Bernadette Ward, is a Sister of the Sacred Heart Of Jesus and Mary. This song is also available in SATB arrangement.

Go to That First Christmas Night More information about That First Christmas Night


The Lamb

This has been one of my popular songs (along with Robinson Crusoe) with children and audiences. It is tricky for young singers to perform the chorus part as a round, although I did manage it once with a choir of 6-11 year olds, when they really knew the tune well. I think the backing track may help in this endeavour. On the backing track, you will hear the four-part round once at the end of the song on the words “Little Lamb, God bless you.” This song is also available in SATB arrangement and also for choir with brass band.

Go to The Lamb More information about The Lamb


squirrel eats nut at the side croppedSlide68lamb image

Slow Down! Red Squirrels!

Northumberland is one of the few places left in Britain where red squirrels still survive. They are a rare sight and innocently wander across country roads in the path of danger. There are road signs to warn drivers, but alas the squirrels take no heed of them. This song uses a couple of Northumberland words for the creatures that live here as taught to me by my friend and neighbour Ted Beswick: a hoolet is an owl, a spuggie is a house sparrow. These spuggies are very fussy when it comes to the seeds they will eat from garden feeders, preferring sunflower seeds to all others, and hoying those they don’t fancy onto the ground, where they are greedily snaffled by cushats (local pigeons).

Go to Slow Down! Red Squirrels!


I’d Like A Zebra For My Birthday

One of a selection of songs I composed to help a group of Australian children with the letter Z. The song can be performed as a round and on the backing track you will find the song once through on its own and then twice as a four-part round.

Go to I’d Like A Zebra For My Birthday


When My Roots Begin To Grow

fluffy seed rosetteThis song uses all the vocabulary and concepts required for a study of flowering plants by primary school children. I have used it as a starting point for this science theme by the end of which, the lyrics and meaning of the song have been thoroughly researched and understood, and also as a plenary, drawing together all knowledge and concepts learned.

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Banana Boy

Bananas are not just tasty to eat. Oh no! This song details some of the other uses to which bananas have been put, and was composed for use in “Banana Week” at St. John Vianney’s Primary School in Brisbane in March 2002. It is also available as an SATB arrangement suitable for high school (or older) choirs.

Go to Banana Boy More information about Banana Boy


Banana Fanfare II

Another song from that same occasion and a successful attempt to encourage the school’s choir to sing in parts. I have since found that this song is picked up very quickly by a wide range of ages. This song should really be performed unaccompanied. There is another Banana Fanfare for 3-part high voice choir – more difficult than this.

Go to Banana Fanfare II


Chocolate River

June 125Part of a “Sweetie Land” performance at Alnwick South First School, this song is really three songs which can be performed separately or as partner songs. The first performance included chocolate-coloured ribbons being brandished in swirly ways to replicate the river, giant papier-maché bananas swaying in the breeze and coloured balls of various sizes being used to create rhythmic patterns during the song.

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 The Sixth Duke Of Devonshire

Another song (along with John Hudson’s Bound for Botany Bay) which explores Victorian life in Britain – this time from the other end of the social spectrum. This is quite a long song (over five minutes), and I have used it as three segments interspersed with other readings and drama telling the stories in each verse.

Go to The Sixth Duke Of Devonshire


Henry Hotspur Percy

Another well-bred Englishman features in this song, but this time from Mediaeval times. Hotspur is one of the most famous members of the Duke of Northumberland’s family and is soon to have a statue unveiled in Alnwick, the family’s northern seat for the past 900 years. He famously features in Shakespeare’s play Henry the Fourth in which the two Henrys moved from being friends to enemies in battle. Each verse can be treated as a separate song one after the other, but they also fit together nicely as a partner song (or round). The claps/stamps in the first and third verses (on the lyrics sheets) are intended to help with the counting for rehearsal purposes, and the singers should be gradually weaned off them once they know the song well enough. I feel that there is already enough percussive noise in this song with the ostinato patterns.

Go to Henry Hotspur Percy


Alexander’s Army alexander

The Alexander in question here is Alexander the Great and the song was composed for (and has been performed by several) classes studying the Ancient Greeks. These claps/stamps are really part of the performance and should be kept in even when the song is learned. The rhythms in this song look difficult, I have to admit, especially in the piano part, but they don’t sound difficult because they fit well with the words. As long as you sing the tune in your head while you’re playing it should be OK. Children seem to have no trouble with tricky rhythms as long as the person teaching them seems confident!

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Hymn Of The Ancient Greeks

This is another song to help with the study of the Ancient Greeks. The words in this song were all based on ideas coming from the students of Green, Yellow and Orange classes at Alnwick South First School in 2009. The chorus is a round and on the backing track, the final appearance of this chorus occurs twice as a three-part round, with all parts repeating the last line until everyone is finished.

Go to Hymn Of The Ancient Greeks


Our School Is Like The Taj Mahal

This song was written for the opening of a new school building at Grangetown Primary School in Sunderland in 2004. It compares the new school to other famous buildings around the world. I will include here the readings we had at the opening ceremony as these explain all the connections. The song has been successfully transferred to other schools with some buildings being replaced away from the Sunderland-centric selection of the original.

Go to Our School Is Like The Taj Mahal
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