Twelve Of The Best: “Looking On The Bright Side” Songs

Here are twelve optimistic songs for choir or singers with accompaniment that are generally hopeful and cheery in nature or sentiment. Many of them were composed during 2020 and 2021 when an optimistic view of things was a helpful attribute to have!

15 seconds of each of the songs and a snippet of information. For more information and full recordings, click the links on the list below!

Bullfinch Morning – This was composed in early 2020 and was commissioned by Coquet Concert Band for their concert in February of that year. It was a joint concert with The Bridge Singers, and this song uses both groups. Early 2020 was a difficult and depressing time with Britain leaving the EU, forest fires in Australia and an emerging pandemic in China, and also loud politicians and others, who out-shouted those of us with quieter voices. I was looking for optimistic things to focus on, and focused on the bullfinches that I saw on my walk around the Swarland Loop. They were persecuted almost out of existence in Henry VIII’s time, yet somehow survived to delight us (and peck at our fruit blossom!) today! All of these thoughts find their way into this song!

Earthbound – I was commissioned to compose a song for my pal Greg’s retirement from the RAF. In order to get stories out of him (during lockdown times) about his life as a pilot, I pretended I was composing a song for my choir, The Bridge Singers, using their memories of flight to keep us all going until we could actually fly again. It worked! Greg told me lots of stories, but instead of pretending, I did end up not only writing the song for Greg (When I Was A Pilot) but also this one using his and choir members’ stories. Jamie and I made this recording, and hopefully one day a/the choir will sing it.

Silent Early Stroll SongsThese seven songs were composed in the first half of 2021 and use some of poet Ian McMillan’s wonderfully evocative tweets. I selected tweets that included the word “silent” or “silence”.

They were initially composed to be sung by The Bridge Singers during Zoom rehearsals, and elements of “being out of time with each other” were written into them. In March 2020 the choir held a virtual Zoom concert, the theme of which was “silence”, and we gave the world premiere of Even A Subdued Sky, actually singing live (and getting out of synchronisation!) before singing along with a pre-recorded version. The choir gave performances of others in the set in 2021 as we emerged from the restrictions, and performed the whole set in February 2022. The songs can be performed individually, in small selections, or as a group, and in any order you fancy!

The full list of songs is below, and if you click the title of each song, you will be taken to a YouTube link of a recording. If you would like to sing any of these songs and need a score, please contact Cheryl.
 
Even A Subdued Sky – the first of the songs to be composed and performed. It can be sung as a round and is catchy, with plenty of silences.

Fallen Leaf Runes – a much-repeated pattern is occasionally broken by gradually evolving harmonies. This rather ethereal one lends itself very well to being sung slightly out of synchronization (as in our initial Zoom rehearsals of it!) or perhaps in a very resonant space.
 
The Light On The Leaves – Each sentence of Ian’s tweet is set in a completely different way, but the pentatonic harmonies and improvised (optional) percussion patterns provide unity.
 
Tiny, Temporary Pop Up Puddles – This soundscape is inspired by the calls of blackbirds, mentioned by Ian, and witnessed by me on my own early morning strolls. It is perhaps the most contemporary sounding of the set as it uses voice percussion sounds combined with the singing, and some aleatoric or random elements. It also includes some improvisation in the timings, and can include ping pong balls, if you like.
 
No Birdsong… – This one was composed on the day Ian wrote the tweet. It was the day after an England win in the 2021 Euros. I was walking along Warkworth Beach in Northumberland and logged in to Twitter to share one of my sunrise photos. Up popped this tweet poem by Ian and I spent the remainder of the day composing the song. It starts quietly and then livens up…just like the poem itself!
 
The Stars Hand Me Their Light – I was going for serene in this one, with each line of text being given similar floating music. This is another that I think would sound perfect in a very resonant setting.
 
Under The Masks – The liveliest of the set with much use of dancing rhythms and exuberant melodic lines. This is one of the first ones the choir mastered and performed and is the one that just about sums up precisely our last eighteen months, during which we have kept on singing in whatever ways we can, in spite of everything.

An Hour Before the Dawn – My favourite time of day is before dawn and hopefully being in a place where you can see the effects of the rising sun. A favourite place is Ross Sands in Northumberland, at the northern end of which are aften large pods of seals, singing the morning into being. I’ve been to Ross Sands on a many occasions, sometimes with my pals Shirley and Julie, and wrote this song for them in 2021.

Skydancer: Ghost Of The Moors – in 2020, I was asked to write a song by Hen Harrier Action for their online Hen Harrier Day. The idea was that other singing groups or individuals would learn the song. The Bridge Singers recorded and illustrated the song in this lockdown video and then a learning video was made. One or two other groups did indeed sing the song then and later in the year, and The Bridge Singers sang it together in person in 2021 when we were permitted to meet up again.

Although the song tells a sad tale of the persecuted hen harriers, there is also an optimistic message born of the greater awareness we all had during that first lockdown of the wildlife in our areas, which we could now hear and see more clearly in the absence of traffic and busy-ness.

The Bridge Singers made this lockdown video of this in 2020 – they did all the art work too!

Alleluia! Into The Light! – A coal miner’s carol. He’s underground on Christmas Eve and although worn out by his current circumstances, he looks forward to his day off tomorrow.

This song has been performed lots of times by the USA choir Cantus, and they included it on their Christmas CD “Into The Light”.

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