Twelve Of The Best: Songs Of The River

It has been a recurring feature of my composing career to produce music associated with rivers, either as part of a project or just because the fancy took me. These are twelve of the best such pieces of music – the best because they’re the most popular, the most performed, they have beautiful flowing melodies, they’re my favourites! See below the video link for more details about each song, further recordings and scores!

1. Nae Stream Sae Lovely for SATB choir with piano accompaniment. I was commissioned to write this for the Hotspur Festival in 2009. It is one of five Hotspur Festival Songs and was performed by the Alnwick Playhouse Community Choir on that occasion. The stream it refers to is the River Coquet.

2. Stick River was composed for children to sing as part of a river project. It traces the journey of stick that is thrown into the river and all the geographical features it passes on its way out to the sea. This song was written initially for a school studying the River Coquet, but can be adapted to any river.

3. Great Crested Grebe was also composed for children who were studying their local river, this time the Calder in Yorkshire. It mentions lots of the wildlife that can be found in the river itself and in the flood defence lakes around Wakefield.

4. Chocolate River is about an imaginary river which runs through a confectionery landscape. It can be sung as a three-way partner song. The second part is about foamy banana trees and the third focuses on bouncing, rolling, colourful sweets.

5. Dancing Stream was originally composed for a primary school to sing as a single line song, but I’ve since arranged it for SATB choir and it has been performed as such on several occasions. There is also a version for orchestra and choir. It can be used as a secular Christmas song, and is an evocation of a wintry landscape.

6. Four Pence A Day for SATB choir uses lyrics from an old folk song, but has a new, flowing tune. It was inspired by a visit to the Killhope Lead Mine in Upper Weardale. Again it was composed for children to sing and has been arranged for mixed choir and has been very popular indeed in this arrangement.

7. Mighty Mill Wheel was composed at the same time and for the same school as Great Crested Grebe. This class wanted to explore the river-reliant industries further up the River Calder, so there is much reference to the cotton mills and machinery of that industry in what is a very dynamic song.

8. Maggie’s Rant for SATB or TTBB choir is a song about the shipbuilding industry along the River Wear in Sunderland – its glorious past and its demise. Maggie refers at different times in the song to the worker’s mother, the Prime Minster and one of the ships launched on that river. It takes the form of a rollicking folksong.

9. January 1841 for SATB choir tells the tale of a disaster on the River Wear where ices block from further upstream raced down the river following a sudden thaw, trapped themselves against the bridges in Sunderland, the suddenly broke free, causing the sinking of several ships moored along the river with the loss of several sailors.

10. Water Of Tyne for TTBB choir. It is an arrangement of the Tyneside folk song with a hint of barbershop in the harmonies. It has been performed by a few different groups, but most particularly by Lionheart Harmony for whom it was fashioned.

11. Lambton Worm for SATB choir with instrument. The original performance of this arrangement of a song (initially composed for a pantomime at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle in the 19th century) had Northumbrian Pipes playing the instrument part but it has also been performed with recorder, flute and keyboard.

The tenors and basses of The Bridge Singers on a snippet of The Fisher’s Invitation.

12. The Fisher’s Invitation for TTBB choir. It is an old Coquet Fishing Song – one of several. I made this arrangement for the tenors and basses of The Bridge Singers. Some of them complained about it, some of them loved it, but they gave a good performance nevertheless! No recording of the whole this alas, but I do have this snippet! The sopranos and altos loved listening to it too!

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