Category Archives: music

Advent Calendar: 1

I’m going to post something every day of Advent!

First up is something special that I’ve been meaning to get done for aaaages. It’s a piano arrangement of the Christmas classic, Winter Wonderland, written in 1934 by Felix Bernard (lyrics by Richard B. Smith). I wrote this at the request of one of my piano students at the time, Chloe. A big, big thank you to my friend Mark Summers and his father, Ian, for their advice on the musical typesetting.

So, please have a listen 馃檪 The mp3 is downloadable, so feel free to add it to your Christmas playlists! Just click the little ‘down arrow’ at the top right of the SoundCloud player below.

If you’re a piano player, the sheet music is available in PDF format at my online music store – click here to go directly to the score. I’d really love you to share this with friends, too.

Some recording, a new piece, and a bursary

I’m writing this while eating a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Raising a glass and a half to the taste of world-beating excellence. Please, American Kraft people (and I know you’re reading this blog…), don’t change it. Although I’m still a bigger fan of Quality Street than Roses. Just saying.

Last weekend I was recording with New Dublin Voices – Christmas music – in St Ann’s church on Dawson Street. It’s a lovely church to sing in but it was really cold. We did two sessions (usually three hours between meals in the biz) on both Saturday and Sunday and a rehearsal session on the Friday night, too. Needless to say, by the Sunday I was better prepared, piling on the layers and swapping the shoes-with-a-slight-heel that were recommended to me for singing in for my scruffy-but-comfortable trainers. I also used a music stand both days which saved me having to hold the music the whole time. The recording was produced by Bill Sommerville-Large and he was very good to work with. He guided us through the process and made clear suggestions as to where singers should be positioned. He has a wonderful ear and I’m looking forward to hearing the recordings, which we hope to put out on CD after the summer.

On Sunday, during one of the breaks between takes, I sidled over to the piano and my fingers fell onto a chord – hands centred just either side of middle C, right hand on a 2nd inversion Bb triad, left hand on a 1st inversion Eb triad. It sounded quite beautiful to my ears and over the next few hours I kept slipping back to the keyboard. “That’s the start of my new choral piece!”, I joked to those nearby. There was something cooking, though, and by the time we were packing up, I had a strong sense that this really was a new piece. At home I played it over a number of times, finding another section…

The next day I was in search of a text. I really like the poems of Dennis O’Driscoll but leafing through a volume of his work proved fruitless. Nothing suited the feel of this music. I took myself out to a local caf茅 for a cup of tea and grabbed a book on the way – a book of Celtic Verse given to me for my birthday a few years ago. I knew some things about the text I as looking for: it had to have quite short lines and it had to start on the upbeat. I forget the poetry term…<consults Stephen Fry’s excellent book ‘The Ode Less Travelled’>…ah, yes, it’s iambic. Mr Fry also includes a rather nice chocolate reference:

GOLDEN RULE ONE – reading verse can be like eating chocolate, so much more pleasurable when you allow it slowly to melt inside you, so much less rewarding when you snap off big chunks and bolt them whole, all but untasted.

Well, dear reader, I found it. The one. A poem that not only suited my chosen metre but, when I got it home and played it at the piano, seemed to compliment the music beautifully. The piece was finished! I can still hardly believe it. I spent the next day typing it into Sibelius and preparing scores for the choir to sing through it at our rehearsal. Everyone seemed to like it. Here is the poem, by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (1838-1889):


Since I have lost the words, the flower
Of youth and the fresh April breeze . . .
Give me thy lips; their perfumed dower
Shall be the whisper of the trees!

Since I have lost the deep sea’s sadness,
Her sobs, her restless surge, her graves . . .
Breathe but a word; its grief or gladness
Shall be the murmur of the waves!

Since in my soul a sombre blossom
Broods, and the suns of yore take flight . . .
O hide me in thy pallid bosom,
And it shall be the calm of night!

My other big task for this week was completing my application for a bursary award from the Arts Council. It would be so great to get it but I’m not going to get my hopes up because only two applicants out of ten have been awarded in the last couple of years. Gathering together the support material made me realise how much stuff I have but also how unclear that is on the website. I plan to do a page with all the recordings I’ve done, with lyrics and a link to a score on Sibelius where possible.

snow and Sigur R贸s in Dublin

Last week we had snow here in Ireland and the second concert featuring Brian Denvir’s faithful arrangements of Sigur R贸s music took place in the chapel of Trinity College Dublin.聽 A music-loving friend of mine told me she went running in the white marshmallow woods near her home listening to Sigur R贸s’s ‘Takk…’ album.聽 Snow is such a wonderful thing: at a time of year when everything is dark and lifeless, it blankets everything in brightness. A number of words came to mind as I thought about snow and also this remarkable music that has captured the imaginations of so many people: pristine, natural, soft, all-encompassing…

Opening with the instrumental ‘Samskeyti’, Brian and his fellow members of the Dublin University Orchestral Society led an enraptured audience through just over an hour of music by the Icelandic band. All the other tracks featured Aisling Dexter, who sang from the chapel’s lectern to the side of the stage.

‘S茅 Lest’
‘All Alright’
‘Inn铆 M茅r Syngur Vitleysingur’

The (male) singer in Sigur R贸s, J贸nsi, frequently uses the high, ‘falsetto’ range of his voice, giving the songs a very wide span of expression but placing them beyond the capabilities of most singers. I asked Aisling how she went about learning to sing the songs – some of which are in Icelandic, one in English and some are sung in a made-up language called ‘Hopelandic’:

Mainly, I learnt the words aurally – by listening to the songs and writing down phonetics – and practising! It was fairly difficult, but the more I listen to Sigur R贸s, the more I love it, so there was no problem with that!

I was exploring ‘eighteen seconds before sunrise’, the official Sigur R贸s news source, and found lots of interesting information on the band but not much in the way of translations beyond the titles of the tracks.聽 I’m sure part of the appeal of the music is that most people who hear it have no clue as to what the words are about.聽 This is actually quite a special luxury for Anglophones, so used to being bombarded with textual information that we can’t help but process.聽 Part of me doesn’t want to know what the songs are about because then I might lose the ability to listen to what they mean.

One point I’d agree with that I read on the ‘eighteen seconds…’ site was that Aisling’s microphone wasn’t good enough: they just used the lectern microphone through the chapel’s PA system.聽 I’m all in favour of the group’s choice of venues – so far using the natural acoustics of sacred places – but the dire in-house amplification systems should be firmly ignored.聽 The group – who might perhaps benefit from a name? – hope to play a gig in The Black Box in Belfast soon.聽 It will be interesting to see how they fare in a small theatre; hopefully they know a good sound engineer!

Unfortunately our camera is in the repair shop, so I had to rely on the trusty phone.聽 There are apparently videos of some of the songs soon to be available on YouTube, however, so keep an eye out for those.

The music of Sigur R贸s (Trinity college chapel, Dublin 4feb09)
Aisling Dexter and Brian Denvir

New Dublin Voices on Facebook

If you’re interested in keeping up with what New Dublin Voices are up to and hearing about upcoming concerts, then please become our fan on Facebook.

Our next concert is on Sunday 1st February in St Brigid’s church in Cabinteely, County Dublin.聽 It will feature some of our favourite pieces as well as some solo and duet pieces in what will be a concert to suit all ages.聽 Proceeds will go to the charity PREDA.

I hope to have completed a new St Brigid hymn for the occasion…