Category Archives: composition

Suzanne McDonnell at Dundalk IT

I accompanied Suzanne McDonnell today at her mid-term performance exam at Dundalk IT. She did really well and I was happy that we did a good set. She opened with a solo piece by Morton Feldman called ‘Only’ and then I joined her for the rest: Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Chovendo na roseira’, Erykah Badu’s ‘Green Eyes’, and a bluesy original called ‘Play Me’.

The three other students who did their exams today all did great pieces. First up was Cathal Johnston, a trad. harmonica player, who did one of my favourite tunes, O’Carolan’s ‘Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór’, amongst others. Another soprano, Siobhain Murphy, did Sondheim’s ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ – Johanna’s song about captivity from Sweeney Todd – and three of Britten’s ‘Cabaret Songs’ (all settings of Britten’s friend W.H. Auden): ‘Oh tell me the truth about love’, ‘Funeral Blues’, and ‘Johnny’. Finally Mark Nutley did Edward Gregson’s Tuba Concerto which I really enjoyed. A great gig!

I’ve been working on choral pieces which I’ll do a seperate blog post about. My friend Jonny Boyle let me know about an SATB carol competition being judged by Bob Chilcott and James Macmillan. Macmillan is one of my absolute favourite composers, so it would be a real thrill to have him judge something I’d written. The search is on for a Christmas/winter text…

Wind turbine at Dundalk IT - taken with Hipstamatic iPhone app


The Guardian today featured an impressive array of top novelists all offering advice on writing.

It makes for inspiring reading:

I want to compose music. Well, I do compose music, rather, I want to grasp the sense of vocation that speaks through the hard-won wisdom of these writers.

Last night a good friend of mine listened to a rough recording of my latest piece in a noisy pub, her hands cupped around her earbudded pinnae, her body hunched over my iPhone. She was able to give me some really good feedback and to help me towards fixing some of the problems with the piece; as was her friend, whose non-musical language was really insightful.

So much of what I was thinking about was echoed and expanded by the Guardian article and I think I’ll be reading it over and over during the next while.

Poisoned By McDonalds Blues

My friend Jonny posted this as his facebok status about an hour ago:

POISONED BY MACDONALDS BLUES went to macd’s for a wispa mcflurry now im running to the toilet in a hurry went to macd’s, got me a big mac spent the next day flat on my back went to macd’s for a diet coke outta my way im gonna boke went to macd’s, got me some fries now i feel like im gonna die i aint ever goin back to eat that food although i hear the big tasty is quite good i got those poisoned by macdonalds blues

So I did a wee recording.

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 café 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.

Yo Gabba Gabba

Came across this funny article (via Twitter) about children’s programmes on Nickelodeon Jr. Now, I don’t have kids but I do work with little ones sometimes. The guy who wrote the article rates the shows’ songs and music, too, which I found interesting. His descriptions led me to check out Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! on YouTube…

I liked the slightly unexpected melody in the chorus and the harmonies. There’s an effect on the voice, too, that’s like when you add upper harmonics to an organ sound – a breathy doubling at the octave.

At the end of the article is another treat – Yo Gabba Gabba. He includes a YouTube clip from this show of a song called Party In My Tummy. Now I know catchy and *this* is catchy!

Watch Me Fly

I was chatting with a friend of mine today who helped me record this track – Watch Me Fly – a few years ago. We pitched it for a TV show about a bunch of kids in a stage school so I wrote a lyric to go along with a riff and chord progression I had.

The lights beckon: it’s time for me to get up off my knees
The world threatens to leave me in the cold and watch me freeze
My pulse quicker, I stand up tall and take my rightful place
My blood’s thicker than the water that I splash upon my face

I’m on my way…just watch me fly

Cold shouldered, pushed around and treated like a fool
But I’m bolder, there’s nothing you can do to break my cool

I’m on my way…just watch me fly

at Dublin airport, March 2007

If you’d like a copy in your iTunes library (I use Windows 7…):

  1. right-click on the picture and select ‘save link as…’
  2. go to your iTunes folder
    • in iTunes press Ctrl+, to go to Preferences
    • click on the Advanced tab
    • you’ll see the location of your iTunes folder – now click Cancel and go back to the window we were ‘Save link as…’-ing in
  3. Make a new folder called ‘Jay Wilson’
  4. Make a folder in that one called ‘Watch Me Fly’
  5. Save the track in the ‘Watch Me Fly’ folder
  6. Now right click on the picture again and select ‘copy image’
  7. Go to iTunes and Ctrl+O to add a file to your library
  8. Find the track and click Open
  9. Now right click on the track in your library and select ‘Get Info’
  10. Open the Artwork tab, click on the box, Ctrl+V will paste the image

Sorry if that seems complicated but if you weren’t familiar with how to do that, it’s really useful to know and there is a treasure trove of music out there on the internet for you to enjoy!

I’m happy to help you with any queries about the process (although I’m only familiar with PCs…).

Hope you enjoy the track – please leave some feedback. If it grows on you maybe you’d consider donating a few virtual coins via PayPal 🙂

Two thousand and ten

I’m excited about this year. I plan to start working on a portfolio of compositions with a view to starting a Masters in September. That will hinge on developing good work practices – finding a way to do some composition every day. I have a few pieces that I’d like to record, too, and I’d like to get those documented before the end of January.

Another important task for this month will be putting together an application to The Arts Council for a bursary to allow me to do this work. Then there’s the small matter of finding and applying for streams of funding for the Masters…

Along the way I’d also like to get my Grade Eight piano (which will involve some serious work and practice).

I’ll be blogging all the way so please check back regularly or subscribe to the RSS. Let me know if you’re doing similar things or if you have any advice. A big thing to get sorted out will be how to structure my working day at home and keep focussed. We live in a small apartment so I’m going to have to put my keyboard up each day and take it down again when Jen gets home (it kind of takes over the kitchen). We’ll see…!

Best discoveries of the past few weeks:

Morten Lauridsen. Trinity Singers performed his ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ at their Christmas concert and I had sung his setting of ‘Sure On This Shining Night’ at a choral conducting course last year. Bewitching and justifiably one of the most performed contemporary choral composers.

Eric Whitacre. I had heard some of his music and noticed a schism amongst musical people I know in relation to it. It was only the other week, though, that I bought the recording Polyphony did of his music and listened properly. Again, I was very moved by the sounds he elicits from the choir, his setting of text. His pathway into composition is very inspiring to me at this point; his blog (soaringleap) is also full of interesting insights into the life of a working composer. I hope I get to sing some of his music soon 🙂

Classical Music Master Collection. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch and you like music then get this app. What is it? It’s only “800 complete tracks (100 hours of music) by the great composers including Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bach”!! It costs €1.59 from the iTunes app store. Seriously amazing value. There are more great apps detailed in this article from The Guardian.

The angels appear to the shepherds

A friend of mine put this message on Facebook this morning:

Looking for an easy chorus for a small choir of very young angels to sing in a nativity when visiting shepherds…anyone?

As if I hadn’t procrastinated enough this morning, I got the guitar out and came up with this little offering.  Have a listen:  Key’s a bit low for little ones, maybe?  Any other thoughts?

A     F#m  E                       D
Fear not! You must be pretty scared
A       F#m E                                  D          E
We’re not something that you’re dreaming
A        F#m E                         D
We’ve got some amazing news to tell
A        F#m E                   D      E
There’s a king born in a stable

A  D          E         A       F#m Bm    E     D/F# E/G#
Hosanna in excelsis, Hosanna in excelsis
A  D          E         A       F#m Bm    E     D/F# E/G# A   D E A    A D E A
Hosanna in excelsis, Hosanna in excelsis           deo

I know you’ve never seen a halo
But now we’re off to see the baby
Your sheep will be fine, sure what do they know?!
You should really get a move on

Hosanna etc.

I reckon this could be fun to sing.  There’s definitely room for some actions 🙂

Kirk Franklin

I’ve been a big fan of Kirk Franklin ever since my sister lived in Philadelphia for a year back in ’98/’99.  His gospel choir compositions are certainly among the absolute best and the choirs and bands he has worked with over the years have been eye-wateringly groovy.

At Edinburgh I conducted one of his pieces, ‘Blessing in the Storm’, as part of a carol service and usually sneak at least one of his pieces into the repertoire of any choir I work with.

Tomorrow he plays his first concert in Ireland and I’m quite the excited bunny!  It’s in the National Show Centre in Swords – a venue I’ve never been to – and tickets are available at this website.  I spoke to the organiser yesterday and he seemed up for doing some deals on tickets.  There are a number of different prices available, with significant discounts for people under 26.

Major recommendation, no matter what you may think of the subject material 🙂

Here’s a taster: