Today is St Cecilia’s Day, the patron saint of music. It’s also the day Benjamin Britten was born. One of his compositions, the ‘Ode To Saint Cecilia’ (from whence comes the title of this blog post), is a setting for unaccompanied choir of a poem that his friend WH Auden dedicated to him. We sang it in New Dublin Voices a couple of years ago and it is included on our CD, ‘Something Beginning With B’.
Tonight I’m going to attend the rehearsal of the Goethe-Institut Choir. Hopefully they’ll let me sing with them in their forthcoming concert on 5 December in The National Concert Hall. They’ll be singing Bach’s setting of the Magnificat, which I fell in love with as a student in university. In the first term we (the fifty or so students in the first and second years of the BMus course) did the piece in a scratch performance just for ourselves. Our tutors told us about the various little compositional signals that Bach uses in his setting of the words of Mary’s song, and I’ll blog more about it another time. Right now I have to go and get ready. Have to make a good impression if I’m to convince them I’m up to the task!
Oh yes, and I found this charming video by the Anderson & Roe piano duo (whom I’ve written about before on this blog). Vivaldi was a near contemporary of Bach and would have probably *loved* to play a grand piano, had it been invented. Anderson & Roe achieve a delicate sound, more akin to the Baroque keyboard instrument sound, by dampening the strings of Ms Roe’s piano. Mr Anderson’s uneffected (but wonderfully affected) playing allows the piano to sing the melody as only a grand piano can. A beautiful effect from a continually interesting musical partnership.
It’s my friend Jonny Boyle’s birthday today. He is a brilliant guitar player—melodic, jazzy, and musical beyond belief. He is doing a couple of workshops in his home town of Carrickfergus on 25 June, one called ‘Jazz Up The Blues’ and the other on ‘The Modes’. If I know Jonny, it’ll be a great, inspiring session (astonishing value—3 hours for £20, only 5 in the class) and you’ll come away with lots of tasty licks to use in your playing.
Here’s Jonny playing a selection of solo guitar tunes suitable for weddings:
These links are unconnected. But everything’s connected, right? Well, what connects them is that I found them all yesterday and I think they’re all worth sharing.
There is a connection between Sam West’s passionate speech at last week’s ‘March for the Alternative’ (he’s the son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales) and Austin Kleon’s empowering artistic manifesto, ‘How To Steal Like An Artist’. Kleon’s piece will rock your world if you want to create something—read and share.
Finally, if you’re looking for something to do with your eight precious hours of leisure time, why not go along to ‘An Introduction to DADGAD Guitar‘, taught by Sarah McQuaid, in Walton’s New School of Music on Thursday 7 April? DADGAD is the onomatopoeic word used to denote a system of guitar tuning that is much used by traditional musicians. It is a beautiful sound—jangly and resonant—and it’s easy to pick out pleasing passages, even if you’re a beginner. (It actually helps to be a beginner, as you aren’t ‘stuck’ in thinking of the fretboard in a certain way.) Sarah McQuaid literally wrote the book on this, so she’s the one to give you a great start.
This lovely little video appeared on Twitter today. It’s by the London Sinfonietta, who are soon performing Steve Reich’s ‘Music For 18 Musicians’ with the composer.
It’s really a video programme note – Reich explains the genesis and history of the piece and describes the compositional method and instrumental choices he made. We also see the musicians rehearsing, of course.
Performing groups – and not just those with the clout or resources of the London Sinfonietta – would do well to embrace this model. Imagine travelling to a concert and watching tailor-made videos on the train that feature the players you’re about to see explaining the music you’re about to hear.
I went to see The Low Anthem last time they were in Dublin and it was a really magical gig. They’ve just announced a gig in Vicar Street for the tenth of April next year and have a new track – the opener from their forthcoming album – available for free download here.
Here are a couple of videos they recorded last year for the wonderful French site, La Blogotheque.
At the beginning of this year, NDV were recording some Christmas music for a proposed CD release. In between takes I wandered over to the upright piano in St Ann’s church and quietly played some chords – the first comprised two Bb triads in second inversion either side of middle-C, the second was formed by shifting the lower three notes to an Eb triad in first inversion. The effect was lovely to my ears and I expanded the idea a little before we left and then more when I got home.
I have almost entirely reworked the piece since the choir sang through the first draft in February. I listened to a recording of them singing through it and felt it needed to resonate more: it was too chordy, too blocky.
On Saturday – in the very church where it had its genesis – my finished piece, ‘Confession’, will be performed for the very first time…
In my first year at Edinburgh University I was involved in the student production of Mozart’s opera, ‘The Marriage of Figaro’. The cast sang in English, as I recall (the opera is originally in Italian). It contains some of the most wonderful music and, from my position in the orchestra (I played clarinet), I watched each night as the drama played out. Mozart loved the clarinet – a relatively new invention in his day – and he gives it some lovely melodies.
I knew the guy playing the continuo part, an older student called Gareth Wilson, and he would excitedly point out the sublime, exquisite harmonies with which Mozart tells Da Ponte’s story of class struggle and love. The words ‘sublime’ and ‘exquisite’, if not invented for the purpose of describing Mozart’s art, surely found their calling when he began to write his music.
My other excitement about this particular staging is that my fellow Edinburgh music graduate and fellow Northerner, Emma Morwood (pictured), is playing the lead female role of Susanna. You know those people who just stand out from the crowd and draw people in with their warmth, good-nature, and sense of humour? Emma was one of those at university and she lit up the music faculty 🙂