Category Archives: Music

A Rondeau for Leonard Cohen

You chant again the telling charm

You chant again the telling charm

King David is the archetypal sacred singer, the psalmist in whom and through whom every passion can be lifted into poetry, and lifted through that poetry to God. His psalms sound Praise and Lament together, the wounds and glories of Eros and the wounds and glories of  Agape. It has often seemed to me that Leonard Cohen was a latter day David, as he too addressed the Lord and said

‘From this broken hill,

all your praises they shall ring

if it be your will

to let me sing.

Today I composed this poem about his passing in the mediaeval Rondeau form. The Rondeau is also the form used in the poem In Flanders Field and it seems a fitting form for this occasion. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the play button

A Rondeau for Leonard Cohen

 

Like David’s psalm you named our pain,

And left us. But the songs remain

To search our wounds and bring us balm,

Till every song becomes a psalm,

And your restraint is our refrain;

 

Between the stained-glass and the stain,

The dark heart and the open vein,

Between the heart-storm and the harm,

Like David’s psalm.

 

I see you by the windowpane,

Alive within your own domain,

The light is strong, the seas are calm,

You chant again the telling charm,

That names, and naming, heals our pain,

Like David’s psalm.

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Ode to St. Cecilia

cecilia-4The 22nd of November is the feast day of St. Cecilia, Christian Martyr and Patron Saint of music. A few years ago I was commissioned by JAC Redford the LA-based composer and orchestrater, to write an Ode to St. Cecilia for a new piece of music he has in turn been commissioned to write, which had its premiere in LA in 2013.

I published the Ode myself this year in my new collection Songs and Sonnets and here, for this year’s St. Cecilia’s day is the text of my ode and a recording of my reading of it. In the recording I also talk a little about the inspiration and how it came to be written. I hope you enjoy it. Margot Krebs Neale has contributed the beautiful image which follows the poem As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.


Ode to St. Cecilia

You rested briefly here Cecilia

In this good ground, the Roman catacomb:

Its rounded vaults are rich with sudden sound

As pilgrims hymn you through the darkened air.

For you made music in your martyrdom,

Transposed the passion of your wedding night

To angel-given garlands, wreathed in light.

In all your three days dying you made room

For beautiful abundance, gifts and giving,

Your death was blessing and your passing praise,

As you gave way to grace,

Like music that still lives within its dying

And gives in giving place.

 

Cecilia, give way to grace again,

Transmute it into music for us all:

Music to stir and call the sleeping soul,

And set a counterpoint to all our pain,

To bless our senses in their very essence

And undergird our sorrow in good ground.

Music to summon undeserved abundance,

Unlooked for overbrimming, rich and strong,

The unexpected plenitude of sound

Becoming song.

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

Image by Margot Krebs Neale

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Everything Holds Together: The Feast of Christ the King

christ-the-king-constantinopleToday is the Feast of Christ the King, and one of the readings set this year is Colossians 1:11-20 a passage containing the beautiful Hymn to Christ, the core verses of which are these: 15-17:

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers — all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together.

So here is a poem I wrote about those verses, it is taken from my book Parable and Paradox, but this poem also appears on a wonderful album by Alana Levandoski , Behold I Make All Things New,

Here is the poem. the Greek phrase in the poem ‘Eikon tou theou, means image of God and is taken directly from the Greek text of Paul’s letter

Everything Holds Together

 

Everything holds together, everything,

From stars that pierce the dark like living sparks,

To secret seeds that open every spring,

From spanning galaxies to spinning quarks,

Everything holds together and coheres,

Unfolding from the center whence it came.

And now that hidden heart of things appears,

The first-born of creation takes a name.

 

And shall I see the one through whom I am?

Shall I behold the one for whom I’m made,

The light in light, the flame within the flame,

Eikon tou theou, image of my God?

He comes, a little child, to bless my sight,

That I might come to him for life and light.

As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or play button, but better still you can hear it with Alana’s music, hear the other three poems that are woven in with it and see the beautiful paintings by Julie Ann Stevens that go with the Album. You can check out Alana’s website here.

 

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Old and Worn; A Birthday Song

Old and Worn

Also Old and Worn

Now as I watch my life unroll, I read the poems on the scroll

And I do my best to savour every line

And every year that takes its toll, is laid down deep within my soul

But I can draw it up again like vintage wine,

These are lyrics from a song I wrote about 15 years ago as one of my birthdays rolled round. And as its my birthday today, the last year in which I can be ‘fifty something’, I thought for fun I would post it again. If the button doesnt appear below you can try clicking on the song title where I give the lyrics below. This is a take with just me playing both guitar parts and no other accompaniment. I have never recorded this properly but maybe one day I will.

Old and Worn

I was round rockin with the boys, they showed me all the latest toys,

They got gizmos now that could almost play the gig.

They like to tell me money talks, they sure can make those boxes squalk,

They say by spending out they’re bound to make it big

 

Chorus: But my Guitar is old and worn, made the year that I was born,

You could put it down as only wood and string

But when I open up that case and blow the dust from off its face

And lift it up, sometimes I swear I can hear it sing

 

Well I know the likes of you, you must have everything brand new

And you will trash it on the day its lost its sheen

And you know the likes of me you can leave me standing like a tree

But I’ve got roots and rising sap to keep me green

 

Chorus : And this Guitar that’s old and worn, made the year that I was born,

But its grown a tone that’s more than wood and string

And when I open up that case and blow the dust from off its face

And lift it up, sometimes I swear I can hear it sing

 

Now as I watch my life unroll, I read the poems on the scroll

And I do my best to savour every line

And every year that takes its toll, is laid down deep within my soul

But I can draw it up again like vintage wine,

 

Like this guitar etc.

 

Now this box of mellowed wood, sounds every bit as good

As the day its maker blessed it with a string

I can see it lying in the shade, remembering every note its played

And waiting for the day that’ll let that music ring

 

Cho: So I don’t mind my touch of grey, I’m not fearing for the day

When every buried seed is bound to have its spring

When Someone opens up my case, I’m gonna see Him face to face

And when I’m in my Makers hands He’ll hear me sing!

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A track from my new album!

Saying the Names by Faye Hall

Saying the Names by Faye Hall

I am delighted to say that we are well on with the project of recording my new record Songs and Sonnets, produced by Roy Salmond and Steve Bell. As a taster I thought I would share with you one of the poems on the record; Saying the Names. It was the poem which inspired the Faye Hall Painting that adorns the cover of the record. I had written the poem out by hand for her and she in turn incorporated these hand written lines from the poem throughout her painting, which I hope you can see in the image above. We are nearly, but not quite ‘there’ in our attempts to raise the funds to make this album’s production and release possible and if you would like to go over to the Gofundme Page‘, take a look at the video which tells you more and decide whether you would like to support it, that would be great. The record has both spoken word and song, and some of the poems also have a gentle musical or soundscape commentary as you will hear when you listen to this one. I hope you enjoy it. You can listen to the poem on Roy’s Soundcloud Page by clicking on the title, or from my files by clicking on the ‘play’ button. I have also given you all the words of the poem on this page. It was first published in my Canterbury Press book The Singing Bowl

 

Saying the Names

Dawn over Amble, and along the coast

light on the tide flows to Northumberland,

silvers the scales of herring freshly caught

and glowing in their boxes on the dock,

shivers the rainbow sheen on drops of diesel,

and lights, at last, the North Sea fishing fleet.

Tucked into harbour here, their buoyant lines

lift to the light on plated prows their names,

the ancient names picked out in this year’s paint:

Providence, Bold Venture, Star Divine

are first along the quay-side. Fruitful Bough

has stemmed the tides to bring her harvest in,

Orcadian Mist and Sacred Heart, Aspire,

their names are numinous, a found poem.

Those Bible-burnished phrases live and lift

into the brightening tide of morning light

and beg to be recited, chanted out,

for names are incantations, mysteries

made manifest like ships on the horizon.

Eastward their long line tapers towards dawn

and ends at last with Freedom, Radiant Morn.

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Everything Holds Together

A while back I had an interesting, and indeed beautiful request from the talented singer-songwriter Alana Levandoski. She was making a new Album which would be a musical meditation on the great Hymn to Christ in the first chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, would I write a poem on Colossians 1:15-17 and read it so it could be woven into the music? I would be working alongside other poets like Scott Cairns and Luci Shaw. Would I do it? You bet I would!

here are the verses in Colossians that were the starting point:

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers — all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together.

Now the Album, Behold I Make All Things New, has come out and it is beautiful! Here is the poem. the Greek phrase in the poem ‘Eikon tou theou, means image of God and is taken directly from the Greek text of Paul’s letter

Everything Holds Together

 

Everything holds together, everything,

From stars that pierce the dark like living sparks,

To secret seeds that open every spring,

From spanning galaxies to spinning quarks,

Everything holds together and coheres,

Unfolding from the center whence it came.

And now that hidden heart of things appears,

The first-born of creation takes a name.

 

And shall I see the one through whom I am?

Shall I behold the one for whom I’m made,

The light in light, the flame within the flame,

Eikon tou theou, image of my God?

He comes, a little child, to bless my sight,

That I might come to him for life and light.

As usual you can hear me read it by clicking on the title or play button, but better still you can hear it with Alana’s music, hear the other three poems that are woven in with it and see the beautiful paintings by Julie Ann Stevens that go with the Album. You can check out Alana’s website here.

 

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A poem for St. George’s Day, and a Grantchester Gig!

St. George’s Day and my thoughts turn again to Hatley St. George. If St. George, as our patron saint inspires English patriotism, then I’d say my own patriotism is about loving the little particularites of my native land. Not the big political rhetoric or the aggrandising imperial history, but the patchwork of little parishes and quiet shires. That’s one of the reasons why I love little mediaeval church dedicated to St. George in the village of Hatley St. George, not far from here.

Though the church goes back to the fourteenth century , in the late sixties it suffered the apparent misfortune of a collapse in its sanctuary which was declared unsafe and taken down. A new east wall was built but the architects had the wisdom to set in the new east window an arch of clear glass. For beyond that window, across the still sacred space of what had been choir and sanctuary, stands the most beautiful beech tree, which church-goers can see now in all its glory , through the changing seasons, simmering above their altar.

It’s a magical place, but like many such, struggling for survival and recognition. I originally wrote this poem, which I also posted last year, both to celebrate the church and to help the cause. Do visit it if you can and support those who are working for its upkeep. One of the congregation has written this poem out in beautiful calligraphy and it is hanging on the wall there, and each summer I go and read it aloud for them as part of their summer fete. This poem is in my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop.

May I also add that this year on St. George’s day I will be hosting an evening of song and general merriment at The Blue Ball in Grantchester from 9pm onwards, which will include a new setting I have written for GK Chesterton’s wonderful poem about St. George. It’s all free do come and join us if you can!

the window of Hatley St. George

View through the window of Hatley St. George

Hatley St. George

Stand here a while and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes. A beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
You look across an absent sanctuary;
No walls or roof, just holy, open space,
Leading your gaze out to the fresh-leaved beech
God planted here before you first drew breath.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
You cannot stand as long and still as these;
This ancient beech and still more ancient church.
So let them stand, as they have stood, for you.
Let them disclose their gifts of time and place,
A secret kept for you through all these years.
Open your eyes. This empty church is full,
Thronging with life and light your eyes have missed.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
Shields of forgotten chivalry, and rolls
Of honour for the young men gunned at Ypres,
And other monuments of our brief lives
Stand for the presence here of saints and souls
Who stood where you stand, to be blessed like you;
Clouds of witness to unclouded light
Shining this moment, in this place for you.

Stand here awhile and drink their silence in.
Annealed in glass, the twelve Apostles stand
And each of them is keeping faith for you.
This roof is held aloft, to give you space,
By graceful angels praying night and day
That you might hear some rumour of their flight
That you might feel the flicker of a wing
And let your heart fly free at last in prayer.

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