Category Archives: Music

A Rondeau for Leonard Cohen

You chant again the telling charm

You chant again the telling charm

Today, on the anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death I am reposting the poem I composed for him last year.

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.

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.

This poem, originally posted on this blog last year, was published in February of this year in The Christian Century.

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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A Christmas Invitation: new Christmas Music and Poetry

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing 'A Christmas Invitation'

PLU Choir and Orchestra performing ‘A Christmas Invitation’

I am pleased to say that a three-movement suite of Christmas Music composed by Jac Redford, for which he commissioned me to write new poetry, is being broadcast this month on a series of television stations across the United States. Broadcasts start on the 8th December in Texas and continue across the United States up to and including Christmas day itself. The full list and timings of these broadcasts can be found On This Page. You can also download the full concert program Here. And there is a DVD of the performance available Here.

The whole piece is a return to, and commentary upon, Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, starting on fairly traditional ground with Fezziwig’s Ball, but then moving, with Christmas Present, and Future, into some contemporary concerns. The music is being performed by the choir and orchestra of the Pacific Lutheran University and here is how they introduce it in the programme:

A Christmas Invitation

Composed for Richard Nance and the Choirs & Orchestra of Pacific Lutheran University

MUSIC BY J.A.C. REDFORD/TEXT BY MALCOLM GUITE

A Christmas Invitation is a three-movement work for mixed chorus, soloists and orchestra. I have chosen Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
as inspiration, although the texts are original poems by Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite. The setting is not intended as a literal tableaux. Rather, because of the metaphoric value of the story’s spirits, Christmas Past, Present, and Future, I hope a variety of responses from convivial joy to thoughtful re ection will be invoked.

The first movement (Fezziwig’s Ball) revels in the nostalgia and merriment of our Victorian Christmas traditions, with music full of rhythm and vitality. As the movement closes, both text and music cast a shadow of loneliness over this beautiful scene, leading into a sober second movement (Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make) which re ects on Dickens’ surprising revelation of Ignorance and Want under the robe of the spirit of Christmas Present. The third movement (Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!) proclaims hope for the future in the sort of redemption that was offered to Ebenezer Scrooge, while at the same time acknowledging that

there are significant choices still before us. I hope this new holiday composition will be memorable and enjoyable for all!

Here are the poems as they are sung in each of the three movements, I hope you enjoy them both as poems in themselves and in the musical setting for which they were written:

I – Fezziwig’s Ball

 

“Trim the lamps,” says Fezziwig,

“Tonight it’s Christmas Eve!”

And every lad is clearing space

And rolling up his sleeve,

 

And now we’ll have the shutters up,

And clear the desks aside

And make the warehouse snug and bright

To dance at Christmastide

 

Here’s porter for the fiddler,

And brandy for the guests,

And sweets and cakes and comfits

In richly laden chests.

 

And children rush around the feast

And gaze with shining eyes

On roast meat and cold meat

And minced meat and pies

 

(The holly berries glisten,

The ivy holds the light,

A blaze leaps up the chimney

To warm the winter’s night)

 

Here’s music for the couples

And dancing to the tune

As we all weave around and back

Beneath a Christmas moon

 

And here the young and and hearty

Cut capers at the ball

With their old host and hostess

As nimble as them all

 

But silent in the corner

Invisible to all,

An old man and a spirit

Who cannot join the ball.

 

His long life on the outside

Is looking in at last

And longing for the chance he missed

In every Christmas past.

 

The power to make men happy

Had once been in his hands

If he could just release it now

That he might make amends!

 

And will he bloom or wither,

That long-excluded shade,

Who leaves a ghostly Christmas Past

And hears the music fade?

 

 

II – Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!

 

We close the shutters up to make our feast

To share our plenty only with our own

But who is this? A stranger, not a guest,

Who calls us now to take the shutters down?

 

Look! Look! O man, look at the world you make!

These are your children, Ignorance and Want!

Look at the ones who suffer for your sake;

Pinched in their poverty, withered and gaunt,

Sewing the clothes and shoes you throw away,

Assembling every shiny new device.

You wrap the goods they make for Christmas Day,

Your children get the gifts –these pay the price.

 

But you can change, for change is in the air,

Want is a child who might yet find relief.

Loosen your love, release your heart and share,

O dare to be a patron, not a thief!

Let all your love for family and friends

Be widened by His Love, and make amends.

 

Rise from your table, throw the window wide

Take down the shutters and unbar the door

Welcome the stranger, call him to your side,

That he might teach you what this feast is for!

 

 

III – Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice

 

Christmas is the Lord’s own day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover while you have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.

 

 

“On Christmas day I come to be with you,

Today I take your nature for my own,

Today I offer you a heart of flesh,

Or will you choose again a heart of stone?

 

 

This Christmas choose between true life and death,

This Christmas choose between the good and ill,

This day I breathe in you my living breath,

This day you may do any good you will!

 

 

Oh come with me and I will come with you

And show you how to love my world with me

To bring your best to Ignorance and Want,

To be and bear the gift that makes them free.”

 

 

Christmas is the Lord’s new day, Rejoice!

Rise and recover, you still have the choice!

This is the day to loosen and release

The day to hear again His living voice.

 

 

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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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