Category Archives: Music

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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Filed under christianity, imagination, Music, paintings, Poems

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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Good News From LA: JAC Redford’s beautiful new CD

JAC Redford's beautiful new CD

JAC Redford’s beautiful new CD

I am back at last from my adventures as ‘Visionary in Residence at Biola in Los Angeles, and one of the highlights was my musical collaboration there with Steve Bell and JAC Redford. Happily my visit coincided with the release of JAC’s new CD ‘Let Beauty be our Memorial. It’s a stunning record with 18 beautiful, original choral pieces, all composed by JAC and sung by the excellent St. Silas Singers. It has settings of texts by CS Lewis, Scott Cairns, and passages of scripture and liturgy but I am delighted and honoured to say that it also contains settings of eight of my sonnets; my whole Advent Antiphon sequence, and also an exquisite setting of Love’s Choice, my sonnet about receiving Holy Communion. With JAC’s permission I am uploading the recording of Love’s Choice here, to give you an idea of what this CD is like. You can get the CD directly from JAC’s own Website, or as a download from CD Baby, or Amazon. It’s also available on iTunes.

So here, is ‘Love’s Choice:

Love’s Choice

This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how He comes. Through wine and bread
Love chooses to be emptied into me.
He does not come in unimagined light
Too bright to be denied, too absolute
For consciousness, too strong for sight,
Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute,
Chooses instead to seep into each sense,
To dye himself into experience.

 

With JAC and Steve Bell in LA. They are holding one another's CDs!

With JAC and Steve Bell in LA. They are holding one another’s CDs!

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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. Last year 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 October of last year.

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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Temptations! The new Opera based on my sonnets

temptationsThis First Sunday in Lent is the day the church reflects on the three Temptations of Christ in the Wilderness. These three Temptations, to material goods, to irresponsible power and to Spiritual pride are Universal and Christ faces them all for and with us, so that our disobedience can be redeemed and made perfect in his obedience. I will be reposting each of my sonnets on these three temptations on the coming days, but in this post I want to share with you an amazing Chamber Opera, based on those same three temptations which was written by Rhiannon Randle one of the music Students here at Cambridge, in my own college and performed, with a cast of brilliant young Cambridge musicians and singers, at the end of January. Rhiannon has, in my opinion, gone right to the heart of what I was trying to do in the sonnets and then re-worked and re-imagined it through the medium of her own art, with the result that when I saw the opera the whole thing became fresh, new, and challenging for me again. I hope it has the same effect on you. Below, with her permission I am posting a link to the complete libretto, a sound cloud link to a recording of the opera, and a youtube link to the St. John’s college performance, which was professionally filmed. Do enjoy it.

The Full Libretto is here: Temptations – final libretto

Here is the sound cloud recording: Temptations

And here is the film:

 

 

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From one voice to many; the adventures of a sonnet

with JAC at Abbey Road Studio One!

with JAC at Abbey Road Studio One!

In my last post I shared with you a sonnet called O Sapientia, the first of my seven sonnets for the O Advent Antiphons, the other six of which I will be posting as we move through Advent. And in an earlier post still I told you about what a moving experience it was when Steve Bell took some of my sonnets and set them or parts of them, into the songs he sings. Now I want to tell you about another musical adventure that befell that first sonnet O Sapientia. Once again, as with Steve, this adventure came about thanks to the amazing mix of artists musicians and poets that thrives around the CS Lewis Foundation’sOxbridge’ Conferences. It happened that JAC Redford, the distinguished Californian composer and orchestrater (He was lead orchestrator for Skyfall!) was at one of these conferences and heard my O Sapientia. He took it home and the next thing I knew was that the next ‘Oxbridge’ was going to feature the world premiers of a JAC Redford setting of O Sapientia for full choir!

Attending that concert was an extraordinary experience. As a poet I can only write and read one line at a time, in a single voice. But as I write I can sense myriad possibilities, many voices, which I can only suggest by summoning the wider penumbra of connotations and the multivalent possibilities and latent energies in words themselves. I was particularly conscious of this linear constraint as I was writing O Sapientia, which moves from the opening single voiced word ‘I’ and ends with the multitudinous word ‘everything’.

Well when I heard JAC’s piece it came as a gift and a revelation! At last I was hearing aloud something of the rich layering of many voices and possibilities I could hear in my head. It was amazing and I wished there had been a recording of it. Well I have good news. JAC has arranged for Ben Parry to record it with the Peters Edition Chorale, . Here it is.

Just as with my experiences with Steve Bell, though in a completely different genre, I feel that the little seed I have sown has blossomed in surprising and beautiful ways.

(Another surprising adventure arising from this sonnet was that I got to hang out with JAC in Abbey Road Studios whilst a brilliant studio orchestra recorded the music for Skyfall!)

Now, best of all I can tell you that on Thursday 5th December at 8pm in St. Edward’s Church Cambridge you can come and hear the World Premiere of JAC’s setting of the complete sequence of my Antiphon sonnets. We hope that these will later be broadcast, next Advent on BBC Radio, but tomorrow is your opportunity to hear them in advance, and live! If you want to check out the book from which the sonnets come, click on this title: Sounding the Seasons

Here are the words of the sonnet again if you’d like to see them whilst you listen:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

attingens a fine usque ad finem,

fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:

veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

 

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other mightily,

and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

 

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

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Ode to St. Cecilia: New poetry and music from Guite and Redford!

cecilia-4I have been 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. I’m happy to say it has its premiere this weekend. Here is JAC’s announcement:

Announcing the world premiere of Sound Becoming Song, a new composition for a cappella choir with music by J.A.C. Redford to poetry by Malcolm Guite.

Sunday, 27 October 2013 8:00 PM Pomona College, Bridges Hall of Music 150 E. 4th Street, Claremont, California 91711

The new work is part of a concert entitled “Songs of Celebration” featuring the Millennium Consort Singers, directed by Martin Neary, with organist Edward Murray and the Pomona College Choir, conducted by Donna M. Di Grazia.

The program, honoring St. Cecilia, patron saint of music,
also features a world premiere by Tom Flaherty,
along with music by Benjamin Britten, Gerald Finzi and James MacMillan.

Free admission with open seating, no tickets. Doors open 30 minutes prior to performance Seating is limited, so please arrive early to guarantee your seat!

So if you are in or near Claremont, do go along.

Meantime here is the text of my ode and ask a recording of my reading 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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A Song for Valentine’s Day

Playing Maggie’s song in the BBC studios

This time last year I was a guest on Sue Marchant’s Big Night In radio show  and took the opportunity to play this song live and dedicate it to my wife Maggie in time for Valentine’s day! I wrote it for her a few years ago and its on my new CD Dancing Through the Fire. Ironically its the only song of mine in which the movie industry has ever taken an interest, And for a while it looked as if it might be part of the sound track of a romantic movie. but the movie never got funding and the plans were dropped so I guess the title of the song turned out to be true after all!

I hope you enjoy it.  You can hear an early take with Oli Smith’s wonderful sax solo by pressing the play button or clicking on the title and the lyrics are posted below. The full CD version also includes wonderful harmony vocals by Rob Groves:

Movies s3 t3 m2

They Don’t Make Movies (Out of Love Like This)

All those people in the movies look so healthy young and tanned

And I know there’s nothing that they wouldn’t sell.

I can see their words of promise run like water into sand

So I draw my water from a deeper well.

When we wake up in the morning you can hardly face the day

And I see the courage other people miss,

As you spend yourself for others, as you keep the dark at bay,

But they don’t make movies out of love like this.

 

Bridge:

                 

There’s no glamour like the magazines, no glitter like the stars,

No putting on the make-up to impress,

But we still stand together love, for all our battle-scars,

We hold each other’s hearts and still say yes.

 

 

You can’t photograph fidelity, or merchandise restraint,

Your inner beauty wont be selling soap.

And sometimes from the outside it might seem that love grows faint

On the inside its renewed each day in hope.

So there’s nothing on the surface to attract a stranger’s gaze

There’s not photo-genic posed romantic bliss,

Just two people staying faithful through the darkest winter days,

But they don’t make movies out of love like this.

 

Bridge:

And its been a long day’s journey just to get us up to bed,

But we’re not too tired to share a loving  kiss,

And the truest and the deepest things are more than can  be said,

And they don’t make movies out of love like this.

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From one voice to many; the adventures of a sonnet

Composer JAC Redford

Composer JAC Redford

In my last post I shared with you a sonnet called O Sapientia, the first of my seven sonnets for the O Advent Antiphons, the other six of which I will be posting as we move through Advent. And in an earlier post still I told you about what a moving experience it was when Steve Bell took some of my sonnets and set them or parts of them, into the songs he sings. Now I want to tell you about another musical adventure that befell that first sonnet O Sapientia. Once again, as with Steve, this adventure came about thanks to the amazing mix of artists musicians and poets that thrives around the CS Lewis Foundation’sOxbridge’ Conferences. It happened that JAC Redford, the distinguished Californian composer and orchestrater (He has just done all the orchestration for Skyfall!) was at one of these conferences and heard my O Sapientia. He took it home and the next thing I knew was that the next ‘Oxbridge’ was going to feature the world premiers of a JAC Redford setting of O Sapientia for full choir!

Attending that concert was an extraordinary experience. As a poet I can only write and read one line at a time, in a single voice. But as I write I can sense myriad possibilities, many voices, which I can only suggest by summoning the wider penumbra of connotations and the multivalent possibilities and latent energies in words themselves. I was particularly conscious of this linear constraint as I was writing O Sapientia, which moves from the opening single voiced word ‘I’ and ends with the multitudinous word ‘everything’.

Well when I heard JAC’s piece it came as a gift and a revelation! At last I was hearing aloud something of the rich layering of many voices and possibilities I could hear in my head. It was amazing and I wished there had been a recording of it. Well I have good news. JAC has arranged for Ben Parry to record it with the Peters Edition Chorale, so that we can play it at the  launch of Sounding the Seasons at St. Edward’s on Wednesday 5th December. What is more, he’s given me permission to post the recording up here so you can have a chance to hear it even if you cant make the launch. Here it is.

Just as with my experiences with Steve Bell, though in a completely different genre, I feel that the little seed I have sown has blossomed in surprising and beautiful ways.

(Another surprising adventure arising from this sonnet was that I got to hang out with JAC in Abbey Road Studios whilst the LSO recorded the music for Skyfall!)

Here are the words of the sonnet again if you’d like to see them whilst you listen:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

attingens a fine usque ad finem,

fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:

veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

 

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other mightily,

and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

 

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

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Dante, Steve Bell And Me

Casella singing his version of a Dante poem

Let me take you to one of the most magical moments in The Divine Comedy, Dante’s poetic account of our pilgrim journey into the heart of God. Dante’s story starts in ‘the middle of the way of this life’, it starts with the poet knowing he’s lost the right path and wanting to find it again. The journey takes him down through the narrowing circles of Hell, to the cold centre of the frozen ego, and then up again, out from Hell, up into the light and air, to re-orient, having seen what he needs to leave behind. Now he must begin again, this time on the positive path, climbing the holy mountain with other pilgrim souls, trying to get back to the garden of our true humanity on the mountain top.

It is just at this moment of new beginning of starting the positive journey, in the second canto of the middle book, the Purgatorio, that the magic moment happens. Dante and his guide Virgil are on the mountain island, looking around before they start the long climb when a boat load of other pilgrim souls arrive and they disembark on the island, also wondering where and how to start this stage of their pilgrimage and who else might be here to accompany them on their journey. Suddenly amongst that troop of confused souls Dante recognises, and is in turn recognised, by an old friend! It is Cassella, a singer and musician from Florence. They rstore one another’s sense of belonging and Dante knows that what he needs now before he starts the journey, is the solace of a song. So he asks Casella to sing for him ‘to solace my soul somewhat…for it is weary.’ So Casella sings. But not just any song. He does a beautiful thing here, he sings one of Dante’s own poems back to him as a song! As Dante says ‘he sang so sweetly that I still hear that sweetness sound in me’. And its not just Dante whose transfixed by the music; ‘My master, I and all that company around the singer seemed so satisfied as if no other thing might touch our minds we were all motionless and fixed upon the notes…’

In the allegory of course Dante is saying many important truths; that music and the arts help us on our journey, that friends are there to echo back to us our own words and works but in a new way, and just when we need them. Yet when I read this I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to have someone turn one of my poems into a song and sing it back t me .. how cool would that be?

Steve Bell singing a ‘Guite’ poem

Well in this last year I have had just that experience, and I can tell you, its fantastic. I can also tell you that Dante was right about music and friendship as absolute essentials for our pilgrim journey -but you knew that already. As you know I have spent the last two years gradually posting to this blog the sonnets I am writing for our journey through the year, which are being published all together next month in my book Sounding the Seasons. Now back when I posted my sonnet on the baptism of Christ, together with a sermon on the subject I thought that was it, job done. Not so. Only a few days later I got an email from my friend the  Canadian singer songwriter Steve Bell to say that the sonet had (literally) struck a chord with him and he had turned it into a song! Attached to the email was an mp3 file. and that’s when I had my ‘Casella moment’! My old poem had become completey new for me! It was given back to me by Steve at just the right moment with a lilt and lift in it, an invitation to adventure and wayfaring which was just what I needed at that stage in my own spiritual journey. Now both my book of poems and Steve’s  new album  are coming out, almost together, in two halves of the world, and both have been created to help us begin again our soul’s journey.

Just so you can get a taste of my ‘Casella moment’ I’ve got Steve’s permission to  to put his song here, right next to my poem. So you can read the poem and then hear the song.

Then do head over to Steve’s site and check out the rest of the Album, which is out now. Its astonishing. If your’e in Cambridge come along to the launch of Sounding the Seasons on December 5th at 7:30 in St. Edward’s Church where there will be copies of Steve’s album also available.

So here’s the poem:

Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;

The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,

The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son

Reveal to us the single loving heart

That beats behind the being of all things

And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.

The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings

‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that quick light and life, as water spills

And streams around the Man like quickening rain,

The voice that made the universe reveals

The God in Man who makes it new again.

He calls us too, to step into that river

To die and rise and live and love forever.

And here’s Steve ‘Casella’ Bell’s magical re-working, you can click on the ‘play’ button or the word epiphany:


epiphany

Now you’ve heard this you’ll want to check out the whole album on. Here’s the page you need from Steve’s Website: Keening for the Dawn You should also be able to get it soon on iTunes!

A Great Album that takes you from Advent, through Christmas to Epiphany

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