The 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.
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.
One of the set readings for this Sunday, whose theme is hospitality, is the beautiful opening of Hebrews 13 which reads:
Let brotherly love continue.Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
This passage of course contains a deft allusion to the story of how Abraham and Sara entertained three strangers in the wilderness and in so doing opened their tent and their hearts to the Lord who then fulfilled his promise to bless them with a child. In my new book Parable and Paradox I have a poem about that moment in genesis which you can read and listen to here.
But the phrase in Hebrews ‘angels unawares’ was also the inspiration, and indeed the title of a song of mine which I have included on the new record Songs and Sonnets, which will very soon be available through iTunes etc and for order on the web.The song reflects on the many and various ways God sends his messages and his messengers to us. But as a reflection for tomorrow I thought I would post the lyrics here and also give you a chance to listen to one of the earlier mixes of the song, the final version of which is on the record. If you would like to use these lyrics or the song itself as part of a service please feel free to do so. I hope you enjoy it
Some people say that life is just a given thing
but you and I both know by whom its lent
and that its right here in the dirt
where we’ve both been loved and hurt
that Love Himself has come to pitch His tent
sometimes we’re in the fields of holy roses
other times we’re rolling in the tares
breaking bread and sharing wine
did I feel your hand touch mine
or did we both touch angels unawares?
Abraham’s down by the oaks of Mamre
and Joseph dreams beside an empty barn
theres a woman by the well with dreams no man can tell
though a broken man might keep her safe from harm
Theres someone else inside this fiery furnace
and Jacob’s gazing up those endless stairs
we are wounded on the road, but we share each others load,
and make each other angels unawares
Everybody backs into the future
everyone’s just feeling for it blind
sometimes we get lost and the threads of our lives get crossed
but I’m sure glad yours got tangled up with mine
the day is gone and I know I should be going
theres barely light enough to say our prayers
ah but give me leave the while for to turn and see you smile
In the midst of the stream of poetry that usually fills these posts I thought I’d pause to tell you all about a new venture in which I’m involved. My good Friends Steve Bell, Roy Salmond, and David Jennings have cooked up a plan for me to record an album combining my songs and poetry together in a single new work. the record will be called Songs and Sonnets. It will contain a new suite of songs together with new recordings of some favourites like The Green Man and Angels Unawares, but these will be interleaved with professional quality recordings of me reading a number of my poems, including many from my forthcoming book Parable and Paradox.
Uniquely these recordings will also include some versions of the poems with musical accompaniment and also with instrumentals by Steve Bell linking together some of the poetry sequences. I have already done my part of the recording in a series of wonderful sessions at Roy Salmond’s Whitewater Studio in British Columbia. Now Roy and Steve are bringing together a great group of professional musicians, design artists, and others to produce the final album and master it in the studio. In order to do this they need to raise some funds so that the musicians and others get properly paid and the whole record is produced to the highest possible standard. They have set up a crowdfunding Page here, and we have put together an entertaining video on that page to explain the whole project.
I am very honoured and moved that they have wanted to do this and taken the risks involved. In all the years I’ve run this blog I have always wanted everything on it to be free and will continue to keep everything here free, so I have never appealed for funds myself. But if you have enjoy these pages and make use of the poetry here, perhaps you could click the link and take a look at Steve And Roy’s Gofundme page and perhaps watch the video, If you feel able to share the link, or better still support the project in anyway I would be very grateful and so would they.
Songs and Sonnets as we hope it will eventually appear!
As a little sample of what’s to come, here are the lyrics of one of the new songs ‘Eyrie’ and a recording of an early ‘rough cut’ of the song to give you a glimpse of a little of what it might sound like on the finished record. I wrote this song in Durham North Carolina when I was artist in residence at duke University. I was staying high up in a little ‘eyrie’ in the attic of an old house and I composed the song very late one night on a guitar borrowed from a friend whilst I watched a patch of moonlight, which poured in from the skylight above, making its way in bright reflections across the floor. I hope you enjoy it.
High in my eyrie in North Carolina
I take up your tender guitar
I’m thinking of home and all that I’ve left there
And maybe I’ve travelled too far
The skylight is open, the moonlight is brimming
And waltzing its way cross the floor
My body is aching and wants to be sleeping
but my spirit is asking for more
High in my eyrie in North Carolina
I’m singing a song to the moon
And maybe it’s too late to learn from her waning
Or maybe it’s really too soon
I’ve travelled the low road and watched it unravel
I’m giving the high road a try
I’ll follow that highway and see where it leads me
And keep the bright moon in my eye
The heart is wide open, the true life is brimming
And yearning to come flowing through
I lay down my burden and walk to the well head
And drink and then bring some to you
I traveled the low road and watched it unravel
But now on the high road I roam
The long road, the straight road the old road the true road
The road that’ll lead me back home
I’m high in my eyrie in North Carolina
And soon I’ll return your guitar
It gave me this song and it brought me your blessing
I’ll hear it one day from afar
The skylight is open, the skyway is waiting
It’s time for this man to take flight
When you touch your guitar and it sings through your fingers
Give thanks for a song in the night
I’m down from my eyrie in North Carolina
And out through the ways of the world
And I’m leaving my love with the moon at the window
The 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.
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’s ‘Oxbridge’ 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,
I 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.