Category Archives: Songs

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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A Song for Valentine’s Day

Playing Maggie's song in the BBC studios

I was a guest on Sue Marchant’s Big Night In radio show the other day 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 aken 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 the full CD version with Oli Smith’s wonderful sax solo by pressing the play button or clicking on the title and the lyrics are posted below:

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 cant 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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Dancing Through the Fire -My New CD

An invittion to my CD Launch

As I start gearing up for the launch of my new CD Dancing Through the Fire, at St. Edward’s Church on Wednesday 23rd November 7:30pm. I thought I’d take a moment to give you an overview of the themes and feel of the whole Album. In subsequent posts I’ll be putting up the lyrics, and links to the recordings of individual tracks. The physical CD will be available from the day of the launch and I am hoping that downloads, from CD Baby, iTunes, etc will be available by that time or fairly shortly after. I will keep everyone posted from this blog and on Facebook. I have already posted some of the lyrics in earlier posts on this blog and I will put hyperlinks to those posts in what follows.

The CD is a collection of 13 new songs, my first ‘release’ since 2007’s The Green Man, and is out on the same label, Cambridge Riffs.  The CD’s eponymous opening track sets the theme for the rest of the album; ‘dancing through the fire’ alludes to some  lines in TS Eliot’s Little Gidding;

From wrong to wrong the exasperated sprit proceeds

unless restored by that refining fire,

where you must move in measure, like a dancer’

Those lines in turn refer to the great moment in Dante’s Divine Comedy, when having been through Hell, and climbed mount Purgatory, Dante comes to the last circle of fire which will purify his love and allow him to return to the garden of Eden and be reunited with his beloved Beatrice, so that they can make a further journey together into Heaven. Dante’s whole poem is about the intimate interlinking of earthly and heavenly Love, and its own smaller way, that is also the subject of this album. After the opening song, which sets the story of Dante’s pilgrimage and ours, to a driving, danceable rocking blues rythm, all the tracks are in one way or another songs of earthly and heavenly love. they cover a pretty wide range of musical styles too, everything from rocking blues through folk to rootsy country, basically all the music I love! An amazing bunch of musicians showed up to help me make this album adding upright bass, cello, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, sax, even hurdy gurdy! i’ll rell you more about them and post some pics in subsequent posts. meantime heres a rundown of the tracks that follow on from the opener Dancing Through The Fire.

Love in the Red tells the story of a couple’s love for each other surviving the present financial crisis,  a crisis which is itself the wreckage of failed love in the earthly city.

A Song For Ruth tells the story of the welcoming love for the stranger, and the solidarity in grief that brought Ruth and Naomi together, in an economic crisis in biblical times.

They Dont Make Movies (Out Of Love Like This) is a song of Married Love and a personal tribute to my wife Maggie

Numbers, comes to grips, as Dante did in the inferno, with the sheer wastefulness of casual violence and the wreckage it makes, so easily and so quickly, of all that Love builds over the years.

Lente Lente, is about the need for peace, rest and playfulness, the slow, beautiful times and places an friendships where Love can be healed and renewed.

Fade Away is a little blast of vintage stonesy rock on the perrenial theme of lost love

Bridegroom Blues; in this song the Bridegroom sings to the Bride he wooed and won and gave his life for. He loves her in all her colours, He knows she’s in trouble, but He is going to pull her through and bring her to her to the Marriage Feast.

The Messenger. I’ve taken another leaf out of Dante’s book for this one.

Moonlight. This is a poem I wrote when I was 17, and set to music when I was 53. The seventeen year old who wrote this romantic, moonlit lament is still in me somewhere, and still needs to voice that mingled sense of love and loss. It seemed only fair for the fifty three year old to give him a chance.

Recipe for Love. a little lightening of the tone here. I sat down to write ‘a song of great social and political import’ but instead this cheeky little song popped out. Love and good cooking always go together.

Rolling in the Hedgerows/Old Tom of Oxford. Now here’s a love song to language and landscape. A poet’s song to his muse who is always a mixture of language and landscape, though in her mystery she is so much more besides. In some ways this is a companion song to The Green Man, with its love of the fields and hedgerows of the English countryside, the place of my earthly pilgrimage. It leads into  the birdsong from the hedgerows and Ferdia Stone-Davis’s beautiful rendition of the English Folk Tune Old Tom of Oxford, on her Hurdy Gurdy

Tiger Love; I close with another poem-turned-song. I wrote the poem late in 1978, when the most powerful love I knew, the tiger in my poem, was intimate human passion, the overmastering passion Dante knew and wrote about in the Vita Nuova. But, like Dante, I didn’t know what was coming next, or who would meet me in the woods, in the middle of my way, the following spring. As Old Tom said :’In the Juvescence of the year came Christ the tiger’!

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St. Francis drops in on my gig!

St. Francis Jongleur de Dieu

This is a poem for Francis the poet, a song for Francis the singer. Indeed its a sonnet that started life as a song!

St.Francis loved the Jongleurs and  Troubadours that passed through Assisi. As a young man he played and sang for his friends. After his conversion and calling he carried through that joy of making verse and music, and his canticle of the sun composed and sung towards the end of his life is testimony to that. When I was a novice in the third order it happened that I was ofered a set of pub gigs that clashed with some of the third order prayer meetings. Without a moment’s hesitation the novice master sid to me “Play the gigs Malcolm, thats where Francis would be.”

Here’s a poem/song that arises from playing a pub gig on St. Francis’s day.

“Hard-core Troubadour” is the title of a great song by Steve Earle (but its not about St. Francis!)

As always you can hear it by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears. Otherwise click on the title of the sonnet and it will take you to the player on the audioboo page.

St. Francis drops in on my gig

I didn’t think I’d find you in this place

I guess you must have slipped in at the back

I’m lifting my guitar out of its case

But seeing you I nearly put it back!

You smile and say that it’s your local too,

You know the ins and outs of inns like this,

The people here have hidden wounds like you,

And you have bidden them to hidden bliss.

‘Francis I’ve only straggled after you,

I’ve never really caught your melody,

The joy you bring when every note rings true…’

But you just laugh and say ‘play one for me!’

This one’s for you then, on the road once more,

The first, the last, the hard-core troubadour.

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Happy Birthday Bob

As Bob Dylan celebrates his seventieth birthday I’ve been reflecting all day on how much I owe the man; more than I can say, more than I can pay. Even though sometimes buying his albums almost beggared me as a poor student, I have been repayed for my teenage scrimping and saving a thousand fold. What I’ve been given is a sound-track, a commentary, a critique of my life, but also an invitation to step beyond it, again and again into ways of being, seeing, and knowing I could never have otherwise imagined. Thanks Bob. By way of small tribute I am posting here a cover of Slow Train I recorded with my Band Mystery Train and an article on Dylan, the bible and poetry I wrote for the Tablet in december 2008. So here goes. Click on the tablet link at the bottom of this page to go to a pdf of the article: “Think Twice, It’s Alright”

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