Writing new material on demand, and how it works for me

April 10, 2013

It’s a funny thing. I wrote a new song for a vicar in West Brom and I can’t get over how much fun it was to hear it sung.

The song was tough to get done, but it was easier than free composition in many ways because I was working to a specific brief and those limitations gave rise to a more ordered creative process for me.
Read the rest of this entry »

My New Christmas Song

December 17, 2012

I wrote a song! It’s got Shepherds and Angels in it. So, it must by definition be a Christmas song. It’s astonishing when I think about it how much the shepherds feature in my Christmas thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

Clued up church worship.

July 5, 2012

I’m a huge fan of “I’m sorry, I haven’t a Clue” on BBC Radio 4. One of their famous games, and one we’ve tried before is “One Song to the Tune of Another” in which, well, you can guess.

As it happens, organists have been playing this particular game for years, dropping alternative tunes onto the unsuspecting congregation, sometimes without even the foreknowledge of the presiding minister, and occasionally without warning the choir. Read the rest of this entry »

Writing new stuff. Slowly.

April 9, 2012

I’m writing some new music. It’s not easy going, because it has lyrics.

Lyrics make me feel like an idiot. It’s too easy to write stuff I don’t believe or believe that I should feel but don’t really. Read the rest of this entry »


December 29, 2011

I’ve been doing a little research. Those who know me will be surprised at this news.

It would appear that I’m closer to my goal of writing some Christmas devotional music, albeit a little late for 2011. I had a moment of inspiration, realising that instead of a full blown oratorio, I could quite possibly tackle a cantata. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating in a minor key

November 26, 2011

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, and I’m leading worship at a little church in Darlaston. When I say leading worship, I mean “doing everything” – I’ve picked the hymns, will lead the prayers, will preach and generally stand at the front looking important. Read the rest of this entry »

Leading worship for beginners

April 2, 2011

Sometimes I think we need a filter on our worship lyrics and even our liturgy. If you’re using a word which you only ever hear in church, or you’re doing something you’d never even think of doing outside of church, how on earth are the new folks supposed to know what’s going on, or what you mean, or why you do it? Read the rest of this entry »


December 5, 2010

Dad told me yesterday he’d had an idea to set the Nunc Dimittis in a modern style. He’s not a regular kind of a musician – trained as a pianist and singer a bit, and loads of experience, but no formal music education at Uni like I have. Plus, he’s in his 50’s, not a time to suddenly recall all the music he’s done over the years and consolidate it into a gift for writing.

Nonetheless he’d sat at the piano and worked it all out, and written out the notes he needed to go with the words as a sequence of letter names, and it all works beautifully. So now I have to wonder to myself:

1. What did I learn at university that I couldn’t have learned by simply going out there and doing it?

2. Can he give me any tips?

How words and rhythm are hurting my brain

May 10, 2010

I thought I’d write a simple piece of music based on spoken word patterns. I’ve been using the names of fruit to lodge a particular rhythmic sequence in the heads of my Grade 1 piano students.

If only it were so easy to write the serious stuff. My head hurts from the revelations. For those of you with a Western classical education, here goes. Everyone else just hum along…

Mango is a perfect representation of a pair of quavers. The accent is right and the sounds are nice. For a full crotchet beat I’d recommend Peach. Pear is a minim, with its longer vowel sound and terminal diphthong (at least it has one in the Midlands). Pineapple is a triplet quaver figure, and pomegranate is a set of semiquavers. This is enough to begin. From this toolkit one can represent most elementary melodies as a sequence of fruits.

Then my fevered imagination realised that photocopier is a rhythm best expressed as a pair of quavers followed by a pair of semiquavers beamed to a quaver. How I wish I could write this up as music and post it on the blog, but even now it’s still in my head rather than on the page.

So, what of the original idea? I’ve lost all interest. I’m now going to spend some time listening for the natural rhythms in people’s speech. And then I’m going to copy bits and weave them into a piece of arranged sound. Or, as we purists call it, music.

The future of sung worship

November 8, 2009

Where is contemporary worship headed? An easy question to pose, and yet almost impossible to answer.

The current fad for one thing or another in church worship is probably to be followed by a different fad, focussed on a different style, bias or preference.

What, then, of the hymn, which improves but dwindles with age? Musicians update the style, the setting, the tune and even modernise the lyrics, but what qualities keep some of the old hymns on their feet when music written only five years ago may now be found upon its knees?

I suspect that the secret lies in familiarity and simplicity. We are familiar with hymns and their lyrics because they were often sung in our youth. In the same way, my sons may grow up knowing “My Jesus, My Saviour” as an old classic. The other distinguishing mark must be the simplicity of ideas in older hymns. They might expend several verses on one event or theme. For as many examples as you like, take Christmas carols, or “Amazing Grace” which covers only one aspect of God’s character yet covers half a dozen verses at least.

Modern worship songs, especially the ones I dislike, seem to quote scripture as though the very act of singing it sanctifies the song; or else make references to concepts far removed from the ordinary life of most churchgoers. The successful modern hymnists are finding simple concepts or narratives, singable tunes, and accessible language. They weave them together into something my grandchildren may one day pull out of a book and say “I remember this, we haven’t sung it in years!”