What’s more, this weekend only (28/03/14-31/03/14), simply enter/quote BLOG1 at checkout and take advantage of our exclusive 15% OFF Pay Day Offer!
What’s more, this weekend only (28/03/14-31/03/14), simply enter/quote BLOG1 at checkout and take advantage of our exclusive 15% OFF Pay Day Offer!
‘We can’t sing up there’ is a comment made after far too many church services. And it’s true: research shows that for various reasons the human singing voice has dropped over the last century.
I play for a service at a care home for the elderly where they really know their hymns (often by heart) and they complain that they can no longer sing along to Songs of Praise because the hymns are too high.
And after Christmas I met a large number of people who had been forced to drop out of the carols for the same reason.
Carols especially – think of Christians, awake! Hark, the herald-angels sing, Once in royal David’s city and even Silent night – have not just got very high notes but the tunes also hang around up there, which is even worse.
The problem is easily solved: tunes don’t have to be pitched so high and, as a working church musician, I play them in much lower keys and the congregation sings with enthusiasm and comfort.
Some organists can do this themselves as part of their training and the thing to do is to negotiate a comfortable pitch with your own organist.
Others need the music rewritten for them so that they can play lower and this is an area we have been looking at recently, to provide the material they need.
Letters from our customers confirm not only the usefulness of these books but also how much they have improved the singing. One organist wrote: ‘I play for a crematorium and this book is a godsend. Even the men at funerals now join in.’ Another wrote to say that he wished he had had the book from the beginning of his career as a church musician.
So congregations everywhere, keep complaining until your organist brings your hymns down to your level!
Review by The Rev Dr Paul Ellingworth for The Methodist Recorder
It is probably correct to describe The Bible: A Study Bible, freshly translated by Nicholas King (Kevin Mayhew hardback edition £49.99, presentation edition £59.99), as unique. There have been other English versions of the Bible by single translators such as James Moffatt and Ronald Knox. However, for the last generation or more, these have been based on Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Old Testament and Greek of the New.
There have also been English translations of the Greek version of the Old Testament, commonly known as the “Septuagint” or “LXX”. Since 1851 the best known of these has been that by a translator with the resounding name of Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton; this version was recently republished in American English by Michael Paul Johnson as LXX2012. In addition, there is a “New Translation of the Septuagint” (NETS), published by Oxford University Press in 2007, and reprinted with corrections and emendations in 2009. There are also in progress translations of the Septuagint into Spanish, French and German. So what makes Nicholas King’s version unique? Like the others, it offers an English translation of the Greek Old Testament, including the apocrypha or deuterocanonical writings, misleadingly described by the publishers as being “from the original Greek”; but it adds a translation of the New Testament which is, of course, from the original.
King describes his version as a “Study Bible”. Each book and in the Old testament each group of books (the Pentateuch, the historical books, the wisdom literature, and the prophets), has a concise introduction and explanatory footnotes. In the New Testament, footnotes are limited to references to Old Testament texts; explanatory material is presented on the page in the same type as the text, but heavily indented to avoid confusion.
This is a very personal work. One cannot imagine Moffatt or Knox beginning a preface with the address: “Dear Reader”. King came to understand “this translation [as] a vocation, a calling within the wider calling to be a Jesuit priest who teaches biblical studies”.
He speaks of his surprise when the work was completed and also of “a sense that something is missing which I had come greatly to value”. The language of both translation and additional material is fresh and appropriately informal: the introduction to the Acts of the Apostles begins: “The racy tale that you are about to read …”, and concludes, referring to the Holy Spirit: “Watch how this power is made evident throughout this extraordinary story.”
This is a version intended to be read rather than analysed, so detailed criticism is best left to academic journals.
But readers may be somewhat deterred by a few features which are not part of current English style, such as the repeated “and” at the beginning of sentences in both Old and New Testaments. It would also be helpful if, in any future edition, verses were individually numbered in the New Testament as they are in the Old. It can be frustrating to search for a particular verse in a passage for example, as long as John 8. 12-59 or as compact as Galati ans 3. 6-29. King defends his choice to translate the Septuagint by stating, correctly, that it was “the version most used by our New Testament authors” and that the LXX manuscripts “in some cases preserve a superior reading”. This does not, of course, mean that the LXX as a whole is superior to the Hebrew and Aramaic texts.
The publishers are to be congratulated on producing a book of more than 2,400 pages which is still pleasant to handle. Methodists need have no fear of being led astray by a tendentious Roman Catholic version: Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is rendered: “Rejoice, you who have received favour.” I recommend that readers of the Methodist Recorder look at this translation for themselves – of course along- side others. They will learn much from it and mostly enjoy it.
Describe a typical day in the life of Ali Dee
Currently, my day starts with a bounce (literally!) on my mini trampoline, as I try to convince my body that it is alive and awake and raring to go. I listen to music while I bounce, looking out into my garden, watching the cats chase the birds in the willow tree. I’d like to say I listen to music which is uplifting and inspirational, but the reality is that I listen to whatever my husband had put onto his old walkman years ago and spend most of my time skipping tracks!
Shower, jobs and porridge out of the way and I’m off! And from then on my days can be quite varied …
I work from home, so on a song writing day, I will settle down with my piano, keyboard and computer. The first I love, the second I tolerate and the third I loathe but couldn’t work without! I often have nuggets of songs (which I record) pop into my head … when I’m washing up or in the car, or quite often at 3 o’clock in the morning which can be irritating, so I may start by listening through these and then begin to develop ideas.
I prefer to be on my own when I write as I like to sing and play without feeling inhibited by other people’s ears. If it’s a rousing, moving song such as ‘This Could be the Moment’ from Sing with the Stars, I can get quite carried away and if the windows aren’t shut, the neighbours get a real treat!! If it’s one of my sillier songs such as ‘Spooky Spider’ in Sing Make Believe Songs, then I definitely have to keep the windows closed or I would very quickly be whisked away by the men in white coats!! I can also be seen dancing and leaping around to some of my action songs – just to make sure they work! That is fine until the postman walks by the window when I am mid-leap!
On editing days, I am attached by a thread (aka my inbox) to Donald, the wonderful music editor who lives hundreds of miles away, as he tries to make sense of my music and bring it to a semblance of order!
I also work in schools, taking music workshops and on these days I am in full view leaping about with the children as we dance, sing and play instruments with great enthusiasm! I love these sessions and the creativity the children bring to their music making is inspiring!
What is left of my day then involves squeezing in my mum, my husband, my daughters and my grandchildren and then all those mundane bits of life which we none of us can escape … and so to bed! Zzzzz!
Do you have a specific writing/composing process?
No, as with most of my life, it is all fairly erratic. Having said that, maybe there is some kind of process happening … I usually work on the lyrics and music simultaneously. Somehow I can’t seem to separate these out from each other, so they tend to grow and develop as one entity. I sit at the piano to play and sing around an idea that is in my head, jotting things down on bits of paper, teasing out melodies and chords and words as I go along. Although I do read music, I tend to play by ear and would certainly never sit and write anything out on a piece of manuscript paper. But eventually, what is in my head has to make it into manuscript form if I want other people to be able to play/sing it, so I turn to my computer program which magically converts what is in my head into something legible (Donald may disagree!). I would then record what I have written to send off for approval, struggling I confess, to play from the music I have written (I would prefer to play straight from my head, but as this can change each time I play, I try to conform to what is on paper in front of me)!
Can you tell us some of the styles and influences on your work?
Not sure I’m allowed to do that as it would be advertising the competition – but there are some great children’s composers out there whose work I love! There are also plenty of children’s songs which are dull and boring and a lot which are just old! It is surprising how many schools still stick with songs that have been around for decades (and they were boring in the first place!) because they lack the confidence or motivation to learn something new. I think that’s a real shame and the children and staff really miss out on some exciting singing opportunities. Many more, though, are beginning to realise the value of singing and its importance to school life. There is a real buzz when you hear a singing school – and a confidence about the children when they sing! Back to the question! I do, however, glean inspiration from all over the place. Any music I listen to, be it jazz, folk, pop, classical, world music, whatever, might pop an idea into my head – maybe a particular rhythm that sounds good or a musical phrase or chord sequence that jumps out at me. Ideas for lyrics could come from anywhere, a phrase read in a story, a conversation on the radio, a picture that startles me, a walk in the countryside, a peaceful moment in the garden, the design on a pair of curtains, a giggle from a child…
Did you grow up in a musical household?
My dad always loved to sing, very enthusiastically – but not always in tune, but as children we were encouraged to learn to play instruments so I had piano lessons and played in a recorder group. Like most children, I never wanted to practise and it wasn’t until we all agreed that I didn’t have to take music exams any more that I actually started to enjoy playing.
Was music something you studied formally?
Oops! Think I tumbled into answering that one too soon! So, yes, I took piano exams up to grade 5, but then carried on having lessons without the constraints of an exam syllabus and started having fun playing pieces up to around grade 8 standard. Then followed the years which perhaps changed the way I play forever. I stopped having lessons, stopped playing from music and started playing by ear. I found a freedom to express myself musically which I had never known before and loved being able to play something which was all me – not my interpretation of somebody else! I guess this is where the composer was born. I taught myself to play the guitar and began to write songs, singing them wherever I could.
Was it always your ambition to reach young children with your music?
I have always loved working with and being around young children and I have always loved music, but it wasn’t until quite late on in my career that the two came together. Working as a teaching assistant in a local infant school, the music co-ordinator had left and music was in danger of fizzling out. I offered to take some percussion workshops which were used as a reward for the children who had been picked as ‘Stars of the Week’. These were hugely successful and I began to put together my ideas for bringing music back into the classroom, writing a topic-based music scheme of work for the whole school which provided the children with lots of hands-on instrument playing and exciting music projects to engage with. At the same time, I began writing songs for the school – a school anthem, which made the staff and parents cry every time the children sang it, and a song about the school motto. From the on teachers would say ‘do you know a song about …?’ and I would say ‘no, but I will write one’! And so began the song writing for children. I had a ready made quality control system in the children … they tend only to sing really well the songs that they really like. And, fortunately for me, they seemed to like my songs!
Do you offer individual mentorship or workshops?
I work predominantly in schools, running music workshops for whole classes. These are either one-off music sessions or longer term projects where I work with a class over a period of weeks, for instance, to create a composition which they can then perform. This kind of workshop requires a lot of energy and organisation, and is the sort of thing that can be difficult for class teachers to fit in themselves on top of everything else that is demanded of them. Many teachers have commented on the fact that as they are not responsible for running the sessions, it frees them up to really see what the children are capable of and they are frequently amazed by what even the very young children can achieve!
What reasons would you give for using your music?
As with all aspects of education, I do think it is crucial to constantly find new things to inspire, not to get stuck in ruts of doing something because that is how or what has always been done. Therefore new music is always important to keep singing alive and vibrant. Why use mine? I always write for a reason, not on demand, and so I feel that all my music comes from inside me. It therefore hopefully reflects my character and is original, genuine, quirky, funny or moving. The children are the true test of my songs, and all the feedback I get is that they love to sing them. I can’t ask for higher praise than that!
What are your hopes and intentions for the Sing series?
I would love for this series to take off in schools across the UK and beyond. It provides songs for so many of the popular school topics, for supporting PSHE work and assemblies, for choirs and for singing in the classroom. There are plenty of simple, catchy songs but also those with optional harmonies and second parts to stretch the more adventurous. I do think there is something in here for pretty much every occasion, and hopefully more to come!
How long did the series take you to write/compose?
It is still ongoing really, as more are coming out this year and I hope to continue to write more books. Some are songs I wrote when I was a teaching assistant, but most have been written in the last couple of years.
If you had to be a character in one of your musicals who would it be and why?
Hmm… that’s a tricky one! I think it would either have to be Our Duckling from ‘There’s Always One’ or Shirley the Sheep in ‘The Fleas’ Christmas Story’. Our Duckling is one of those characters you just can’t keep down – there is so much to explore and discover, he is all over the place, into everything, causing mayhem but loved by everyone! Shirley only has a small part in the Christmas story, but her character comes across in the song ‘A very excited sheep’. She, like Our Duckling, is so exuberant, that she just bursts out into bounces, hops and skips as she can’t contain her excitement about this new baby. Maybe these choices reflect something of my character ?! I blame my hair which has something of a wild and excitable nature!
What can we look forward to next from you?
The Drummer Boy is coming out very soon – a new Christmas musical for KS 2 children which I am very excited about. There is scope not just for singing and acting but also for budding musicians to play their part too.
More books in the Sing series are on their way – one for each season.
And we are currently working on a big project which is due out in September. This is going to be a fully resourced topic based, but highly adaptable, scheme of work for children in Foundation Stage (F2) and Key Stage One. There are six projects based on popular topics such as recycling, castles and gardens but all of them can easily be adapted to fit many other topics. Each project will have a series of music lesson plans for each year group, a listening unit, musical stories and poems, songs and interactive elements. All come with resources such as music clips, videos, power point presentations, pictures etc provided. This is a huge project, not just for me but for the whole team at Kevin Mayhew, who are working fast and furiously and incredibly skilfully as I write! I have done all the donkey work, but they are the ones who are about to bring it all to life! Watch this space…
A good proportion of this rather meaty 346 page book is made up of hands-on exercises involving (amongst other things) paper, felt tips, paint, symbols, words, magazine cuttings, dough, the Bible and using the imagination- all of which are aimed at getting you to learn ‘the language of your unconscious to connect to God in a way that’s personal to you.’ All of these techniques require an instinctive approach, and are very much grounded in interpretation and looking for connections between what’s happening in your life and what you’ve found yourself visualising, sculpting or putting down on paper.
Notable chapters deal with examining the pace of your life,decision making and finding your true purpose. Later chapters seem to have a kind of anchoring effect which may appeal to those who have problems living in the present moment or who are anxious about what the future might bring. Her reflections on the Bible and the way she relates it to back to life issues will suit all readers- whether your copy is gathering dust on a shelf or you’re just looking for a fresh approach to it.
Reflections on Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, The Catcher in the Rye, Henri Nouwen and St Teresa of Avila also make a pleasing appearance and there are some candid insights into her past struggle with ME, her life in general, as well as methods and case studies from her work as a Spiritual Director.
Early on in the book, Helen writes with the assumption that the majority of her readers will have lost touch with their creativity at some point along the way and offers reassurance to those who may be sceptical about some of her methods. She also speaks directly to those with busy lives with little time for reflection, promising them a journey towards wholeness. For those who are already in touch with their creativity and/or spirituality the book offers a fun and fresh take on exploring your inner landscape and something that will go some way to consolidate the insights already gained on your spiritual journey.
Finding your Inner Treasure is available from all good Christian Bookshops or direct from Kevin Mayhew online www.kevinmayhew.com/finding-your-inner-treasure.html or by telephone 01449 737978
Posted by Sarah
We haven’t been practising the limbo in the KM office this week!…but thinking generally about hymns in lower keys and a resource (Hymn Tunes in Lower Keys) that we published back in 2011 for which we’ve always received postive feedback: “I simply had to write to tell you what a phenomenal difference the book has made! The response of church and crematorium congregations has been wonderful. Once they realise they can actually manage ALL the notes of the melody without bursting blood vessels…my word, they have been singing with some oomph!- Without wishing to be blasphemous, this book has become my BIBLE- it never leaves my side during the working day!” (Dr David N. Evans)
Do you find that most hymns in today’s hymnals are written in keys too high for the average churchgoer to sing? This (apparently) despite many hymns being in lower keys today than they were in hymnals fifty years ago. Musicians have various theories as to why hymns now seem too high: “Hymns were always too high, but in the past, vocal styles were different. Singers of whatever genre didn’t belt out a song the way American Idol contestants do today. Voices were thinner and more fluid, allowing for a larger range….” Says one Blogger here: http://freelancelibrarian.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/hymn-keys.html
…I suspect it was and still is a struggle though- for those who are simply more comfortable in the low part of their vocal range, or that have a voice that suits the lower range of notes.
Maybe you are someone who can transpose notes ‘at sight’? Perhaps Kevin Mayhew resources are ideal for you or maybe they are too low or not low enough?! Do you use lower key resources but switch to higher keys once your voice has warmed up? Whatever your experience we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch below or by email, Facebook or Twitter!
Both resources are available from all good Music Shops and Christian Bookshops. You can also purchase them direct from the KM website www.kevinmayhew.com/hymn-tunes-in-lower-keys.html (Book) and (CD) www.kevinmayhew.com/top-50-hymns-in-lower-keys-cd.html
Posted by Sarah
If you didn’t catch Nicholas King’s talk on Bible translation at CRE, Sandown earlier this month, then you will have missed one of the highlights of the whole event; delivered with humour, humility and zest, I was inspired to put on my theology hat for a bumper blog post! Below the respected New Testament scholar and Oxford University lecturer talks New Testament ‘freshness’, Hebrew, learning Zulu passed 40, ‘elderly gym antics’ and the ‘impossibly difficult task’ that is Bible translation!
At a recent talk given at CRE, Sandown you said you began by translating two Gospels simply ‘just to see what it was like’. You’ve also been quoted as saying that Bible translation happens because ‘the community has forgotten the language of the sacred texts’- do you think subconsciously you were feeling this when you chose to translate?
I don’t think that was what was going on inside me; I sat down to translate Mark and John because I had to give a summer school about the two of them, and there is no better way of getting a ‘feel’ for a document than to translate it. And it was certainly a great education.
Nick signs copies of his latest book ‘The Prophets’
What age did you begin learning Hebrew, how long did it take you to master and also what advice would you give to someone wanting to learn the language?
I started learning Hebrew in my mid-20s; and my advice is that the brain works better the younger you are. I learnt Zulu when I was past 40, and that was really hard work. The only advice is that learning a language is very hard work, and you must never give up. Do a bit every single day; do new stuff in the morning, and familiar material last thing at night before you go to sleep.
Presumably you’ve read the bible simply as a reader and believer in God as much as you’ve read it as a scholar…how much do you think personal beliefs inadvertently ‘cloud’ a translation…would having no belief in God take some of the feeling out of the text?
Many non-believers have worked on the biblical texts (though I sometimes wonder why); so it is certainly possible to work on them without believing in them. As for being clouded by ‘personal beliefs’,any translator is the person they are and not some other person, and what you do as a translator is greatly affected by the person you are.
Before you began each of your translations did you have an idea of what you didn’t want to produce…what you didn’t want it to sound like and also how you’d strike a balance between literal renderings and paraphrase; about pitch of discourse, style and format?
Before I started the translation, I thought translation was easy; I thought, for example, that every word in the source language would always be translated by the same word in the target-language, and that I could control the effect of what I was doing. I found in fact that the translation dictated itself, and that it was out of my hands. The one quality that I wanted the NT to have was that of ‘freshness’ which is there in the 27 documents that make up the original; and I am pleased to notice that several reviewers have used that word. Now I know that translation is an impossibly difficult task.
Did you find yourself seeing, in your minds eye, the various people in the Bible– was there enough there in the text to get that kind of clarity?
One always forms an impression of the people who are part of the narrative; how accurate the impression is, must be, of course, another matter.
You spoke of avoiding ‘puréed sludge’; translating the various voices in a way that they all retained their uniqueness rather than sounding like one and the same. Are you able to summarise in one or two words the personalities/character traits of say, Matthew, Mark and Paul?
Matthew: a school-teacher, with all that implies
Mark: young and vigorous
Paul: a great lover
Have there been many sleepless nights during the course of translating the Bible and has there been anything that was particularly difficult to translate?
The hardest bit was Romans; at times I found that the closer I looked the less I understood what Paul was saying.
Are there any parts that seemed ‘easier’ than others to translate and why do you think this was?
Perhaps Joshua to 2 Kings, the ‘Deuteronomic History’, because it is mainly narrative. Ruth, because it is a breath of fresh air after the appalling narratives with which the book of Judges ends.
Who or what kept you sane throughout…I read that you’re a big cricket fan so perhaps watching/playing?
Playing cricket and squash, as well as some running and downhill skiing, until osteo-arthritis brought retirement upon me. Now I content myself with elderly antics in the gym.
Did you check your translations with other readers?
For some reason I felt very private about the translations, preferring to wait and see how readers reacted. However I had an excellent copy- editor in Peter Dainty, who was incredibly vigilant, and a former student, Yolande Trainor, who read every word of the text with her Ladies’ Bible Study group in South Africa, and preserved me from many blunders.
With regards to the things left unspoken in the Bible, for instance in Mark 16:8…why do you think that some translators have felt the need to fill in the gaps- do you think it’s because they didn’t trust the reader to get the nuances in the text or simply because they wanted to put their own stamp on it?
It is probably a bit of both; biblical narrative operates by understatement, such, for example as the terrible story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22, which is simply crying out to fill in the gaps. And quite often later authors have been unable to resist the temptation to fill them in.
You have said “The Greek text of the New Testament is only a scholars’ guess, and what we have in our modern editions is not a manuscript that ever existed; all the manuscripts that we possess have mistakes in them, so we do not even know what the original text was”…does this conflict in any away with your belief that god’s voice is just below the surface– do you believe that this voice will get harder to hear/find?
This is where the Church comes in; we get the Bible from the Christian community, and not the other way round. However (and this is really important) it is also true that the Church is subservient to the text, as well as being its source, and we all have to listen to that voice of God which is there “below the surface of the text”, whatever the quality of the translation, and whatever the state of the manuscripts.
You mentioned the biblical narrative has ‘a certain fullness’ would you say that in distilling/ editing this ‘fullness’ in your own translations you’ve done away with poetics? Was there a chance that the translation would not only have been ineligible but twice the size if you’d left the ‘fullness’?
“A certain fullness”. I can’t quite remember saying this, nor what precisely what I might have meant by it! However I have tried to be faithful to the text, and where it was poetic I have tried to be poetic, and so I don’t think that I distilled it in a way that would have made my final text notably shorter than the original.
At CRE, you spoke of your affinity with Ronnie Knox (a theologian who amongst other things translated the Latin Vulgate Bible into English, using Hebrew and Greek sources)– remarking that you said a prayer at this grave in ‘allegiance’. Are there other people you admire/feel an allegiance to?
The list is too long, but those who taught me above all. In different places, Peter Hardwick (and he would be surprised by that), and Geza Vermes, both of whom have died this year; Robert Murray SJ, Professor Christopher Rowland – and many many others.
Father Ronald Knox d. 1957
Has translating the Bible changed your understanding of it in any significant way? And would you say it’s strengthened your faith?
One thing that it has taught me is how much I love the bible. And, yes, I think that my faith has gone deeper.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to translate the bible?
Think twice about it.
With special thanks to Nick for this interview!
Posted by Sarah
The books featured in this post are available from all good Christian bookshops or direct from Kevin Mayhew online: www.kevinmayhew.com/info/contributors/nicholas-king.html or by telephone: +44 (0)845 3881634
At a glance, you may think it’s a book that’s going to summon you to renounce capitalism, rid yourself of all possessions and go and live in the desert and/or offer your life exclusively to the service of others. And yes, whilst Ray Simpson does highlight individuals who did just that, this book isn’t a call to ultimate self-sacrifice and self-denial but a book that will make you realise how important it is to live life in accordance with your most true and authentic self.
What struck me most was the author’s light touch (no guilt- inducing sermons or lofty academicism here). His is a vision grounded in enlightened common sense with the concept of ‘downward mobility’ simply encompassing what is good, true and ‘right’: spirit and heart over ego, community over self-interest– personal progression that’s inclusive of social awareness and responsibility.
He includes examples of good politics from both the left and right (though it’s ultimately apolitical- recognising ‘goodness’ and enlightenment wherever it springs from), as well as mentioning inspiring economists, prophets, visionaries and modern day heroes– you’ll have a brilliant and inspiring reading list to be getting on with after you’ve devoured this!
It’s the kind of book you finish and think ‘everyone should be made to read this’, especially those in positions of authority/leadership. This is for people of all faiths and none– a book that’s vital to our times.
Available from all good Christian Bookshops or direct from KM online or by telephone: (www.kevinmayhew.com/the-cowshed-revolution.html) +44 (0)845 3881634
Posted by Sarah
This week we are honoured to present an interview with Colin Mawby. He has worked with the London Mozart Players, the Wren Orchestra, Pro Cantione Antiqua, the Belgian Radio Choir and the BBC Singers and was also Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, London (not to mention the most famous person that’s ever worked at KM!)
Can you tell me a bit about your childhood- do you come from a musical family?
I was brought up during World War 2 and have vivid memories of the bombing of Portsmouth where I lived. My mother died when I was three and I was sent to Westminster Cathedral Choir School. George Malcolm was the choirmaster and he was a total inspiration to me. I learned most of what I know about music from the Choir School. My father was a convert – he was caught outside Portsmouth Catholic Cathedral in a rain storm and the only place he could shelter was inside. He went in and found himself in the middle of a Pontifical High Mass. He had never seen anything like it and went to the sacristy at its conclusion to ask what was going on. This experience led to his conversion. My father remarried and Dad then decided to send me to the Choir School. He couldn’t afford the fees and the Parish Priest, a musician, offered to pay them. An extraordinary sequence of events.
Westminster Cathedral Choir School
Did you always want to play the organ and can you remember the first time you played?
I never had any ambition to play the organ – quite the contrary – I never wanted to be in the cathedral choir and tried my hardest to fail my voice test! I explained that I didn’t know any songs and William Hyde, the then choirmaster, said that I must surely know the National Anthem. I fell into the trap and to my horror was accepted. I always get a good laugh about Cardinal Heenan who also took a voice test for the Choir School and was turned down. This would have been the highlight of Sir Richard Terry’s life – if only he had known!
George Malcolm obviously spotted a musical gift in me and asked me to play for Friday Compline in the Cathedral. I was able to accompany the chant from the chant book and also improvise. This all seemed to me to be perfectly normal, something that all eleven year old boys did, it is only recently that I realise it is quite amazing. I then played for many Cathedral services as a boy.
You’ve performed for some extraordinary people including the Queen and John F Kennedy- would it be fair to say this carried a degree of anxiety?
I have conducted for extraordinary people but have never found it particularly nerve wracking. Music totally takes one over and one forgets that there are eminent people in the audience.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
The highlight of my career was in Ireland. I founded the National Irish Chamber Choir and we developed a large educational programme. Part of it were two children’s operas which I composed and which were performed by schools. (Funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and the Department of Education).They were totally professional performances– the children acted and sang the solos under professional direction. The choir acted as a ‘Greek Chorus’. Every year we performed with two disadvantaged schools and I remember a solo part being sung by a young girl with only 6 months to live and another occasion when a solo was taken by a girl who was paralysed as a result of a motor accident. (Drunken driving). She had also lost the power of speech but wanted to try and do the opera. She succeeded and it was deeply moving that my music had enabled her to speak and sing again. These were the two most memorable experiences of my life.
‘Tu Es Petrus’ was used for the papal inauguration, how did this make you feel?
I was delighted that my ‘Tu es Petrus’ was sung at the papal inauguration. The Director of the Sistine Choir asked me to write a ‘Tu es Petrus’ and the Sistine Choir has sung it on many occasions. I am amazed by all this! It’s a thrill to hear the Sistine Choir singing my work.
You are quoted as saying that you can’t write choral music unless you work with choirs; that you have to write for particular people. Is it fair to say that your compositions have always been quite instinctive?
My composition is instinctive and I take no notice of musical fashion which I feel militates against the sense of the spiritual – it’s not sincere. I try and write music that speaks to people’s souls, music that listeners can respond to emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t!
Whom do you admire?
The three people who have had a profound effect on my life, apart from my father, are George Malcolm, Wilfred Purney (a superb priest) and Cardinal John Carmel Heenan.
Cardinal John Carmel Heenan
What advice would you give a young organist who wanted to become a professional musician?
It’s very difficult to become a professional musician so the first step is to earn sufficient money from music to live on. Teaching, privately and in schools, is the way to do this. Also, try and become a church choirmaster and ask for proper wedding fees and a reasonable stipend. When you are able to support yourself, then begin to develop the recital career. Meet as many fellow musicians as you can and develop a really good social manner. Never be afraid to ask people to help you and always remember that one has to pay the electricity bill!
How did you come to work for Kevin Mayhew and can you tell me a bit about your time there?
When I returned to England in 2003 I needed a job to tide me over a difficult time in my life and Kevin offered me one. I have always thought that he is a publishing genius. It was highly interesting to watch him at work.
What sort of music do you listen to for pleasure, and are you fond of any recording artists?
I like listening to Bach, Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, basically I get enormous pleasure out of listening to most music. I can’t single out recording artists – the standards are incredibly high.
Which of your works would you most like to be remembered for?
It’s difficult to single out a particular piece of music because I have written so much. I would like to be remembered as someone who has made a great contribution to sacred music. If my work moves people that’s wonderful – it’s a great privilege to compose and I thank God for the great success that I have had.
With special thanks to Colin for taking part in this interview
Word Alive! All-age dramas to bring the Gospels to life ~ Claire Benton-Evans (Pub. Feb 2013)
Quote “Reading scripture dramatically like this can be wonderfully revealing…exchanges like these can bring to life the noisy, argumentative crowd surrounding Jesus and his disciples…The key ingredient in all these dramas is freshness.”
Overview Reading through I’m enthused!…Claire is good at setting the scene for each drama e.g. for ‘Walking on Water’ she compares the calm of the Lake District to the ‘wicked wind’ in the Jordan valley whipping up a storm on Lake Galilee ‘before you can say man overboard’. Props are kept simple but are effective and the book lacks none of the creativity and freshness that we’ve always loved about a Benton-Evans publication!
A selection of other titles published by KM Feasts and festivals (Aug 2012) Food for Prayer (Dec 2008). She’s also written chapters on Celebrity-obsessed culture, Family breakdown, Sexism, The NHS and Women in the church for Sermons on Difficult Subjects (Aug 2011).
About Claire Claire writes exclusively for Kevin Mayhew. Her consultancy work includes all-age worship workshops and children’s spirituality training for clergy, worship leaders, head teachers and school governors. www.clairebentonevans.com.
25 April 2013 Marham Church C of E Primary School in Cornwall, helping the school to design their own ‘spiritual space’ for the children to use.
11 May 2013 Edinburgh, leading a ‘Taste and See’ day on children’s spirituality and all-age worship for the Church of Scotland.
All mentioned books available from KM Publishing and all good Christian book shops. A free sample of Word Alive! is available on our website:
Rejoice with Me~ Hope for lost sheep~ Annie Heppenstall (pub. 5 March 2013)
Quote “Whether our path is rocky or smooth, the way we respond depends a lot on whether we feel loved or not.”
Overview Annie Shares her personal ups and downs to explore what it is to feel like a ‘lost sheep’. This is an uplifting read covering a lot of ground. It includes lots of imaginative references (Leo Tolstoy’s story about a Russian shoemaker) and great imagery (Annie’s two tatty bookmarks- one of which is a yellowing photocopied sheep!). Great if you’re feeling ‘spiritually sick’ or just want an inspiring pick-me-up.
About Annie Annie is a qualified teacher and has a degree in Theology and Religious Studies from Cambridge University. She has spent the last four years practising a contemplative lifestyle, giving time to her family, to her writing and other creative expressions of spirituality as well as training in spiritual direction and counselling skills.
Other titles published by KM Hiding in God (April 2012)
Both books available from KM Publishing and all good Christian book shops. A free sample of Rejoice with Me is available on our website ()
The Lindisfarne Gospels~ The English Church and Our Multicultural World (Reflections and Liturgical Resources~ Ray Simpson (Pub. Feb 2013)
Quote “I write, not as an expert, but a hungry pilgrim who picks up crumbs left by the experts, finds them life-giving, and shares them with other hungry spiritual seekers.”
Overview Very current/ topical, this slim but packed volume (you’ll have to keep up!) takes you through the history of the Gospels- unravelling the various strands in a colourful and impassioned tone.No expertise on the subject is required (so it’s suitable reading for the layman!) though the resources and liturgies section (which is quite big) lends itself more to those in Celtic ministry.
Ray Simpson is the founding guardian of the international Community of Aidan and Hilda and the principal tutor of its Celtic Christian Studies programme. He sends a daily prayer tweet @whitehouseviews and writes a weekly blog www.raysimpson.org
A selection of other titles published by KM Reflective Services for Lent (Oct 2012) Exploring Celtic Spirituality (Feb 2004). He also has
two chapters on Abstinence and Fraud in More Sermons on difficult subjects (Dec 2012).
All mentioned books available from KM Publishing and all good Christian book shops. A free sample of The Lindisfarne Gospels is available from our website http://www.kevinmayhew.com/the-lindisfarne-gospels.html and The Lindisfarne Gospels Facebook Page www.facebook.com/pages/The-Lindisfarne-Gospels/122422204605486