Music for Sunday 3rd December: Advent 1 (Year B)

The readings for this Sunday are:

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-8, 18-20
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Serious stuff. Repentance is a theme in Isaiah and the Psalm; 1 Corinthians is more encouraging, and the Gospel reading is about keeping awake.

If you’re of a Marian bent you could use the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which is the Marian antiphon used from Advent to Candlemas. There’s a setting by Isabella Leonarda available on CPDL; here’s a Youtube recording of it sung by women, rather than the SATB:

[external link: Alma Redemptoris Mater by Isabelle Leonarda, on Youtube]

If Advent carol services and processions are more your thing, you could sing Stephanie Martin’s Legend of the Bird, a carol in the form of a conversation with a robin about the return of Christ. It’s available to order from Cypress Choral Music, and here it is on Soundcloud:

[external link: Legend of the Bird by Stephanie Martin, on Soundcloud]

Finally, my own setting of “Advent” by Christina Rosetti is available from Lulu or CPDL, and here’s a demo recording of it on YouTube:

[external link: Advent by Kathryn Rose, on Youtube]

There are also arrangements by women of various traditional Advent tunes; these are in some ways beyond the remit of Cecilia’s List, but the two that spring to mind are O Come O Come Emmanuel arranged by Sheena Phillips, and Es kommt ein Schiff, geladen by Sigrid Schultz-Kokerbeck. I’m intrigued by the text for the latter — there’s more information at good old Wikipedia but no English translation there, and my German is pretty shaky; however, I did find this blog post from 2013 with an English translation.

New music this week: Judith Clingan, Sheena Phillips and Sakari Dixon

Today I am mostly on a train from Aberdeen to London.

I’ve still been able to add a bit of new music to the site, though. So, check out the Christmas page for music by Judith Clingan, the Lent page for another piece by Sheena Phillips and the Eucharist page for some Sheena Phillips and a piece by Sakari Dixon.

I’ve found or had suggested a few other composers this week, which is great: keep the suggestions coming! In the meantime, be sure to check back on Thursday for repertoire suggestions for Advent 1.

Signal Boost: the Ossia Project

Ossia Project is:

a crowd-sourced micro-commissioning fund. We work with our subscribers to create regular, accessible opportunities for composers, to support the creation of new works. Ossia project currently commissions one composer each month, with an emphasis on female composers, composers with disabilities, composers of color, and other composer groups that have historically faced barriers in accessing opportunities in new music.

Their current call for scores is for piano pieces, 2-6 minutes in duration, and expires 15th December 2017.

Music for Sunday 26th November: Christ the King (Year A)

It’s the very last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year this Sunday: Christ the King. For year A, the readings are:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100 or Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Amy Beach set “All hail the power of Jesu’s name” as an anthem for SATB and piano or organ. You can download the score from MusOpen. It’s pretty straightforward and rather dramatic, but it does require a good top A of your sopranos. I haven’t found a recording of it yet, though, so if you know of one then do drop me a line in comments.

The hymn tune CRIMOND is also by a woman (I only found this out on Tuesday!), Jessie Seymour Irvine; so if you’ll be singing “The Lord’s my shepherd”, as well you might with that Old Testament reading, and you have no other music by women, then CRIMOND is a good and reliable choice of tune; and it’s in most hymnals (sometimes attributed to David Grant), and very well-known.

Signal Boost: Multitude of Voyces hymn tune composing competition

Multitude of Voyces have a hymn-tune composing competition. The deadline is 11th December, so if you’re a dab hand at writing hymn tunes, do have a look and enter.

Multitude of Voyces invites submissions for its inaugural hymn-tune composing competition.

Multitude of Voyces exists to support Inclusive Community through music with underrepresented, underutilised, vulnerable or marginalised communities. This competition is part of a project which aims to raise the profile of and provide new opportunities for women composers, writers and performers involved in Anglican worship.

The competition is open to those who identify as women composers (hereafter known as women composers) of any nationality and age. The hymn-tune should be written for SATB voices with organ/piano accompaniment and should be suitable for an SATB congregation to sing without rehearsal. The tune should be suitable to be sung to the words Sing a New Church by Sister Delores Dufner OSB.

There is no entry fee.

Learn more about the competition, and about Multitude of Voyces generally, at the Multitude of Voyces website.

Saint Cecilia and the Patriarchy

I recently had a sabbatical year in which I did a fair amount of “church hopping” — visiting a different church every week. One of the things that I noticed was that there was almost no music by women: occasionally I might encounter some Judith Bingham or Judith Weir at a cathedral service, but the frequency of music composed by women, and acknowledged as such, tended to be less than one piece a month. This is a sorry state of affairs, but I honestly believe it’s more the result of disorganisation than malice. People choose the music that’s already in their libraries, they choose the music that fits the lectionary they follow, they choose the music that worked in their context three years or six years ago. This is not because they’re trying to exclude anyone who isn’t a dead white man, but because doing anything else is extra work.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

St Cecilia was given in marriage to a young man, Valerian; but she had taken a vow of virginity. So on her wedding night she told her pagan husband that she was defended by an angel who would guard her purity. The next details are… fuzzy, but Cecilia kept her virginity, Valerian converted to Christianity, and so did his brother Tibertius. Eventually both brothers were martyred; Cecilia continued to make conversions by her preaching, and the authorities wanted her to shut up.

Cecilia was sentenced to death by suffocation in the baths, but reportedly even after a day and a night locked in the bathhouse with the fires being stoked vigorously, she didn’t even sweat. So they tried to behead her instead, but… it wasn’t possible to decapitate her. She kept preaching — and, I like to think, singing — for three days before finally dying from her wounds.

Traditionally she is the patron saint of music because she was “singing to God in her heart” at her wedding, but I think there is something more in the story than that: it shows the mission of God being more important, and more enduring, than worldly fashions or patriarchal duties or just the inertia of complying with the established order of things.

It’s really good to have this site up and running, and what I want to do here is to shift the established order of things a little; to make it easier for people who want to get away from the same, fairly exclusive music choices, to do so; to remove some of the extra work that is a barrier for so many. I also want to encourage and support composers of church music who happen not to be men. Exactly how that plays out (see what I did there?) will depend on the general direction that the site takes.

So far I’ve added some music by Stephanie Martin, Carlotta Ferrari, Hannah Kendall, Jenni Pinnock, Sheena Phillips, Helen Williams, and some of my own pieces. The quantity of really high-quality stuff out there is frankly staggering and I have at times in the last few weeks felt a little overwhelmed with trying to document it all! So, my plan is to add some more each week, and I’ll do a blog post each Tuesday when I do. The thing that has taken the most time so far is hunting down the various bits of internet where different people have scores to purchase or download, and recordings; it will help me a lot if people use the music submission form. I haven’t figured out what I’m doing about organ music yet, or about arrangements of existing music.

Other regular blog posts are going to be on Thursdays, when I make music recommendations for the coming Sunday’s worship, and Saturdays, which will be for other types of content: interviews, discussion of issues faced by women in church music, signal-boosting projects that are of potential interest.

I’m bound to make errors, so do poke around and see if you can catch a typo; many thanks to those of you who’ve already caught one. I don’t want this to be just people who are friends of mine, so please do tell people you know about it: I’m going on about this a bit, but it really is important and it isn’t something I can do. Similarly, there will be music I don’t know about, so tell me about that too.

And sing like nobody is cutting your head off.

Carlo Saraceni - The Martyrdom of St Cecilia. An angel defends a woman dressed in red from a man with a sword; sheet music and musical instruments are scattered on the ground

…and we’re off!



All systems are go! Well, very nearly.

I’m still editing the pages for Eucharist and Evensong, but as of 00.01 on 22nd November, the pages for Advent, Christmas, Easter and Lent are live! Do have a look around, and let me know what you think.

I am starting small with this so there are only a handful of composers so far, but I’ll be adding new music every week.

Addendum: As of 00:55, Eucharist and Evensong are live too. I’m tired enough to be making really silly mistakes, but tomorrow I’ll do some posts featuring some of my favourite music from this first selection, highlight some other initiatives that are relevant to women in church music, and maybe even make some silly pictures.

From the Page to the Voice

In From the choir stalls to the altar, Madeleine Davies of the Church Times hears about the former glories of the Anglican sacred choral tradition, and efforts to revive it. It’s a piece worth reading, not least because it recognises some of the social changes that have had an impact on choral singing, and especially children’s choirs, and makes some recommendations for how to proceed from here.

But I’ll admit I also went on a bit of a rant about it on Twitter. The idea of revitalizing and renewing choral singing, and especially children’s choral singing, is so very important! Yes, we need to encourage this work! But rebuilding a sacred choral tradition must look forward as well as back. Of course there have been widespread societal changes; but it’s not enough to say “but we had choirs before” and blame telly and football and higher divorce rates and a different school set-up. That’s not, in fact, what the article is doing at all, thankfully, but it does seem to paint a picture of a glorious bygone age and suggest that we can return to that by spending a little bit of money on music, or finding the magical “right person” for a post.

The article does mention that running a children’s choir requires resources, but I think it glosses over the difference between what many churches have available to spend now, and what the standard was a hundred or even fifty years ago. For example, it was once fairly common practice to pay choristers for singing, not just in cathedrals, but in many parish churches too. It was often only a token payment, but it still said “your time is valuable to us” and that’s important. I’m not sure when that practice stopped, but I am sure it could help with the problems of patchy attendance that so often cause problems for choirs today. Another example: there used to be various organist posts with tied housing, and a salary, and paid assistants (yes, that’s plural); many of the same churches now don’t pay enough per year to put you over the income tax threshold, and I have no idea what happened to the housing. But training as an organist hasn’t gotten any cheaper, and fitting the work around a day job is more possible for some than others. I don’t mean to be discouraging: music is always worth an investment of resources. But it’s important to be realistic about what sort of resources were once made available, and make sure our expectations match what we’re putting in, not our nostalgia for how things once were.

Now let’s talk repertoire. Let’s talk about not just picking up where you left off and singing the sacred choral classics of 50 or 100 years ago, or indeed 400 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff, but we need to be singing new work too, and it needs to be normal.

And while you’re thinking about that, think about what has happened to the publishing world in the last 30-50 years, especially small publishers that do niche deadtree publishing. Sheet music publishers, in other words. They’re feeling a lot of economic pressure. So they’re mostly publishing music they know will sell; but most churches aren’t buying much sheet music these days. That means it’s harder for new composers to get published; that in turn means we put our work online instead, which is great but honestly, who wades through that? Many of the composers don’t have their work arranged liturgically, and every website is different.

This is partly where Cecilia’s List comes in, of course: highlighting music by women, who are massively under-represented in the standard sacred choral repertoire. Why is this? It’s because for all the resources thrown at that beloved tradition, girls didn’t get to sing as much.

Maybe they got to sing in the parish choir, but by the time cathedrals would have them, there were fewer services and fewer choirs. And then when (if!) they got to university there was little place for them in the college chapel choirs. And the ones good enough to go on and sing in cathedrals? Not allowed until relatively recently.

You can crunch it however you like, but the fact remains that girls and women were sidelined under that tradition which people are so keen to rekindle, and recent changes, made in the context of ever-diminishing resources, have been tiny. So of course fewer of them composed sacred music; and of course many of those who did, lacked the professional contacts to have their work sung. And so we come to a situation where in over a year of weekly churchgoing, I heard only a handful of works composed by women. The vast majority of services I attend include only music written by men.

I can’t solve the resourcing problem: that’s a challenge the whole church has to face together. The Church Times article has some great examples of the sorts of things that can be done with children’s choirs, and I absolutely agree that if you’re going to throw resources at sacred music, children’s choirs are usually a great place to start.

I can’t convince those who will hear no criticism of the inherited tradition that they should not content themselves with only singing work that is composed by white men, most of them old or dead. People are mostly polite about it, but I have had a few people tell me, in all seriousness, that singing music by women doesn’t matter because we have girls in choirs now, or that they only select music by quality and not by gender. I’m certain that such people mean well…. but, as Rosemary Field of the RSCM is quoted in the article that prompted this post, with reference to children’s taste in music, “…actually, they are only exposed to what they are exposed to. If they have not seen all the choices, then you get a skewed answer.” I respectfully submit that the same applies to gender balance.

But for those who do want to make a difference, for those who cherish our inherited sacred choral tradition and also want to do better, for those who truly want all humanity’s voices heard in all parts of the church? I can make choosing music a bit easier. I’ll be starting small, but adding new works each week will mean that eventually, Cecilia’s List will become a substantial and significant resource. Hopefully, people will use it; hopefully, the balance will begin to shift; hopefully the times when I attend a service with four to eight pieces of music and all of them by men will become the exception, rather than the rule.

But it’s a big task, and I can’t do it alone, even slowly. Please help me if you can. Please follow this blog. Please suggest some music — your own or someone else’s. Please tell someone who’s involved in church music about the work I’ll be doing here.

Thank you.

Saint Cecilia by Artemisia Gentileschi: a woman in a golden dress plays the lute

Attention, Composers!

It turns out there are a lot of composers who want to be involved in this project! I’ve heard from so many of you, from people who’ve written one hymn or anthem, to people whose music is sung or played regularly and have agents to handle communicating with projects like this.

This is really good news and I am keeping a list of every suggestion and request from composers and non-composers alike. I want this to be as useful and relevant a resource as possible, and comprehensive information is really important for that.

That said: I am a PhD student, and a composer myself, with all the workload that involves. Out of necessity, I’m going to have to start small with this site, and gradually build it up. I’ve already received more suggestions than I can possibly include before the launch date of 22nd November, especially when I need to go to multiple websites and sift through catalogues in a variety of formats. This is exactly the problem I’m trying to solve for people who choose music for church services!

To help streamline the data collection process, I’ve made a music submission page where you can suggest works for inclusion in the directory.

In the meantime, between now and 22nd November I will focus on making sure there are some works referenced in every one of the starting categories (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Eucharist and Evensong), so that the site will be useful for people who are choosing music. After that, I will be adding new music every week, and new categories as necessary.

We’re not quite ready yet, but watch this space…

Coming 22nd November, 2017:

  • an ever-growing catalogue of works by women composers, suitable for use in churches
  • weekly recommendations of church music composed by women
  • interviews with composers

St. Cecilia with female donors, Cologne, 1525-1530, stained glass - Museum SchnĆ¼tgen - Cologne, Germany - DSC09732

Cecilia’s List is a new website to promote sacred music composed by women and members of other under-represented communities. The project is conceived and run by Kathryn Rose, a PhD student in choral composition at the University of Aberdeen and organist at St Andrew’s Leytonstone in East London from 2010 to 2016.

Named for St Cecilia, the patron saint of music and church musicians, the site will launch on her feast day on 22nd November 2017 with a catalogue of works by a selection of women composers, organised seasonally. Over time it will expand to include week-by-week recommendations matched to the lectionary.

Music by women is often sidelined in the English sacred choral tradition because of practical barriers to introducing new music and the administrative challenge of finding pieces suitable for particular occasions. It’s possible to attend church weekly for months without hearing any work by women composers. Cecilia’s List will mean that from 22nd November, people who want to include music by women in church services will find it easier to do so.