Scarborough Fair

Complexity Level: moderate for a community group

Parts: SSAA

Genre: English Folk Song

Deets: C natural minor (some dorian moments) 3/4


Here's what it sounds like when my computer sings it!

One day in composition class,  I overheard a particularly talented young student objecting to  feedback that his writing was difficult to play and should be more accessible. This student said he wanted to write what he wanted to write and would select musicians who could play his work. His music was full of exciting promise so I imagine he will forge a career writing wonderfully for elite musicians who will enjoy his challenging music.

It made me think though. There are important reasons to write simple, accessible music. 

Firstly if  composers write simple music that is good, community choristers can enjoy the benefits of singing beautifully written work. Why should elite musicians get all the fun? 

Secondly it takes skill and discipline to create simple, good music. It requires significant craft and creativity. (if I do say so myself lol!) It is a way for composers to improve.

One of these skills is learning what makes tunes tuneful. If you only write for musicians who can read whatever music you put in front of them, you never need to learn what is catchy and what isn't. I'm a sucker for a tune, and I am incredibly grateful for the experience of having written for folks who don't read and learn by ear. There is so much more for me to learn - but the little I do know about tunefulness I have learnt from writing for community choirs.

Enjoy Scarborough Fair. Originally arranged for a high school girl's quartet. I wondered about putting it all in dorian (all the A's being naturals) but I liked the way using this just sometimes gave a little more texture to the piece. I also suspect 6/8 would be a more honest time signature, but I thought it would be easier to read in 3/4. I'm sure you'll feel the lilt as soon as you sing it.

The Day Report

This week I have been thinking about who the characters are who will tell the story. When I first put the text together I had a sense of the poetry - following the shape of the day, but I didn't have any sense of the people the story was about. For the last few weeks I've been getting clear in my head who will sing this and why. You've met The Wu who is narrator- a contralto. The protagonist is a warrior - who will be a young man (ie tenor) for the first half of the piece, and an old man (ie baritone) in the afternoon and night. The 'woman' might need a more interesting persona, she will be a soprano and is the warrior's lover. 

I'm really pleased with how adding the characters has helped shape the text.


At dawn a fruitful mist is spread over the earth.  upon the fields

drawn from the ever flowing rivers, raised above the earth by wind storm.


The twilight of the dawn - the first birds wake. the music of my dreams.

I wake softly. I sweep the earth and wait


Days are a great blessing to men on earth.

Far far off the day break call . Let us go forth in the bold day



Give me a task

Here are the arm, the leg, the strength, the sinews of a man.


Plough in the season for Ploughing this is the law of the plains

First sharpen your sickle. This is the law of the plains

strip to sow and strip to plough and strip to reap. This is the law of the lands.



Be at ease with me.

Not til the sun excludes you, do I exclude you.

Not til the water refuses to glisten and the leaves to rustle for you

Do my words refuse to glisten and rustle for you.


Something opens our wings. Someone fills the cup in for us.

We love to sit on this mountain. To hear our thoughts conversing with the sky.

what a wilderness the world appears!



Go walking the world, the real. go. Set your feet on undiscovered ways.


The road goes on and on.

I ask you where you are going. you answer “ask no questions”

White clouds pass. Not knowing all over the sky.

You came spinning out of nothingness, Scattering stars like dust.



silence runs through the trees. Sky above. The lonesome stretch, the silence.


A mountain keeps an echo deep inside

that’s how I hold your voice.



Treading on forbidden ground. daring as we go the unknown places.


I climb the towers and towers. the wide desert. Desolate, desolate fields


The long deep wind through the Yumen Pass. where the Horde now prowls Lake Kokonor.

Impatient, full of action tramping with the foremost. the army with their drums and their kettle drums.



No man has seen a soldier come back from these ancient plans of war.


Wandering our way through these shores

amid the shadows. Amidst the storm we sing

and the stars hear and the sea hears.


Suddenly an old song fills my heart with home. Suddenly an old song fills my eyes with tears.



Be still and let the dark come. Be still and let the dark come upon you.


In the night I cannot see, where the stream becomes a river

where the river meets the ocean, where the ocean becomes the sky.



In the quiet of chill winter's night your voice comes hushed to me

We planned to shake the world together. You and I.


I sang his name instead of a song. Over and over I sang his name .

Backwards and forwards I sang. All the song was his name.



walking out into the silence under the trees

and through the fields -A voice comes to my soul


lift your foot cross over. know the place. the emptiness


lift your foot cross over. know the place. the emptiness