I'm thrilled to be able to share with you the first recording from last Sunday's concert. The Morning Star, composed for Bethany Hill and choir.
Bethany's luminous voice and exquisite musicality were such a joy to write for. She is an early music specialist and has shared with me recordings of some of the music she most delights in. This music has such life and brightness, so I have tried to write for her with that flavour.
I felt Bethany would love the vibrancy of Hemiola and made changing meter a feature of this song. To me the brightest of modes - the lydian - communicates the exquisite aching beauty of starlight. But because Bethany is a celt I wanted to give her a thread to her musical home, so also drew on the Mixolydian. And I tried to write colatura that was simply her voice dancing.
One of the features of Bethany's beautiful voice is how it just keeps going up and up and up, and I had to consider that to compose for this requires care. If her whole line was stratospheric it wouldn't be obvious, the high needs to come from somewhere (lower obviously) to be brought into relief. (think of how much preparation Mozart gives our ears for the Queen of the Night.)
For the text, the starlight in Bethany's voice, drew me towards the music of the spheres. The ancient idea that the celestial bodies were contained on concentric rings around the earth and these rings move, creating music. This thrilling idea means we are surrounded with music from these spheres, but because it is a constant sound, we don't hear it. Researching this concept led me to text from Walt Whitman. I took several lines from his poem Salut Au Monde and also drew on Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man. I wanted the biblical idea of the morning star as an Angel, and I wanted her singing to be her agency of love for the humans she watches over.
When I wrote for the choir, I tried to convey the sense that the work was a chorale or hymn of the earth. That it was people singing, to their star, and their star singing back to them. I wanted a slight shimmer of dissonance for the humans. We struggle. And now is a time that feels slightly volatile and uncertain. My favourite choral writing is Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil. I am inspired by the way he builds and drops his choral sound - from a roar that fills the entire sky to the tiniest thread of sound - the light of a single candle. It's so thrilling and I relish how he can do this and make it magnificent and not in the least affected.
This wonderful choir was formed for this concert, and I am filled with gratitude for the singers who made this work possible.
Thank you to Ray Thomas and Peter Day for the recording.
The Morning Star
I am the song of the planets turning.
I sing the longest day. I sing the midnight sun
as she turns on slanted rings. I sing the sun.
I am the song of the earth.
I sing the oceans to the shore. I sing the four winds to the far lands
I sing the storm rising in the desert. I sing the earth.
I am the song of the pulsing breath. The lovers’ ballad
The soldier’s oath. The crone’s ancient story
I sing the baby’s sleeping sigh. I sing the breath.
I am the song of the planets turning and I sing the pilgrims home.