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28 December 2008

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22 December 2008
improvisation - a brief Nativity-themed

I joyfully (and dulcily) present the following:

download [3.9 MB]

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19 December 2008 - an open conversation about

At the risk of being too self-involved, we at would like to have an end-of-the-year discussion about the value of the website.

And it boils down to your response to this question: is useful to you? is it just occasionally entertaining?

Or is it just amateurish and embarrassing? The black sheep of the organ music family?

How could we improve? What are we already doing well?

How would you feel about a more collaborative effort between church musicians and other religious professionals?

Your feedback is greatly appreciated any and all of this.


beat - on keeping a steady

He said that his reference to keeping a steady beat had been to one section where other conductors have difficulty, and he had been simply asking the orchestra’s help in keeping it.

Wakin, Daniel J. "Mahler Fan With Baton Cues Unrest in the Ranks". New York Times 17 December 2008.


15 December 2008
Nine Lessons and Carols - a Festival of, 2008 (preview)

Before we preview the 90th service in its entirety, let's check in with yesterday's predictions:

The service will begin with "Once in Royal David's City"

True, it does.

The Peter Warlock setting of "Adam lay ybounden" will be the second carol after the First Lesson

We were close. It's the Ord setting instead

Pearsall's "In dulci jubilo" will follow the Second Lesson

We were close again. It's the Praetorius version.

After the third lesson will be sung the hymn "Unto us is born a Son"


There's a good bet that Howells's "A spotless Rose" will make an appearance after the Fourth Lesson

Yes, that bet is a winner.

The commissioned carol, by Dominic Muldowney, will likely follow the Fifth Lesson


After the the Seventh Lesson, the hymn will likely be "God rest ye merry, gentlemen"

True, it is "God rest ye merry, gentlemen".

Now, a preview of the service as a whole.

The carol after the Bidding Prayer is "If ye would hear the angels sing" by Peter Tranchell. It seems that this carol was just made available by the Church Music Society this year, as it bears a copyright date of 2008. You can view the first page of this carol [PDF - 74 KB] from Oxford University Press.

After the First Lesson appears "Remember, O thou man" by Thomas Ravenscroft. This has become popular as of late, being in three of the last four services. From here we are thrown a curve with the Boris Ord setting of "Adam lay ybounden". We predicted yesterday that this would be Peter Warlock's composition due to a seven year alternation between the two pieces. This slot of the service is the only one to remain completely unchanged from last year.

Following the Second Lesson are Philip Ledger's "Angels from the realms of glory", last sung in 2006, and Praetorius's "In dulci jubilo", last sung a decade ago.

After the dramatic prophecy of the Third Lesson are the medieval carol "Nowell sing we now all and some", last sung in 2000, and the hymn "Unto us is born a Son", last sung in 2005. This hymn selection upholds our theory that Stephen Cleobury has decided to rotate this hymn with "It came upon a midnight clear", last sung 2006, and "O little town of Bethlehem", sung last year. If this theory proves correct, 2008 marks the beginning of the fourth cycle, and the hymn will be next sung in 2011.

Following the Fourth Lesson will be sung "The Lamb" by John Tavener, last heard in 2001, and Herbert Howells's "A spotless Rose", last enjoyed in 2005.

After the Fifth Lesson are the Marian carols. First, Lennox Berkeley's "I sing of a maiden". Berkeley was the first to be commissioned by the college to write a carol specifically for this service in 1983. The last of his carols to be sung was "Look up sweet Babe" which appeared after the Eighth Lesson in 2003. To the best of our knowledge, his "I sing of a maiden" has not been previously sung in this service. The 30-second preview in the iTunes store is enticing.

Next comes the commissioned carol by Dominic Muldowney: "The night when she first gave birth". Muldowney's compositional pedigree is right for this honor. He has studied composition with Jonathan Harvey, who wrote 1994's brooding "The Angels", and Harrison Birtwhistle, who wrote 2003's shimmering "The Gleam". The last commissioned carol to appear after the Fifth Lesson was Robin Holloway's "The Angel Gabriel" in 2002. No commissioned carol has not been sung as the second carol after the Fifth Lesson in at least eleven years.

With the reading of the Sixth Lesson Jesus is born, and he is urged to sleep with Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Wither's Rocking Hymn". Vaughan William's "This is the truth" appears frequently after the first lesson, but this is the first time another work of his will be sung in recent memory. The 50th anniversary of Vaughan Williams's death was commemorated by the King's College Choir throughout this calendar year. This is followed with the 1987 commission, "What sweeter music" by John Rutter, last sung as the bidding carol in 2005. Rutter's "Virgin's Cradle Hymn" was heard last year.

After Stephen Cleobury reads the Seventh Lesson, the choir will sing his arrangement of the Polish carol "Infant holy, Infant lowly". Though this arrangement has not been sung in the past eleven years (and is possibly new), Cleobury has programmed one of his settings every year since 1998. They most often follow the Fifth Lesson, and this will be the first that his arrangement will be sung in the period after his reading. "God rest ye merry, gentlemen" will be the hymn, which was last sung in 2004.

With the Eighth Lesson, the three kings from the east arrive, and the third carol to be commissioned by the college, the first by a female composer, Judith Weir's "Illuminare Jerusalem" is sung. Then, the carol introduced after last year's Bidding Prayer, Alan Bullard's "Glory to the Christ Child", brings the bulk of the service to a rousing finish.

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14 December 2008
Nine Lessons and Carols - a Festival of, 2008 (predictions)

After a couple good years of early PDF release online, the King's College site has not delivered the goods we were hoping for this year . . . yet.

That being said, there's no time like the present for idle speculation.

We at predict the following:

The service will begin with "Once in Royal David's City", just as it has since 1918. (odds: 4,328,752 to 1)

The Peter Warlock setting of "Adam lay ybounden" will be the second carol after the First Lesson. A setting of this text has occupied this position every year since 1998. Since 2001, the settings have alternated between Warlock and Boris Ord. If the pattern holds, 2008 would appear to be a Warlock year.

Pearsall's "In dulci jubilo" will follow the Second Lesson most likely as the second carol. We could be wrong on this, but a setting of this text has been sung after the Second Lesson in seven out of the past eleven services (63.6% of the time). Six of those (85.7%) been composed by R. L. de Pearsall; the remaining setting was by Michael Praetorius.

Other possible locations for "In dulci jubilo" would be after Eric Milner-White's bidding prayer, the Third Lesson, or the Sixth Lesson.

After the third lesson will be sung the hymn "Unto us is born a Son". Starting in 1999 Stephen Cleobury seems to have begun a three-year pattern of hymns at this point, the other two hymns being "It came upon a midnight clear" and "O little town of Bethlehem". This year, the cycle begins again at the beginning. Or, if this trend was a coincidence, we may have no idea what we're talking about.

There's a good bet that Howells's "A spotless Rose" will make an appearance after the Fourth Lesson. The piece last appeared in 2005. Although a three-year "spotlessless" interval would not be unheard of as one occurred from 2002-2004.

A carol mentioning "rose" in the first line has been included at this point in the service at every service in recent memory, including an "A spotless Rose" setting by Philip Ledger, a former Director of Music at King's.

Notably, this Howells carol-anthem is the only one his his to appear in the service recently. The other two Howells has composed are "Here is the little Door" and "Sing lullaby".

The commissioned carol, by Dominic Muldowney, will likely follow the Fifth Lesson, as we have previously reported.

The carols after the Sixth Lesson seem to have the most variability. In the past eleven years, only one carol has been repeated, Roxanna Panufnik's "Sleep little Jesus".

After the the Seventh Lesson, the hymn will likely be "God rest ye merry, Gentlemen", but it could also be "While shepherds watched their flocks by night". We find the latter choir unlikely since it would mark the fourth year in a row this hymn would be sung. These two hymns seem to be the only two possibilities at this point.

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13 December 2008
Advent - pink!

For what we believe is the first time in this website's illustrious history, has turned pink for the third week of Advent.


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12 December 2008
china shop - minotaur

You read that correctly.

And it's awesome.


11 December 2008
2008 - NPR's best classical CDs of

Organist Cameron Carpenter's CD "Revolutionary" is among those improv-tinged records that make up NPRs list of the best classical CDs of 2008.

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10 December 2008
Messiaen, Olivier - 100th anniversary of the birth of

Spend some time with the French master today:

I, for one, will be observing not just a day, but a year of Messiaen (mostly because I haven't learned enough yet).

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08 December 2008
Muldowney, Dominic - composer of the commissioned carol for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College Cambridge

The order of service for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge is likely to be released this week. Last year, was able to bring you a run down of the service on Tuesday 11 December.

While the service was not online as of this printing, the following information about this year's commissioned carol has been released:

This year the commission has gone to the British composer Dominic Muldowney. Muldowney has written extensively for film and television, including scores for 1984 (1984), Sharpe's Eagle (1993) and King Lear (1997). He has also written concert pieces, including a piano concerto and a saxophone concerto, and he has worked with pop musicians such as Sting and David Bowie. For this year's carol Muldowney has used an early text by Berthold Brecht about the Virgin Mary.

Wikipedia has a Muldowney article.

As a carol with a Marian text, it is highly likely that this work will follow the Fifth Lesson. In 2002, a carol commissioned from Robin Holloway beginning with the text "The angel Gabriel descended to a Virgin" immediately followed the Fifth Lesson. This was the last commissioned carol utilizing a Marian text.

In that same service, the Holloway carol was followed by the popular "Bogoroditse Djevo" by Arvo Pärt which was commissioned by King's College in 1990. It has been performed three times in the past eleven years, most recently at last year's service.

Also in Wikipedia since August of this year: an article entitled "list of carols performed at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College Chapel, Cambridge".

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05 December 2008
Rosetti, Christina - Advent poem

Conjubilant with Song points us to Christina Rossetti's Advent poem:

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
  These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
  And still their flame is strong.
'Watchman, what of the night?' we cry,
  Heart-sick with hope deferred:
'No speaking signs are in the sky,'
  Is still the watchman's word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
  The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
  The prize is slow to win.
'Watchman, what of the night?' But still
  His answer sounds the same:
'No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
  Nor pale our lamps of flame.'

One to another hear them speak
  The patient virgins wise:
'Surely He is not far to seek'—
  'All night we watch and rise.'
'The days are evil looking back,
  The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
  But watch and wait for Him.'

One with another, soul with soul,
  They kindle fire from fire:
'Friends watch us who have touched the goal.'
  'They urge us, come up higher.'
'With them shall rest our waysore feet,
  With them is built our home,
With Christ.'—'They sweet, but He most sweet,
  Sweeter than honeycomb.'

There no more parting, no more pain,
  The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
  Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
  Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
  With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
  We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
  And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast, Who wept
  For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
  He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
  We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
  And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
  Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, 'Arise, My love,
  My fair one, come away.'

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04 December 2008
girls - defending the organ's reputation from pre-teen

This weekend, I performed a noon-time half-hour organ recital. There were many people downtown, mostly families with children, seeing the sights, and preparing for the lighting of the city that evening.

I went outside to get a bit of fresh air a few minutes before showtime. The day had warmed up nicely. It might have been 40 or 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

I was standing next to a sidewalk sign advertising the recital. A young family rounded the bend and a girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old, sees the sign.

She laughs incredulously, "organ!"

Slightly offended, and not knowing what else to do I said, "yes, I'm playing a recital in a few minutes if you want to come by."

"Okay," she says, looking down at the sidewalk.

I went back inside and started the recital. She never showed up.


03 December 2008
Chabon, Michael - early music proponent?

Is Michael Chabon a vocal proponent of early music in American public schools? Or is he merely a nescient novelist?

Our children need training and encouragement and support—they need rehearsal space and tempera paint and bass violins.

"Postamble" to the Obama campaign's arts platform. Emphasis added.

On Remixing Obama: This sort of personal emendation seems to fit in nicely with's new copyright policy

The term bass violin refers to what is literally a large violin, not a cello or double bass (or contrabass, if you like). A bass violin is an "early music" instrument like a violone.

Chabon would likely have Obama convert innocuous elementary school orchestras into elite period instrument ensembles replete with gambas, recorders (non-plastic, one would assume), theorbos and sackbuts.

The breathy offerings of school choirs would transmogrify into straight-tone prepubescent polyphony.

Now that's the kind of wealth I like to spread.

On classical music and instrument terminology: Prepared piano is really a "modded" piano.

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02 December 2008
Batman - cathedral burial of

You are probably aware of the recent speculation that Batman is probably dead.

Looking for further information, we at are pleased to bring you this EXCLUSIVE REPORT:

While we can neither confirm nor deny the death of Batman, we have ascertained that will be buried in an English Cathedral.

Photos now reveal that his final resting place is a newly erected watery tomb in Salisbury Cathedral.


01 December 2008
Dean, Brett - winner of 2008 Grawemeyer Music Prize

Brett Dean, the composer of last year's commissioned carol for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge has just been awarded the Grawemeyer Music Prize.

The order of service for this year's service is expected to be published online in the next two weeks.

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