Report from the Great Christmas Giveway

A few weeks before Christmas, in fact a very few weeks before Christmas, we gave away free copies of David Truslove’s There Is No Rose for SSA to the first choir that asked for them. That choir had to undertake to perform the piece during the Christmas period, which would mean learning it from scratch in a very short space of time.

St Wilfrid’s Church choir in Bognor Regis stepped up for the challenge, performing the piece twice including at their Midnight Mass. Their director Janine Willard takes up the story:

After securing free copies of Truslove’s There is no rose, generously given to us at St Wilfrid’s, Bognor, we were really keen to make a really good go of the piece. Initially some of the singers had thought it would be impossible to sing; we were only 2 or 3 per part, and the piece contains more than one tricky moment. We spent a lot of time having separate rehearsals from the tenors and basses, so we could really work on learning it in properly. Some of the singers found that the piece was not to their taste, but as we learned it, and the harmonies became familiar, their opinion started to change. By the time we performed the piece for our Nine Lessons and Carols service, as well as Midnight Mass, all the singers really enjoyed it. We did draft in an extra voice each in the end, just to give the singers a little more confidence, and at both services, it came off beautifully, but particularly at Midnight Mass, where there were many comments afterwards regarding the beauty of the piece, as well as the delivery by the singers. We will be looking out for more Truslove!

Did someone say “Looking out for more Truslove”? Look no further!

Our thanks to Janine for writing about the choir’s experience, and also to the singers themselves for taking the bull by the horns and learning the piece in the time available. It’s a beautiful piece which obviously went down well with the Bognor Regis congregations, thanks to their efforts.

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Music for education – a call for pieces

This year it is our intention at the Chichester Music Press to extend our catalogue into educational music. We already have a strong corpus of liturgical choral music, and while we will continue to bring new music to that genre, we will also be publishing music for the use of schools or of individual pupils.

This post is therefore a general call for pieces, and it’s aimed really at music educators who are also composers. If you know anyone who might be interested, please do direct them here.

We are already preparing James Humberstone‘s The Riemann Hypothesis for publication; it’s a huge-scale piece for 500 string players, all of them students, running the gamut from beginner to advanced. But we are also interested in music on a much smaller scale.

Do you write music for your students and pupils? Have you ever thought of trying to bring it to a wider audience? Maybe you have a talented chamber group at your school, a string quartet perhaps, that you’ve written music for. Or have you written songs, or larger pieces like musicals, for your school choir? The idea is, if it’s useful for your people in your setting, chances are it’ll be useful to similar groups elsewhere, and our aim is to facilitate that sharing process.

If we publish your music in this way, you will join our growing number of published composers, and you’ll earn royalties on music sold.

If you want to test the water, please email a sample of your music. We’re not promising to publish everything submitted, of course, but we’ll certainly have a very good look at everything. Scores can be sent as Sibelius files or PDF files, or get in touch if you want to ask about other file formats. Or you can send music on paper by post. Get in touch also if you have any queries at all.

Good luck!

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The Chichester Music Press Great Christmas Giveaway

And I do mean great!

We’ve been churning out Christmas piece after Christmas piece for a long time now, most recently Reuben Thomas’s Jesus’ Lullaby, and even though Christmas is getting very close these pieces are still finding performers (Jesus’ Lullaby is being performed in Paris on 19th December).

Our latest publication, however, is cutting it rather fine even by our standards, and it would be a confident choir that took it on at this late stage. It’s David Truslove’s There Is No Rose for unaccompanied SSA (not to be confused with his other recent setting of the same words for SATB and semichorus).

We are offering a free set of copies to the first choir to undertake to perform this new SSA setting of There Is No Rose this Christmas.

So if you know a choir that’s up to the challenge of learning a new piece in the remaining few weeks before the big day, please point them here. It’s only 3 minutes’ worth of music, filling 3 pages of score, and it’s not terribly hard so it should be doable, if you get on with it!

There are a couple of rules:

  1. You must perform the piece in public, either in a service or a concert, in the Christmas season of 2013.
  2. You can have no more than 30 copies free. Additional copies are £1.20 each. (Naturally you can’t take the free ones and photocopy any shortfall because that’s illegal and unfair, and you’re not that kind of person anyway.)
  3. If you’re based in the UK, you won’t have to pay postage either. If you’re based outside the UK, we’ll ask you to cover the postage charge, whatever that turns out to be.
  4. Please consider writing about the performance, and the process of learning the piece prior to the performance, for this blog. Include a couple of photos if you can. It’ll be really interesting to hear of your experiences.
  5. Only one choir can benefit from this offer. So email info@chichestermusicpress.co.uk now to stake your claim.
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NotateMe – preparing scores with your finger on a mobile phone

About six weeks ago, I asked Neuratron for some technical support about their Photoscore product. Their CEO Martin Dawe, as well as sorting out my Photoscore problem, invited me to test out NotateMe, an app for Android (and now iOS) which lets you write music out with your finger on your phone’s screen, and while you’re writing it, translates your squiggles into real music. It uses, no doubt, some of the wizardry behind Photoscore, which can read music from graphics files and convert it into a format that music processing software like Sibelius can use.

Now it wasn’t very long ago that there was talk of a similar app for iOS which would let you do exactly what NotateMe now does. There was a very glossy video ‘demonstrating’ the app. Some eagle-eyed viewers noticed one or two things slightly amiss, however, and one was moved to ask if they’d had permission to use Sibelius’s fonts in their app. And then the truth began to come out, over a two-week period, that the app didn’t actually exist yet, and the video demonstrating it had been mocked up in Sibelius and other bits of software. Then followed a crowdsourcing attempt which didn’t reach its target, and people began to feel that it was a pipe dream, and that the whole idea was ridiculously far-fetched and not really achievable. The app itself meanwhile is promised for this autumn, which is now.

NotateMe

Neuratron’s NotateMe

So when, right on schedule, an app doing the same job appeared from different quarters, and familiar quarters at that, it amused me a little. But unlike the other lot, Neuratron has form, and I was more than willing to trust their handiwork and pay a discount £9.99 to beta test it.

I’m really glad I did. My head swims a little, I must admit, when I think of how wincingly complex a job translating hand-written data into music is, but NotateMe is surprisingly good at it.

To start off with, NotateMe analyses your handwriting, gradually building up a picture of your own personal way of doing it. But even while it’s still doing that, you can just start writing. You add the instruments you want to your score, change the clef and time signature if necessary from the ones supplied, and then write in your key signature with your finger, and start putting the notes in. As you write, NotateMe works out what you’re writing, and transcribes it onto another stave above the one you’re writing in.

There Is No Rose

There Is No Rose, with my index-finger-on-small-screen effort below, and NotateMe’s transcription above. (NotateMe picks up triplets even when you don’t explicitly label them, as in the first 3/4 bar here.)

It doesn’t get everything right of course, and even if it did you’d still need the facility to edit what you’ve done in case the mistake is yours. You can add more marks to make things clearer if necessary, or you can delete things, move things, copy & paste things about the score or whatever you need to do. When you’ve finished, you can export your score as MusicXML and import it from there into Sibelius or whatever you’re using.

A lot of thought has gone into using the space available on a small screen, and there’s a certain amount of compromising to be done. You can opt either to have a small input area and see more musical context around it, or have a bigger input area and not see so much context. In my experience on a 4.3 inch HTC One S, using a big input area in portrait mode is the best solution. Your mileage may vary. Also, I’ve been using my finger, but if you have a stylus, or a device with a bigger screen, you should find things even easier than I did.

In my tests, NotateMe performed well from the beginning. I found some problems, to be sure, for example NotateMe not recognising some things that to a human eye were perfectly clear, but the bug reports I sent (there’s a facility in the app that makes reporting them easy) were acted upon very quickly by Neuratron, and sometimes a new build was released, fixing the bug, on the same day. But the bits that went wrong were easily outnumbered by the bits that went right, and with each new build it got better and better.

Once I felt that I’d learnt enough about the software, and that it had learnt enough about me, and knowing that real-world testing is more useful to software developers than directionless fiddling, I decided to try to prepare a piece for publication using NotateMe for the note input phase. If it passed muster even in its beta testing period, that would be an excellent sign for the future.

Ties

NotateMe knows where your ties should end, even if you’re not careful about it.

Well, it did, and the result is David Truslove’s There Is No Rose, a 9-page piece for choir and semichorus (or solo quartet), with all eight parts written out by my index finger on a 4″ screen. After the notes had gone in I exported the score as MusicXML and imported into Sibelius to carry on (adding the text, producing the piano reduction and generally laying out the score).

This must surely make There Is No Rose pretty much the first published piece in the world to have been prepared for publication in this way, but I’m convinced there’ll be many others as the technology, already extremely promising, matures and develops. Neuratron already has plans for new features in NotateMe, including the ability to input notes by singing them into the phone!

I’m not suggesting of course that putting the notes in in NotateMe is faster than doing the same thing in Sibelius – far from it. But if you’d find it handy to be able to do your note input on the move – on a train, say, or on a beach – I can say that NotateMe is working extremely well here! Hats of to Martin Dawe and everyone at Neuratron. I am in awe, and am delighted that we’re in at the beginning of this new era in music processing technology.

Start here to try it out: http://neuratron.com/notateme.html

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A Royal Blessing – John Hosking

About ten days ago John Hosking sent me a short choral piece which he’d been inspired to write in the wake of the birth of Prince George. In view of the topical nature of the piece it seemed appropriate to drop everything to publish it. It hit the stands two days later as A Royal Blessing.

The following day John recorded the piece in St Asaph Cathedral. You can listen to the recording and view the score, as well as order copies, here.

No piece of idle sycophancy this, the words are inspired by the extraordinary media excitement that greeted Prince George as compared with the anonymity of the birth of that other prince 2,000 years ago, and by the common humanity shared by prince and pauper.

May God’s blessing be yours for ever,
may he hold you in his arms,
and embrace you with his love,
and guide you in truth and righteousness
all the days of your life.

May the Lord protect you as you journey
through all the trials of life,
keeping God within your sight;
remembering to act with wisdom
through faith in Christ Jesus.

All glory to God the Father,
and to the Son, Jesus Christ,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning
is now and shall be for ever.
Amen.

Daily Post article

The paparazzi can’t get enough of our John

Well, in the last few days John himself has found himself the object of media attention, though possibly not quite in the same measure as Prince George. The Daily Post printed an article about the piece, and Heart Radio will be recording an interview with him soon. Meanwhile the piece itself is to be broadcast by BBC Radio Cornwall. Details to follow.

Once the dust has settled we’ll be sending some copies of A Royal Blessing to the royal household. We’ll see what they make of it.

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Tolling Bells, Rolling Hills

This year is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Chichester Society, a group that exists to protect the ancient form and character of the city.

They are holding a 40th birthday concert as part of the Festival of Chichester, to be given by a local string quartet called The Quillet Quartet, which was founded in 2010. I was asked if I would compose a piece for them to play at the concert.

Programme cover

Programme cover

The brief was that the piece, which should last around 8 minutes, should explore themes linked to Chichester’s history and geography, perhaps including the cathedral, the South Downs and something about Chichester’s maritime past. In discussions with the quartet’s founder and viola player Joanna Emerson, we decided to drop the maritime bit, as it would overlap with one of the programme’s other pieces. I was told that the audience would be made up mainly of rank-and-file Chichester Society members, rather than the Avant-Garde Cutting-Edge Squeaky-Gate Well-Hard Contemporary Music Appreciation Society.

So, where to start? What does Chichester Cathedral sound like, or how could I use a string quartet to make sounds that are at least reminiscent of it? And the South Downs – what do they sound like?

Chichester cathedral's tenor bell for string quartet

Chichester cathedral’s tenor bell for string quartet

Luckily, the cathedral is a musical entity anyway, with 8 bells in its bell tower and a daily sung liturgy, and the sounds it has are packed with connotation. What could be more evocative than the sound of a church bell, right up close or much further away? And the choir would immediately sound religious, even if it were to sing something utterly profane, as Howard Goodall proved with his Mr Bean theme tune Ecce homo qui est faba – Behold the man who is a bean.

The noises of the South Downs are a bit less obvious, and to help myself get a handle on the kind of music that would suggest the South Downs to a listener, I came up with a short sequence of imaginary visual and audio imagery which runs like a film inside my head, and the piece’s programme note is a commentary of this film:

Almost all the music I write is for voices. The words I’m setting dictate the form of the music, and usually the very first spark of an idea of what to write comes from the words. When I was asked write a string quartet about Chichester and its surroundings, I knew there’d be no such springboard. So to take the place of the words I decided to conjure for myself a set of vivid mental images, both visual and aural, of Chichester Cathedral and the South Downs, and use those images as a starting point for the music.

Programme note

Programme note

We’re in the cathedral as the clock chimes six. Evensong is on. We hear the Responses being sung, the Precentor’s intonations being answered by the unaccompanied choir. A sung Kyrie is followed by a Lord’s Prayer, both parts of the daily ritual of worship at the cathedral that is already many centuries old. As the service comes to an end, and the reverent hush of the congregation begins to give way, tentatively at first, to chatter, we leave the building, and travel out into the hills that surround Chichester, in the company of the cathedral’s nesting peregrine falcons, and explore the landscape from their aerial perspective. With them we witness the hills’ many moods; now boisterous, now eerie, now subdued, always pastoral.

But even this far off, the cathedral is always visible, like a tiny jewel on the vast landscape, and, at the very edge our hearing, we can still hear the bell.

The score and parts of Tolling Bells, Rolling Hills will be published after the premiere next week.

Quillet Quartet, Friday 28 June, St John’s Chapel, St John’s Street, Chichester. Tickets can be booked through the box office.

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Piano reductions of choral music

Piano reductions are an important facet of our unaccompanied choral music at the Chichester Music Press, just as they are in other places. Almost all of the unaccompanied pieces in our catalogue have a piano reduction, and a lot of thought has gone into them over the years.

Our approach to them is to bear in mind that piano reductions are to be played by pianists. They are there to make the business of playing the choral parts on a piano easier. Some people can read happily off four or more staves, but piano reductions are there for the benefit of people who find it easier to play from two staves. And there’s no point in going to the trouble of producing a piano reduction for such people, only to sabotage it by setting it out in a way that’s not helpful for a pianist.

Impossible stretch

Who can play this? A giant or some kind of clever dick.

It’s very easy, especially in this day and age of using computers to prepare music, to copy from the choral staves onto the piano staves, have the soprano & alto in the right hand, the tenor & bass in the left, and leave it at that, as if you’re preparing a short score for a choir, rather than a piano reduction for a pianist. It requires no effort and no thought from the typesetter, but the result is rarely the most helpful solution for the pianist who’s going to have to play it. You’re likely to get impossible stretches in one hand (see right), which could easily be played by swapping a note into the other. That’s what the pianist is going to end up doing anyway, so just cut straight to the end result. It is much more helpful to try to gather the notes together for the hands that will play them.

There’s also no need to put stems up and stems down unless the rhythms are different, and as the most practical thing to do in general is to present the notes in the simplest way, notes should share stems where they can. The music in our piano reductions is presented pianistically, rather than vocally, because it’s for a pianist rather than a singer.

Piano reductions are often printed on smaller staves than the singers are singing from. That’s not something we do at the Chichester Music Press. The one person who stands to benefit from the piano reduction – the pianist – will not be grateful for it, especially as the stave size in our choral music is already towards the lower end of the normal range for choral music across the industry.

Dynamics are normally not shown in choral reductions except for very skeletal ones, and we don’t normally don’t put them in at all. We produce our piano reductions from the assumption that the pianist will play as quietly as he can get away with to support the choir. He’s not necessarily being required to play loud bits loudly and quiet bits quietly. The piano reduction is not, in normal circumstances, intended for performance.

In setting out these thoughts, I went once again to Elaine Gould’s wonderful Behind Bars book, and will now selectively pick out a few quotations that back up our position. (Anything she says that doesn’t back us up you can go and read for yourself. It begins on page 473.)

…notate the reduction in a pianistic way…

…distribute the vocal pitches conveniently for the hands…

…reduce the notation to its simplest form…

…join as many parts as have the same note-value onto a single stem…

…reduction requires minimal dynamics…

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