I never take it for granted that I am Composer-in-Residence for the Parliament Choir, something that I consider one of the most sparkling of privileges. From the first piece I wrote for them back in 2005, before my post had been created, to the latest, the setting of Gabriel, That Angel Bright, my voice has developed with the choir’s, and I have always tried to write something that they will grow into and enjoy as we work through rehearsal towards performance.
The Parliament Choir being what it is, we are often the focus of written or broadcast features, and it seems that all of these bring up the question of whether music has the capacity to bring people together. This question has been asked of me now and again, and I always point to the Parly Choir, where people of radically different – indeed, opposed – ideologies, backgrounds, beliefs and the like sit next to each other and work for the common good, but it applies to all other choirs as well.
A commission from the Parliament Choir will often take the form of writing something for a specific concert, at which point it becomes important to think carefully about occasion, text and message, and see how all of these might best work together. You might therefore feel a twinge of sympathy as I try to put together a text for our next piece, the first performance of which will take place on April 3rd. What will happen between now and then politically is, of course, anybody’s guess.
Unity seems to me to be as good a theme as any to be promoting after what could prove to be a fractious few weeks, and I have spent the morning wading into Johannes Kepler’s wonderful book on the music of the spheres and the harmonies of the heavens. As luck would have it, he even ascribes melodies to the planets and their characteristics to the various voice parts of the choir.
Most importantly, the music I write for Parliament Choir needs to stand free of being too specific in its references and messages, for I am with those who believe that nothing dates as badly as fashion, and that quality (if I am lucky enough to achieve it) is what one should aim for above all. I should have the text together for approval within the next couple of days, a necessity given that I need to start writing this piece as soon as possible, but can already feel the musical formations swirling at the very back of my mind, like the clouds of dust and gas coalescing into the planets and bodies of Kepler’s cosmos.