For me, it started with an email.
Wednesday March 07, 2012, 9:48pm.
‘… Would you be up for recording some piano parts for a choirs’ recording project?… It’s 5 olympic-values songs… and recording with Exultate Singers/youth choirs near Bristol…’ And attached were the choral parts for a song called Excellence, with a text so inspiring that I was up at 6am the next day re-reading it, listening to an amazing accompaniment reminiscent of the Erl-King. Now how could any self-respecting pianist turn that down…
‘The Same Flame‘, a song-cycle for mixed voices and piano, was commissioned by Churchill Music!; the text is by Matt Harvey, the music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. The cycle was inspired by Baron de Coubertin’s ideals of Olympism which gave rise to the modern Olympic values.
‘You left your mark on me‘, based on Inspiration, is an outpouring of appreciation to one who inspires, written in the second person and in bright, major tonality throughout ‘… you inspire me, you hotwire me, you ignite, delight and fire me…’, with a punchy, rhythmic accompaniment, full of energy and bite.
‘Respectfully yours‘ is a thoughtful reflection on Respect and Equality, written in the style of a letter. ‘… To whom it may concern – we write respectfully to reaffirm our long-standing claim to be seen of the flame…’ Starting quietly at a measured pace, it suddenly moves forward at the words ‘…the flame is for everyone no-one’s exempt…’ while the piano helps to build an impressive climax with a sustained LH tremolo. Back to the gently merging choral clusters of seconds heard at the beginning as the letter is signed off: ‘…and of course we remain respectfully yours.’
‘Guts and Grace’ , the central, longest movement, is based on Courage and Determination. How would you write about courage, and set it to music? Gung-ho sentiments, with fanfares? Try instead:
‘It comes when you are most alone
it’s summoned by despair and pain …’ – and choose the dark key of C minor to explore the private side of quiet courage. A floating, solo soprano line later reminds us that ‘…the spirit doesn’t always soar and scale the peaks and heights sublime…’ before the mood changes as ‘... courage knows it must attend and answer to a reckoning…’
Next, one written specifically for children to sing. ‘All weather friends’ celebrates Friendship, with a flowing accompaniment and wonderful tunes supporting a delightful list of attributes: ‘… something that’s forged but it’s more than a forgery – an everyday thing but it’s out of the ordinary…’ The music moves into a catchy rumba for ‘…it’s not just what you do for my ego, amigo…’ Irresistible.
Finally, ‘Excellence’. Relentless, driving, driven, with words to match – ‘… no-one achieves excellence by accident… doggedness, diligence, discipline, drudgery…’ The piano part gallops furiously in compound time, with a sudden, accelerated rush to the finish, beneath a blazing, fff 8-part E Major choral outburst of ‘EXCELLENCE…’
And now I know what it feels like to win the Olympic 100m.
‘The Same Flame’ will be published by Boosey & Hawkes in September – click here to purchase; it will be recorded on CD, and will be featured at the ABCD conference in Leeds in August. Watch this space for details!
Words Copyright Matt Harvey.
The first performance on 8/07/2012 in All Saints Church, Weston-Super-Mare, brought together six choirs: Exultate Singers, The Trinity Singers, Churchill Academy Chamber Choir, and the choirs of Sandford, Wrington and Churchill Primary Schools, accompanied by yours truly, with David Ogden conducting. Thanks to the visionary trustees and organisers at Churchill Music!, to the lyricist and the composer, to the choral conductors, singers, rehearsal pianists and soprano soloist Alice Harper, who all contributed to a thrilling first performance.