Voces Capituli, a men’s choir in Antwerp, have been singing my music for a while in their beautiful church in Belgium. They took some of my liturgical music on tour to Rome this summer. I have never met any of them, but I correspond with their conductor, Dirk Maes, and he sent me this photo of St. Laurence church where they sing regularly, on the other side of the world.
Many of the men in the choir are former choirboys at the cathedral in Antwerp. Needless to say they are all grown up now and have their own website. Click here for Voces Capituli.
I recently finished a piece for them to sing at Candlemas, 2014, the feast day that falls on February 2nd. Dirk asked me to write this in memory of his Mother, and I could not possibly say no. He asked for a setting of the words “Christe qui lux es et dies.” It’s a Gregorian chant hymn that is sung at Compline, the last monastic office of the day. It’s a gorgeous bit of chant, so I do feel that I am somewhat gilding the lily by adding polyphonic verses.
I’ve travelled to several monasteries and convents around the world, and some closer to home. To hear the offices sung throughout the day by people who are living that disciplined life is inspiring. I really wanted to be disciplined about my compositional process too, and base Dirk’s commissioned piece entirely on the original chant. After working several hours one night and completing quite a bit of detailed work I realized, to my horror, that I had got several notes of the original chant wrong! Back to the drawing board I went. Most of the work was salvageable, thank goodness.
Turning to mundane matters, I got a cheque in the mail from a distinguished Canadian choir who commissioned me to write a piece for them! I felt a giddy sense of pride walking down the street to the bank to deposit my earnings from composing obscure, totally inaccessible choral music! Creative work can sometimes seem completely futile, at other times quite self-indulgent. But here was a simple formula. I was pleased to have a satisfied patron, I knew the commission had hit its mark, and I felt good.
Is it a bad thing to take pride in work, whatever form that work takes? Sometimes there is no cheque. Sometimes there are just appreciative musicians who sing your music with sincerity and skill. That also feels good.
Some people ask “how do you compose?” I’m not sure how it happens, but I can tell you this – it is a solitary pursuit – hours in a quiet place, absorbing the rhythm and meaning of the text, going from piano to sketch book, to computer notation, and back again. Once things start to come together there is the same sort of eureka moment you get when you solve the crossword puzzle. Everyone is different, but for me composing takes a lot of time, a lot of empty space, and a lot of silence. Above all, I need a reason to write, so here’s a huge shout out to those particular people who give me purpose and focus, and a reason to do the work.