13 was inspired by the Renaissance art I saw while studying and travelling in Italy in 2009 – 10. I was taken with the bold depictions of martyrs with the attributes of their lives and deaths.
13 is a set of 13 variations on a theme first presented by the organ. Each variation is based on one of the thirteen present at the Last Supper. The details of their lives are often sketchy, and sometimes sit somewhere between fact and legend. The order is as follows:
Theme Var. I
St Simon Zealotes – Revolutionary; went to Armenia and Persia; sawn in half. Var. II
St Thomas - Doubted Christ’s wounds; went to India; pierced with lance. Var. III
St Philip – Sober-minded; went to Greece and Phrygia; crucified upside-down. Var. IV
St Bartholomew - Honest; went to Armenia; flayed alive. Var. V
St Jude Thaddeus – Farmer; went to Syria and Armenia; clubbed to death. Var. VI
Judas Escariot – The betrayer; eternally punished; hung himself. Var. VII
St James the Great – Fiery temper; ‘Son of Thunder’; Judaea; beheaded. Var. VIII
St James the Less – Brother of Christ; Jerusalem and went to Egypt; thrown off temple. Var. IX
St Matthew – Tax collector; accompanied by an angel; Ethiopia and Persia; martyr. Var. X
St Andrew - The first-called; went to Ukraine and Black Sea; crucified on saltire. Var. XI
St John – Author of Revelations; ‘Son of Thunder’; went to Asia Minor; died of old-age. Var. XII
St Peter – Holder of the keys to the Gates of Heaven; went to Rome; crucified upside-down. Var. XIII
I’ve admired John Psathas’ music for years, for its incredible sense of energy, its ability to defy categorization, and its cultural pluralism. With 4BY4 (his first non-pitched percussion piece), John delivers on all counts … and then some. If David Weckl, Christopher Lamb, Steven Schick and Giovanni Hidalgo – all percussion virtuosi from widely different genres – were to have a jam session, I can’t help but think that it would sound something like 4BY4.
Each of the four players plays a drumset-like set-up; one player has two snare drums a hi-hat, a tambourine, and a cymbal, another has two congas and a hihat, and the remaining two have tom-based set-ups. However, what binds these four seemingly disparate voices is the kick drum, which all four drumsets have. At times, these four drums pound a relentless beat in unison, and at others they’re split into complex rhythmic counterpoint.
It is this, in part, that makes 4BY4 such a great piece and a perfect fit for this album. John manages to take culturally different instruments, each with different playing techniques, and link them together with a common element – the kick drum. It is cultural pluralism at its best, with each voice maintaining its unique sound and identity, but seamlessly integrated into a common whole. - Omar Carmenates
When the 90th birthday of Betty Somerville was approaching, members of Auckland Choral were asked to sing at a special birthday gathering as a surprise. Betty had been a long-time member of the choir, maintaining a strong active involvement behind the scenes after retiring as a singing member.
In searching for a suitable text for a piece to mark the occasion, I found that almost all birthday poetry fell into one of two categories – it was either tied to a specific age, or was incredibly saccharine and trite. I finally chanced upon Richard Wilbur’s “For K.R. on her Sixtieth Birthday” which contained more general sentiments and wishes. The K.R. of the title is the poet Kathleen Raine, and the reference to William Blake in the poem notes her devotion to that poet’s work.
This piece was originally the fifth movement of a short Christmas cycle (“Angels and Shepherds and Wise Men All”) was written in 2012 for the end of year concert by South Auckland Choral Society to be conducted by the composer. The concert included my school choir, St Mary’s Schola, and I was keen to write something that the combined forces (including the soloists) in the concert could sing together.
The cycle doesn’t try to encapsulate the entire Christmas story, but focusses on those characters on the edge of the story – the angels, the shepherds and the wise man. In this piece, the characters who gathered around the infant Jesus are focussed on: the animals, the angels and the shepherds.
A piece which celebrates an anniversary provides a composer with particular challenges in the choice of a text. It should not be so tied to the group or the event that no-one else will want to use the music, yet it needs to acknowledge and celebrate the group’s achievement.
“All This Singing, One Song” was written for GALS (Gay and Lesbian Singers of Auckland) for the choir’s 20th anniversary in 2012. The text comes from the 13th century Persian poet and philosopher Rumi, and consists of several short pieces of his writing on the subject of singing. Most of these encourage the listener to join in with the singing. The music is mostly rhythmic and energetic, with a strong climax at the end where the choir sings the words “Sing loud!”.
Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi or Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273) was a 13th-century Persian philosopher, theologian, poet, teacher, and Sufi mystic. Also known as Mevlana (Our Guide), Jalaluddin Rumi, but known to the English-speaking world simply as Rumi.
“All This Singing, One Song” was commissioned by GALS (music director: Stephen Bowness), and first performed by the choir on 27 October 2012.
alla marcia – adv. As a musical direction: in the style of a march. Also as adj., n. (Source: Oxford English Dictionary.)
Marcia Brady – A character from the 1969-1974 American television series The Brady Bunch. (Source: Wikipedia.)
General instructions/suggestions include:
- Gather a dozen or so wind and brass players. Have them memorise this music.
- The players should walk one by one from off-stage to on-stage.
- If possible, have them do a complete circuit across the stage, off the other side, through the backstage area, then back onto the stage through the original entry point.
- I encourage the use of surprising points of entry, e.g. balconies, strange doors, trapdoors, zip lines, time machines.
- Optional: incorporate the theme tune to The Brady Bunch in Bb major.
This work was written to celebrate the opening of the studio of Palmerston North artist, Annabel Neall. The French Overture seemed appropriate for an artist and the inclusion of the hymn is recognition of the Nealls’ further interests. As a French Overture it features the usual slow introduction featuring the dotted rhythm, followed by a more lively contrapuntal allegro.
This short Christmas cycle was written in 2012 for the end of year concert by South Auckland Choral Society to be conducted by the composer. The concert included my school choir, St Mary’s Schola, and I was keen to write something that the combined forces (including the soloists) in the concert could sing together. Several of the texts are traditional and anonymous, with more recent texts by Sara Teasdale and New Zealand poet and hymn writer Marnie Barrell.
The cycle doesn’t try to encapsulate the entire Christmas story, but focuses on those characters on the edge of the story – the angels, the shepherds and the wise men. The final text is a welcome to Christmas, naming a number of other participants in the story of Christmas, to which is added a quote from “In dulci jubilo”.