Saturday, December 17, 2011

Words, words, words...

I've made a belated discovery about the potency - or otherwise - of words. Words of carols, to be specific, and words of other choral music. Yes, words have always been my business, so you'd think I might have found this out sooner, but there you are.

It began, I think, with a phone call from the organist at the Cathedral of The Isles, Cumbrae. Old friend that he is, he wanted to share with us the success at their Advent Carol service of a piece John had written years ago - Advent Invocation - to words that I had first scribbled down on the back of a bill as we drove over the moor road from the Claonaig ferry, years ago. He told us how he'd put the words into the order of service, and how he felt that had helped people's appreciation of the whole.

A short while after that, I found myself typing out the words of familiar Christmas carols and hymns (for a congregational booklet, since you ask - and yes, we have the licence!) in the corporate rush to get everything done on time. Even words that I had sung for the past half century suddenly had to be checked, punctuation put in the right places - and suddenly I began to see the words as if for the first time. Many of them are not what I would write for now, but I kept having sudden glimpses into the minds and imaginations of the original authors - and it was startling in its newness.

And then there was my own Advent Song. Following our friend's example, we asked for the words to go into the Order for Evensong, so that people could follow them as we sang. And for the first time I've had people talking about the words of the piece almost as much as they do about the music. Now, I feel that the music is by far the greater accomplishment, for I know how much goes into it as opposed to the sudden rush of blood to the head that produces the words - I'm not a hard worker when it comes to that sort of thing - so I feel slightly guilty. But I'm glad to have the piece taken as a whole, and appreciated as a whole, and thrilled that it seems to be doing so well on YouTube.

In a way, my Advent this year has been shaped by this piece. But I don't think that's a bad thing.


  1. Christine, please don't belittle your own achievement in writing the words for Advent Song. I linked to both when I posted it on my blog and it was obvious that both words and music spoke to my readers. Words are powerful, otherwise why would censorship exist? Yes, as you say, we wouldn't write some other hymns and carols the same way nowadays, but their words are still worth cherishing.

  2. Clare5:31 PM

    The piece has shaped my Advent also, Chris-the words first , from the blog, and then their spiritual marriage with the music- perfect. Thank you !

  3. Bah! Don't give musicians too much credit! They write the music because they are inspired by the words!

  4. I just know from living with a musician how much more seems to go into creating the music when compared to the amount of effort (or lack of it) that goes into the original words. And much more soul-searching too. It's easy, apparently, to write something that would "do" - but much, much harder to write the special music that I believe this is.

  5. Now you are talking apples and oranges. Both are good, but the words, which come from God btw, are what leads our musicians to be inspired in the first place. Nae arguing with the Bishop of Dumbarton hen!

  6. Music is God's highway. Ipsa dixit.