Twelve Songs for Chamber Choir (SATB)
In November 2011 I wrote the words and music for an unaccompanied choral work to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend at the end of a particularly colourful autumn. I called it November Colours. The words were ‘coloured’ with six descriptive titles found in a paint catalogue, and not just any paint catalogue, but that of the renowned Farrow and Ball, of Wimborne in Dorset. This uniquely British company says of itself ‘we are devoted to producing unparalleled paints and wallpapers that transform homes around the world. We are paint perfectionists, creating unmatched paint colours using only the finest ingredients and age-old methods which have withstood the test of time and the passage of many a fickle fad.’
Almost a year later I returned to develop the idea further in A Year of Colour – twelve songs for chamber
choir (SATB). I commissioned the artist Alice Fox, to select six Farrow and Ball colours for each month of the calendar year.
From her selection I wrote the remaining poems always starting from her six chosen colour descriptions.
Colours of Winter is set to poems that focus on pastimes, places and people in the winter season. December Colours celebrates a late afternoon walk and a homecoming at Christmastide. January Colours takes us to a dull day at an artist’s studio in an Italianate Garden. In February Colours the shade of Charleston Gray requires a visit to the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, a location beloved of the Bloomsbury set.
Colours of Spring begins in March with a portrait of Nancy Lancaster who helped create the Country House look, and possibly inspired many of the unusual names now found on the Farrow and Ball colour card. April Colours take us to springtime in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. In May Colours we move to Norfolk and (the entirely fictitious) Marcel Manouna, menagerie and all, whose parrot James was known to squawk that archetypal song of spring Sumer is icumen in.
Colours of Summer features a potter, a garden and ocean retreat. In June Colours Midsummer’s Day is compared to the all important centering of clay on a potter’s wheel. The world of pioneer potter Michael Cardew is evoked through his descriptions of the role of each hand at the wheel and glazes of summer colours.
July Colours visits Hestercombe in Somerset, my favourite Arts & Crafts garden, where in the company of a young woman with ‘July in her eyes’, a tour of the garden’s landmarks frame part of that perennial Thomas Morley madrigal. Across the Atlantic to Florida in August Colours to meet Mark and Sarah and visit their Colonial style house refashioned by society interior decorator Leta Austin Forster.
Colours of Autumn visit a royal castle in Scotland and a fine house on the Welsh Marches. In September Colours a young duchess waits for her husband to return from his early morning fishing. October Colours tours the house and grounds of Berrington Hall with its famous orchards of traditional apples. Finally, there’s gentle farewell to the last vestiges of leaf and (Farrow and Ball) colour in November Colours.
The music is a blend of the modern contrapuntal madrigal and the homophonic part-song. Lasting three to four minutes each the songs are designed for good amateur singers or enthusiastic student voices of no more than thirty in number. Choral directors should be awake for opportunities to vary ensemble size and configuration for and during some of these songs. Professional singers, particularly in smaller ensembles, may enjoy the challenge and invitation music and poetry provide to incorporate music theatre opportunities and the use of visual projections.
A Year of Colour may start in any month, but seems to work best starting in December and ending in November. Individual seasons and indeed months may be performed separately.
A Year of Colour is inspired by the award-winning Swedish choir Voces Nordicae and their director Lone Larsen.