As part of their celebrations for St Brigid’s Day this year Christ Church Cathedral Dublin commissioned me to write a piece for their Girls’ Choir to sing at Compline on 1st February. Writing a choral piece for St Brigid’s Day encouraged me to look at what we know of St Brigid and her spiritual leadership. There is story of how, when she requested land on which to found her monastic community, she was told that she could have whatever land her cloak would cover, and her cloak miraculously spread across the Curragh in Kildare. To me this is an image for the reach of her prayerful influence, even spanning across centuries and reaching us now. Brigid was known for her ministry to the sick and the dying, with several miracles attributed to her. Her name means exalted, and she was also called ‘Mary of the Gaels’.
I was delighted to explore these themes for the fresh young voices of Christchurch Cathedral Girls’ Choir, with organ accompaniment from David Bremner, at the invitation of their musical director Ian Keatley. My way of composing is probably similar to that of other composers, in that I start with blank manuscript and pencil rather than with a computer which I generally only use for copying and typesetting. Sometimes I hear sounds in my head beforehand but not always. For me, composition is a combination of discipline and inspiration: on the weaker days I write something, on the basis that I can decide on a different day whether to keep it as it is, alter it or discard it entirely. There are other days when it flows well. Using a timer app helps me to stay concentrated for longer periods, and I like to revisit my material several times before ‘handing it over’. After that, it’s time to let it go and to take joy in what the singers and musicians do in their interpretation – this is one of the most rewarding moments of the composition process, when the black dots on the page turn into something hopefully transcendent through live performance. The Girls’ Choir with their conductor Ian and accompanist on organ, David Bremner gave a beautiful performance at the premiere and the live recording is over on my soundcloud page if you want to have a listen.