“Twelve Composers Composing”

a video series of new commissions for the Twelve Days of Christmas 2020-2021

↓   watch the videos below   ↓

“I am so impressed with the enterprise and creativity that has gone into this marvellous project.”
Ralph Allwood MBE
founder of the Eton Choral Courses & Rodolfus Choir

about     •     videos     •     composer notes     •     composers

In the run-up to Christmas 2020, twelve of the UK’s most exciting young composers were commissioned to write twelve new miniature works for a choir of twelve voices, based on the text of the well-known song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.

Taking the song’s familiar list of gifts as their texts, the resulting twelve 30-second miniature carols featured in twelve short videos which were released online on the Twelve Days of Christmas — running from Christmas Day 2020 until 5th January 2021.

↓   watch the videos below   ↓

Response

“Close of harmony, cool of rhythm, and totally stirring of spirit.”
Michael Chance CBE
Artistic Director of The Grange Festival

“The Corvus Consort is a marvel: glorious voices, expressive singing, highly creative and imaginative programming, inspired direction!”
Simon Carrington
founder member of The King’s Singers

“I am so impressed with the enterprise and creativity that has gone into this marvellous project. The compositions are highly imaginative, some of them funny, some of them ingenious, and, appropriate for online things, all of them short!”
Ralph Allwood MBE
founder of the Eton Choral Courses & Rodolfus Choir

“What an imaginative and amusing project! This is a lovely opportunity for young composers and singers to collaborate, and has engendered a set of attractive and well-crafted pieces. It’s amazing how the whole set binds together so well, and I was impressed with the varied compositional textures and ideas which make the pieces so appealing. The pieces should become the finale to any Christmas choral concert!”
Ben Parry
Artistic Director & Principal Conductor of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain

Acknowledgments

The project was made possible by generous donations.

We are very grateful for the support of:

The Friends of the Corvus Consort
All those who donated to our crowdfunding campaign
The Music@Wellhayes Covid-19 Appeal

We pledged to donate 10% of all money raised by our crowdfunding campaign to the Crisis Christmas appeal. Crisis works throughout the year to tackle homelessness, and their annual Christmas fundraiser helps those members of our society most in need of support, at a time of year which is all about community and companionship — “no one should be homeless and alone this Christmas”.

We were thrilled to be able to donate £321 to Crisis at the end of the project.

Production Team

Jacob Ewens (audio)
Ben Tomlin (video)

Singers

Hannah Littleton
Hannah Cox
Sam Cobb
Izzi Blain
Anna Semple
Helena Cooke
Jack Harberd
Zahid Siddiqui
Matthew Mckinney
George Cook
Joel Nulsen
Tom Lowen

recorded at St James’s Church Sussex Gardens

First day of Christmas, 25 December 2020

a partridge in a pear tree   |   Joanna Ward

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Second day of Christmas, 26 December 2020

turtur   |   Nathan James Dearden

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Third day of Christmas, 27 December 2020

The French Hens   |   Héloïse Werner

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Fourth day of Christmas, 28 December 2020

Four Calling Birds   |   Ella Hohnen-Ford

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Fifth day of Christmas, 29 December 2020

Five Gold Rings   |   Anna Semple

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Sixth day of Christmas, 30 December 2020

Six Geese a-laying a-lay a-lay a-lay!   |   Alex Ho

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Seventh day of Christmas, 31 December 2020

Seven Swans a-Swimming   |   Harry Baker

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Eighth day of Christmas, 1 January 2021

eight maids a-milking   |   Carol J Jones

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Ninth day of Christmas, 2 January 2021

nine ladies dancing   |   Ben Nobuto

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Tenth day of Christmas, 3 January 2021

Ten Lords A-Leaping   |   Joe Bates

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Eleventh day of Christmas, 4 January 2021

Eleven Pipers Piping   |   Derri Joseph Lewis

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Twelfth day of Christmas, 5 January 2021

Twelve Drummers   |   Shruthi Rajasekar

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composer notes

a partridge in a pear tree   |   Joanna Ward

I loved the brief of writing a tiny piece. In my work I think a lot about long durations and repetition, resisting the urge to make pieces with linear trajectories and arch-shaped forms, and so in a sense long, sprawling pieces with lots of detours and loop-backs are what I find myself often drawn to. But I think on the other end of that spectrum, doing a tiny piece which is very simple and exists and then quickly stops existing, without really going anywhere, is also very interesting. And so what appealed was to make a really simple piece with very minimal ideas (only two, or two and a half, I suppose), and only using the words once, which is gone before you really realise it’s going.

I have also been working a lot over the past year with putting contrasting materials next to each other and cutting between totally non-coherent or dissimilar ideas. So that’s where the idea to have simple, static chords which repeat, with one contrasting texture which appears quite randomly and suddenly, then returning to the same chords as if nothing had happened, comes from. I also in the vein of abruptness, oddness, or displacement, really appreciate the whimsy and camp inherent in setting these whimsical, camp words in such a simple, slightly austere way. I was quite delighted to have the title words to work with, as they have the iconic camp power of the original song. And I think that’s added to by the performative aspect of the graphic scoring, which immediately displaces singers from their ‘choral’ way of being and embodying their voices, and I hope makes them aware that my work inhabits a slightly different musical/sonic space – adjacent or behind it perhaps, reflecting back to and playing tricks on how we do/think/hear our canonic repertoire.

I think camp is such a helpful way to think about what I do in my work – in the words of Christopher Isherwood, “you can’t camp about something you don’t take seriously. You’re expressing what’s basically serious to you in terms of fun and artifice and elegance.” Or as Susan Sontag would have it, “[camp] is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off’, of things-being-what-they-are-not.” I wanted the singers to know that I take fun, whimsy, exaggeration (even if that’s exaggerated simplicity), ‘offness’ (subversion), very seriously, and in that sense it was lovely to be present at the recording session, to reassure them that it was ok to find the score and its resulting sounds amusing and a little unsettling, perhaps.

watch the video

turtur   |   Nathan James Dearden

turtur m (genitive turturis; Latin); shared in the Welsh language.

The picture postcard image of two, nestled turtledoves, symbolic of love, friendship and partnership, have become synonymous with ideas of new life and purity during Christmas (ever since Aelian’s proclamation of their sacrosanctity to Demeter in C. 200 AD).

What surprises me when thinking about how the image and symbolism of two turtledoves has seeped into all areas of our shared history and that of the Christian faith is that these birds of love and purity are on the brink of becoming an endangered species. The turtledove’s 51% decline from 2013 to 2017 is the most drastic of a continuing slump for a quarter of farmland bird species.  In Britain alone, populations have declined by three-quarters since 1976 with the estimated UK population dropping from 125,000 pairs to around 45,000 pairs. Whilst turtle doves are protected in the UK, they are shot in huge numbers during their winter migration. It is estimated that as many as 2 to 4 million turtle doves are shot and trapped as they migrate through Europe.

This work is very small landscape and musical response to these discoveries which explores this relationship between us and the turtledove, incorporating recorded material of the turtledoves’ coo and taking flight (optional; with kind permission from the RSPB).

watch the video

The French Hens   |   Héloïse Werner

I wanted to write a cheeky tune which would cheer people up! And anyone familiar with my Coronasolfege project might recognise a few ‘Coronasolfege techniques’…

heloisewerner.com/coronasolfege/

watch the video

Four Calling Birds   |   Ella Hohnen-Ford

Four Calling Birds… here they are dressed up as Twelve Singing Humans. And one of the few phrases in this song I always remember the words to! Happy Holidays everybody.

watch the video

Five Gold Rings   |   Anna Semple

In setting the text ‘Five Gold Rings’ I was aware of the enormous contextual baggage that came with those words and as such decided to play a bit with the idea of tradition. The original song is almost a memory game and the idea of Christmas being tied to games and play also linked back to this ‘tradition’ thread. Hence the piece is presented with circular staves which gives the singers with a bit of a logistical challenge which (I hope) brings a bit of a smile to their faces! The aim of the game is to progress to the innermost circle within the 30-second window, and my own aim was to allow the singers as much freedom within that parameter as possible (to make the piece enjoyable, if a little tricky, to sing!). Presenting scores like this is a tradition which dates back to the Tudors and before, and likewise much of the musical material is drawn from the lilting and hocketting rhythms of early madrigals.

watch the video

Six Geese a-laying a-lay a-lay a-lay!   |   Alex Ho

Before you listen to this little festive offering, say “six geese a-laying a-lay a-lay a-lay” five times and get faster and faster and faster and faster. You’ll then be ready to listen!

watch the video

Seven Swans a-Swimming   |   Harry Baker

Seven Swans a-Swimming attempts to capture the serene and subtly intimidating quality of a group of swans drifting through water. The swans are at first scattered, weaving shapes between each other, but find their pristine formation by the end of the piece.

watch the video

eight maids a-milking   |   Carol J Jones

There are various stories as to the origin of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. One story suggests the song began as a memory game for children. Following in this spirit, the piece translates a child’s reading of the verse ‘eight maids a milking’ into a playful back and forth between the choir. The constantly changing metre and contrasting dynamic changes create a joyous, if not excitable, reimagining of ‘eight maids a-milking’.

watch the video

nine ladies dancing   |   Ben Nobuto

nine ladies dancing was commissioned by the Corvus Consort and is a setting of a single line from the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ carol. While searching for inspiration I googled ‘nine ladies dancing’ and the results showed random bits of information, some relating to the line’s origin in Christian symbolism and pagan folklore, others from cooking blogs, stock photo galleries and craft retail stores. Even though none of the information related to each other, it all somehow related back to those three words, all the disparate fragments and chaos drawing from the same source.
The Twelve Days of Christmas is dominated by the jaunty five-note melody that is used for days seven to twelve. This rewriting takes the melody and reworks it in the bass. It is looped and warped into a sinister-comic ‘falalalala’, while the upper voices ascend in a swelling crescendo.

watch the video

Ten Lords A-Leaping   |   Joe Bates

The Twelve Days of Christmas is dominated by the jaunty five-note melody that is used for days seven to twelve. This rewriting takes the melody and reworks it in the bass. It is looped and warped into a sinister-comic ‘falalalala’, while the upper voices ascend in a swelling crescendo.

watch the video

Eleven Pipers Piping   |   Derri Joesph Lewis

Writing ‘Eleven Pipers Piping’ was extremely fun — the piece is an evocation of the huge sound produced by a brass section. Although the original lyric probably refers to bagpipers rather than trumpeters, I couldn’t resist writing something big and brassy for the Corvus Consort. Producing a 30 second miniature might sound like a simple brief, but crafting a satisfying and developed work with just half a minute is no easy feat. Listen out for the alliteration of percussive ‘P’s and the hidden 11-beat pattern!

watch the video

Twelve Drummers   |   Shruthi Rajasekar

Twelve Drummers, written for the twelve voices of the Corvus Consort, is a feisty Fest of all things percussive. With bass drums, cross-rhydrums, and drrrrrumrolls, the miniature revels in the pleasure of singing together– true love’s ultimate gift!

watch the video

composers

Joanna Ward
“a partridge in a pear tree”

Joanna is a composer and performer, interested in experimenting with scores and with sound, centring collaboration, subjectivity, multiplicity and playfulness in her practice.

joannamward.com

Nathan James Dearden
“two turtle doves”

Described as “a champion of his generation” and whose music is “hauntingly beautiful’ (Media Wales), Nathan James Dearden is an award-winning composer of concert music and mixed media, conductor, and educator.

nathanjamesdearden.com

Héloïse Werner
“three french hens”

Héloïse was recently described by The Times as “quickly becoming a latter-day Cathy Berberian or Meredith Monk”.

heloisewerner.com

Ella Hohnen-Ford
“four calling birds”

Ella has developed an unorthodox and genre-defying approach to writing and interpreting music, with an unusual musical background as an improvising vocalist.

ellahohnenford.co.uk

Anna Semple
“five gold rings”

Anna is a postgraduate student of Composition at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, studying with Sylvia Lim and Matthew Kaner, and is interested in exploring embodied methods of music-making and composition using visual processes.

annasemple.com

Alex Ho
“six geese a-laying”

Winner of the George Butterworth Award 2020, Alex Ho is a British-Chinese composer based in London.

alexhocomposer.com

Harry Baker
“seven swans a-swimming”

Harry Baker is an award-winning pianist and composer passionate about jazz, classical and improvised music.

harrybakermusic.com

Carol J Jones
“eight maids a-milking”

Originally trained as a dancer, Carol J Jones is a composer of choral, chamber and orchestral music.

caroljjones.com

Ben Nobuto
“nine ladies dancing”

Ben Nobuto is a British/Japanese composer and pianist from Kent, whose music often explores themes of attention and fragmentation.

bennobuto.com

Joe Bates
“ten lords a-leaping”

Joe Bates is a composer and curator making music at the edge of genres.

joebates.co.uk

Derri Joseph Lewis
“eleven pipers piping”

Derri Joseph Lewis is a prize-winning Welsh composer and sound-artist, writing music for concerts, stage-works and installations in Europe and America.

derrijosephlewis.com

Shruthi Rajasekar
“twelve drummers drumming”

Shruthi Rajasekar is a composer and vocalist exploring identity, community, and joy.

shruthirajasekar.com