My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Music That Inspires: Choral Music

This is such a broad topic! I've found it very hard to narrow it down to one aspect for this blog, as music is something that permeates my life. Back when my I still had headphones for my iPod, it was something that was pretty much a constant in my life. I studied it up to A Level and play several instruments, and I sing. When I am particularly strapped for cash, I perform as a street musician (a busker) in Inverness with my recorders  and I am very glad to have a talent (turned into something useful by all the hard work and music lessons and the 6hr-a-day practice schedule when I was a teen) that can earn my keep if necessary. 

I also have milder synaesthesia, and for me sounds tend to be accompanied by colours and 'textures' (I 'see' a lot of it as solidified light almost like glass) to the point where when I am composing, I tend to pick things that look good when I shut my eyes, because they invariably sound good too, and even wrote up an entire chart of chords by colours and what they invoke imaginatively to help me in my compositions. 

I didn't want to write about my tastes in stuff like Goth, Darkwave and French Coldwave because I'm pretty sure I've covered various aspects of that on my blog already. Beyond Goth, my tastes in music are quite broad. I thought I would focus on an aspect of my musical life that has inspired me as a Goth while being quite removed from Goth itself. 

I like early ecclesiastical sacred choral works from a variety of traditions, not limited to but including many things from Gregorian chant to Renaissance polyphony, to modern works such as those of John Taverner and Karl Jenkins. 

When I was younger and somewhere between my Christian roots and my Pagan faith, I was rather active in various church choirs and I have been singing from a very young age. I sang in both church choirs and school choirs, but as many of the schools I went to (I moved a lot) were Christian, I still sang mostly sacred music. I have not attended Church for worship service in years, and do not intend to as I am thoroughly Pagan now, but I still attend the occasional concert of sacred music.  Choir holds almost all positive memories for me. I got to a relatively high standard and ended up singing some challenging music in some really beautiful places. 

While the religious content was not always in alignment with my personal faith (and as I grew older, I grew further away from Christianity) there was something about it that connected with me on a very profound and spiritual way. I think there is definitely something spiritually powerful about religious singing, as an act of worship and an act of faith in itself rather than as simply a celebration thereof. There is a lot in the Bible about music, from David's lyre, to the songs of Solomon, to the angels who sing eternal praises in Heaven, and while this is heading off on a tangent that probably deserves its own post, I certainly think that Christianity and other religions that use sacred song (I have some CDs of Buddhist singing, from a period when I was interested in becoming Buddhist), and they have something very precious and definitely inspiring. A few years ago I tried writing some Pagan songs in a similar choral style, but suffered from a lack of people to sing them (I experimented with multi-tracking myself, but it come out very strange!) and so that project was put into indefinite stasis. 

The heavens my imagination transports me to might not be the one I envisioned when I believed in an afterlife in Paradise, but the music still has the power to supremely move me. It also always reminds me of the glorious Gothic architecture of the Chapels, Churches and Cathedrals I have attended for various things from Royal School of Church Music summer-schools at Magdalene College Chapel in Oxford (a building that is truly glorious) to St. Mary's Church on the bridge in Henley-on-Thames with it's Morris-esque murals and beautiful stained glass, to Peterborough Cathedral (which is Gothic on a truly vast scale!) and thus whenever I hear certain pieces I think of certain places and events.

It should be relatively apparent that historic architecture, especially that in the Gothic style, is something that I am really passionate about. With early Gothic literature, the term came about because of the use of settings, and how a lot of those settings were the sorts of buildings I love. To me, I cannot easily separate my experience of those buildings from the music performed in them, the music I performed in them as part of a choir. 

I have a specific fondness for requiems (how stereotypically Gothic of me!) especially the later ones. Later requiems were written more as concert pieces than to be sung at requiem masses, but they are still based around religious texts and sentiments, and as such I'd like to mention a few here. Fauré's requiem with its serene , and is also one of my favourites, then Verdi's with its furious Dies Irae, and Mozart's as well (and the wonderfully Gothic story written about it for the film Amadeus! It's not true, and Sallieri was not driven by obsessive jealousy to murder Mozart by working him to death, but it's a very good story!). I also like Vittoria's 'Missa Pro Defunctis" and "Officium Defunctorum" - his "mass for the dead" and "offices for the dead", the latter of which I heard sung by The Sixteen back in 2006 in Reading. It was  one of those moments when, despite struggling with depression at the time, I managed to unlock the glass box it felt my head was in, and be lost in the music rather than my own thoughts. 

Choral music of various Christian traditions has inspired both my own musical life as a choral singer (I even ran a choir at the school I work at until my chronic illness made in untenable) and also as an artist and poet and photographer as glorious music mixes with beautiful colour and light in a synaesthesic mix in my head, and always evokes a sense of wonder, sacredness and a belief that there is a Divine and glorious presence in the universe, even if to me the heavens are the literal heavens of space full of stars, nebulae and very real glorious light, and to me, a pantheist, the Divine is inherently manifest through reality. When I shut my eyes and sit on the bare earth and feel the boundaries between what is me and what is everything else dissolve and meditate, there's a similar sense of awesome, brilliant, glorious something that I touched when I was singing psalms, evensongs, hymns, masses and oratorios. 

My Musical Pick
There is some overlap with my tastes in more Goth music; some of my favourite pieces by Dead Can Dance are the ones where multi-tracking has been used to create a choral effect, but the songs they sing have words of Lisa Gerrard's glossolalia rather the Latin texts various masses and offices. I think that same sense of light and glory that is forever intangible that I got when listening to choral concerts in Oxford collegiate chapels and grand Gothic cathedrals is what inspired Host of The Seraphim with its vocals that seem to soar ever upwards in plaintive chant over a very minimal (electric?) organ and distant strings. It reminds me of how psalms are traditionally sung with the chords changing according to the text, rather than the text made to fit the melody (think Alleghri's 'Miserere mei, Deus'). To me, Host of the Seraphim is like watching angels come and go, filing past out of view and into nothing but beautiful light. 

10 comments:

  1. Have you ever heard the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" by the composer Henryk Gorecki? Some of it could be described as sorrowful choral music.

    Classical pieces aside, one of the things I enjoy about symphonic and gothic metal is the use of choirs by some groups. These would include Epica and Sirenia, just to name a couple. The choral work may not be as extensive in duration as religious or classical pieces, but it makes those metal sub genres somewhat unique.

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    1. Yes, and I think I have a CD somewhere at my father's place, in storage.

      When it comes to symphonic/Gothic metal, I recently got donated a big pile of CDs that I'm sorting through. Lots of Nightwish, which I used to be a big fan of as a teen, and a few bands I'd never heard before.

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  2. I quite agree with your sentiments here. I always thought that whether it's music, art, or architecture, when its religious it is more beautiful and passionate. I do enjoy religious art more because of this and also love gothic style architecture whilst not being Christian myself

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    1. I'm glad not to be the only one to feel the same way; I was a little nervous when publishing this that my post would be a bit "dorky".

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  3. Dead Can Dance are amazing! I love classical and choral music but often have trouble working out what songs are called because I don't hear the name or it is something hard to remember like symphony 1, op 1. I wish I could see the colours in words. I feel like I get certain emotions from certain colours, but that is probably normal.

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    1. Now that I am older, the synaesthesia is mostly a help, but when I was younger it used to be more difficult for me to separate the strands an concentrate on the music, sounds, etc. which is made doubly difficult if you have other sensory processing issues.

      It can definitely be hard to remember the names of classical pieces, especially when it is often a nomenclature based around naming things after their form (symphony, oratorio, sonata, etc.) how many of them the composer wrote (e.g symphonies 1 to 9) for Beethoven, what movement within an extended piece (sort of like acts of a play, but for music) and which composer it is. There are lots of 'Symphony No.3' which have a second movement, so knowing which composer wrote it is vital. "Op." is the abbreviation for "opus" or "work" in Latin... Thankfully some pieces have nicknames - e.g Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven is his Piano Sonata No.14, and his Opus 27. Moonlight Sonata is far easier to remember!

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  4. I find Gregorian chants, Tuvan throat singing, Buddhist chants, etc. all have a similar vibration -- it hits somewhere between the sinuses and chest, and flows naturally between the two. Perhaps the power in this kind of music is this complex vibration, its ability to transform, its power to move.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and for participating. When you record your Pagan music let me know, I'll be the first one ready to purchase your cd.

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    1. I did not realise that about the vibrations - that's something I'll have to talk to my audio-engineer friend about!

      I probably won't make a CD to sell, but I might upload it to YouTube. Commercial ventures tend to end up being more costly in stress than profitable in money.

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  5. I just came across your blog and sure love it! Your texts and yourself are very inspiring.

    We share some interests, so maybe you want to check my blog out too? www.eccentric-underground.com
    It is very new but I am sure there will be more things to read soon!

    Cheers, Bianca

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    1. Thank-you; I will have a look at your blog :)

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