Deciding to tackle the internet at a very ripe old age
has made a big difference to my everyday life. I'm now in
touch with so many more people, plus an incredible amount of
information, which is great.
At the same time, it's made me prioritise the
important things to be done each day. I try to continue with the
very simple things in life, such as cooking for the family, and
baking exciting cakes with the grandchildren.
I love gardening and tending my little veg
patch, which I try to make time for in the evenings. In
the mornings, I have my break at around 11, with a large mug of
very strong tea laced with honey and full-cream milk, together with
some shortbread, and then I begin work at my keyboard.
I try to continue with formal times of meditation each
day: one in the morning, and one in the evening. These
times of meditation are so important, and yet so difficult to be
faithful to. One tries to keep the mind still through the
repetition of a prayer phrase, so that the deeper levels of
consciousness are able to be open to the indwelling, transforming
spirit deep within one's being.
Through these stark yet rich times of silence,
prayer then seems to spring out naturally during my ordinary
everyday life, and this gives purpose and sacredness to even the
smallest and simplest tasks.
I seek God in my prayer. I seek this
love-relationship, which must then spill over into everything I
strive to do. For me, all prayer stems from this - to seek to know
God, and to strive to do his will.
It was so strange how I came to compose music in my old
age. A great friend of mine, Sister Pamela Hayes, asked me
to write some music as an introduction to prayer for an
international conference. Never having written music before, I was
reluctant to take this on, but in the end I composed six pieces
which people found prayerful. And so, in 1997, the first CD came
I went to the Royal College of Music at the age of 17,
as a rather bad pianist, and then changed to singing. This
resulted in a career that lasted for 25 years. I then taught for
many years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
I've naturally been involved with church music.
It has always been part of my musical heritage. Since 1989, I have
trained and directed choirs and choral groups, and have conducted
ten choral CDs.
I'm now mainly involved with choral and instrumental
writing. I also love writing chants that include a lot of
instrumental variations. I also write music for children.
It is an interesting question to discuss why there are
relatively so few women composers and conductors. But,
fortunately, this is already changing.
Much of my inspiration comes from the texts of poetry
and scripture. I long to express in musical terms the
ideas that the words evoke within me. I love the fact that this
music can be shared with other people.
Some of my music is very simple, and all is
underpinned by prayer. It seems that many people are caught, not by
my prayer, but by this prayer of the Spirit. This is what they
recognise, and is ignited for them, expressing something unique for
In such a busy and materialistic culture, many
people's hearts are yearning to be filled with the love,
compassion, beauty, and truth which God pours into the Spirit of
Jesus, and which Jesus then pours into our hearts and minds, making
us one with him.
The new work Officium Divinum was conceived by
Tim Ruffer, head of publishing at the RSCM. He came up
with the idea of composing music for the four periods of daily
prayer: morning, midday, evening, and night prayer. I found it such
an exciting and wonderful project to work on. The 16 pieces are
made up of four choral pieces, with organ; two unaccompanied
pieces; and ten choral pieces, with organ and instrumental
Some of the pieces are contemplative in mood,
some are celebratory, and some are very simple indeed, allowing
small choirs with limited resources to be able to sing them without
being stretched beyond their capabilities. As well as giving the
various choral groups a wide choice for the particular periods of
prayer, the CD can also be listened to by people in their prayer
I have come to love many composers from many different
periods of time. But I still return to early polyphonic
music, Baroque music, Bach, Handel, Mozart. I love also the music
of Arvo Pärt, Morten Lauridsen, and some of John Tavener's
And then, of course, I love chants. There seems
to be something innate in the human being that needs repetition. In
our culture, we are encouraged to strive for instant gratification
and new attractions, but chants are so easy to learn, and also
lovely to sing and to work at.
Through the repetitions, a chant starts in the
head, with all its thinking, and begins the longest journey in the
world: that is, from head to heart. There, one begins to be open to
the beauty of prayer, and drawn into deeper levels of reflection
A lot of my music has been used in retreats,
hospices, hospitals, and even in prisons. People find that the
music links them into a deeper state of prayer and peace, and holds
the mind still.
We're in need of this slowing-down process -
not, of course, only through music. Let's face it, we're in an
extraordinarily volatile and complex society - even just coping
with the internet and all the consequences that are now coming to
When I look back on my family and childhood, how very
different it all was. My father and mother were both
musical. My father played the organ in the parish church, and my
mother played the piano. My husband, George, was the managing
director of Chester Music and Novello for close on 40 years. His
father came to Scotland from Italy when he was 11; so that's where
Rizza comes from.
My son, Andrew, lives in Milan, and is a
graphic designer and a photographer. My daughter, Jane, is a
potter. She and our son-in-law, Mark, live just round the corner,
and have three very feisty young sons, 13, 11, and seven -
exhausting. But we have lots of fun: everything very loud, and huge
fights, and all of them totally unmusical - but that's fine.
Our main holidays have been renting cottages near the
sea in Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, and Wales, where there are
wonderful coastal cliff walks. I love the pub food that goes with
it all. We've also had good holidays in Spain and Italy, where I
love the warm weather and the Mediterranean food.
While on holiday, there is more time for
reading. I am passion- ate about the writings of the mys-
tics and other spiritual writers. I read mainly the Gospel of St
John, Isaiah, the Psalms, the letters of St Paul.
I get great joy being with my family, with the
children, writing music, and sharing the music with choirs, being
with friends, and my church family and home-prayer group. And I
love being surrounded by the beauty of nature.
I feel challenged by the fact that I am part of a world
that is so rich, while, at the same time, there are those
in the Third World who suffer so terribly. The injustice, the
poverty, the brokenness, the hurt, and the loneliness which is so
rife in our society and in our world is a constant pain, and
something I have to struggle with daily.
I would choose Jesus to be locked in a church
with, but I would leave it up to him as to whom else he
would want me to be with. So it would, perhaps, be a question of
opening the door to someone I would never dream of being with. But
this is how it is with Jesus: he turns me upside down, and amazes
me, and helps me to enter into another reality -overwhelms me with
Margaret Rizza was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Officium Divinum has just been released by RSCM and