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Women’s anthology of church music will right historical wrongs, say compilers

25 May 2018


A service at St Thomas’s, Salisbury, to celebrate International Women’s Day, in March. The singing was led by Godolphin Vocal Ensemble, under their director Olivia Sparkhall

A service at St Thomas’s, Salisbury, to celebrate International Women’s Day, in March. The singing was led by Godolphin Vocal Ensemble, under their di...

AN ANTHOLOGY of church music composed by women is an opportunity to right historical wrongs, its compilers have said.

Multitude of Voyces, which seeks to bring music to underrepresented and marginalised communities, is launching its appeal for submissions today.

Besides appealing to the public, Louise Stewart and Olivia Sparkhall, directors of the organisation, are using social media and music-streaming services to discover historical and original compositions, in an effort to broaden the repertoire of the country’s choirs.

Collections such as Hymns Ancient and Modern contained “some of the most beautiful poetry written” by women, Ms Stewart said last week. “But scarcely a note of the music which carries those words . . . is composed by women.”

She believes that there are “compound and complex reasons” for the the lack of liturgical Anglican works by women. “These are not just to do with emancipation for women in general, but also, specifically, to do with the changing role of women in the Church over the last 30 years.”

Now that women’s ordination had been secured, some had deemed the conversation around gender to be complete, she said, rather than in need of extension into “the further reaches of ministry”, including music.

In some cases, women’s contributions had been “deliberately ignored”, she said. There was a “significant disparity” in the representation of women’s gifts in composing in the Anglican Church, and in the secular sphere.

“It is indisputable that women have composed music over many hundreds of years, suitable for, or intended for, worship. But, as George Richford, director of music at Romsey Abbey, notes, ‘trying to source material [by women composers] which is historically broad and stylistically varied is hard work.’”

She hopes that the anthology will be useful in both parish and cathedral settings, including contemporary composers and also those “silenced by the historical norms of their times. . . It is possible, in a very small way, to right some historical wrongs.”

The goal was to create “an accessible and affordable anthology, with a rich and diverse representation of music for worship through the ages” which was suitable for small parishes with limited resources and and professional choirs.

Multitude of Voyces intends to research, edit, and produce the anthology with the support of church and cathedral musicians. Among those who have expressed support are the Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Anna Lapwood; and the Director of Music at Selwyn College, Cambridge, Sarah MacDonald.

Submissions may include original compositions or recommendations of historical works, both of which should be free from copyright. All pieces must be suitable for use within the Anglican liturgy. Submissions need not be limited to soprano, alto, tenor, or bass settings, and can include solos, chamber works, and works for upper or lower voices.

They can be emailed to admin@multitudeofvoyces.co.uk, or posted to Multitude of Voyces, 7 New Street, Salisbury, SP1 2PH.

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