Anthem 10 – I will say unto the Lord

Welcome to Anthem 10 in my attempt to write a new choir anthem every week for a year. I’m Kevin Mulryne and I hope you will enjoy listening to my progress throughout 2024. Please do visit the website Anthem52.com, follow along on x.com – @realanthem52 or Instagram – @realanthem52 and send me a message to show@anthem52.com.

Finally into double figures! It feels like a bit of a milestone to have completed the tenth anthem of 2024. It wasn’t all plain sailing this week, however. I managed to find some words from Psalm 91 (xci), set for this week in the Church of England lectionary, that felt possible to use – or at least three and a half verses:


Words for Anthem 10:

I will say unto the Lord, Thou art my hope, and my stronghold: my God, in him will I trust ,

For he shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter: and from the noise-some pestilence.

He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers: his faithfulness and truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

Thou shalt not be afraid for any terror by night:

I decided to go for choir a cappella and try to include some interesting harmonic effects. This was partly after re-listening to some of the previous anthems and being disappointed by their lack of risk-taking in this department. I wonder what I will think of those early anthems this time next year.

So, I deliberately added unusual shifts in cadences, to see what would happen. I’m absolutely no harmonic expert but I think, for example, the anthem starts in C major and then the first cadence takes it into G major, followed swiftly by E major. I remember being afraid or at least deeply confused by key changes when I was at college. It was undoubtedly because I didn’t play the piano and I hadn’t been able to grasp ‘how’ to change key in a piece. My composition teacher mentioned ‘modulation by insistence’, an idea I liked a lot! Through the process of these 10 anthems and also from watching some YouTube videos, I now feel emboldened by my experiments and heartened by the current attitude towards composition I have discovered. In common with a lot of other activities, the old, elitist attitudes are fading and there seems to be a lot more openness now to experimentation without needing to know exactly what is going on in the intricacies of harmonic structure. In my opinion, this can only be a good thing.

This doesn’t mean I found it easy this week to write anthem 10. I had long periods of doubt about the parts in between the cadences. They seemed very static. I was deliberately trying out block chords rather than contrapuntal, weaving part writing but it seemed to lack a sense of direction. I probably did more tinkering with the notes than in any previous anthem and eventually decided to add a middle section with interweaving lines as a contrast to all the chordal writing. This seemed to work.

There was still something holding the sense of motion back, however. I realised that the bass part was high and close to the tenor part for the majority of the time. Adding more motion into the pitch of the bass solved the problem. I have to admit that, having been a bass in a choir for many years, I tend to listen out for the bass lines in most pieces and if it’s static, I am less interested. Note to self – always think about the motion in the bass part.

I’ve ended up being fairly pleased with anthem 10 – or at least I was until I tried to transfer it into Logic Pro. I’ve managed to define what the major problem I have with synthetic voices is – repeated notes. When the note stays the same but the word changes, the software plays exactly the same note beginning, producing a kind of ‘machine gun’ effect. In my research this week I have discovered that the more expensive (out of my range) choir plugins have the ability to vary the vowel sound of each note and even build up approximations of any word, if you are prepared to take the time to work it out. However, these plugins are prohibitively expensive. I did manage to find a different plugin (actually a free one!) which allows you to control the starts of the notes more effectively and I’m trying it out for anthem 10. It might be just as bad in a different way and I’m very much learning how to tweak the settings but see what you think.

Well, what do you think? Let me know on X.com @realanthem52, Instagram @realanthem52, as a comment below or via email show@anthem52.com

Before I go this week, many thanks to those who have been in touch recently, including the commenters on previous anthems – Guy DeRome, Greg Clinton, Jeffrey Crecelius, Paul Hailes, Jamie McQuinn and Preston Frazier.

I hope you will join me next week for a new episode – and a new anthem – only 42 to go – but until then the question remains – will I make it to Anthem 52?


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