Correcting the balance by commissioning LGBT+ relevant music
Novel Meetings - A BSL Poem by DL Williams with music by Kate Whitley
In 2021, the choir commissioned Novel Meetings, specifically for our concert A Meeting Place, which was was a collaborative performance project between The Fourth Choir and an ensemble of Deaf professional musicians and performers and was held at Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican.
The piece describes the author’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its impact on how we meet and connect with others, from their perspective as a member of the Deaf community. The choral setting complements the atmosphere and narrative of the poem without use of literal English translation.
Our composer in residence for 2018-2020 was Stuart Beatch
We brought our 2020 commission forward a bit to include it in our 2019 autumn concert 'Powerful and Dangerous, women who have made a difference'. Composer Stuart Beatch created a setting of a poem by Sofia Samatar called Girl Hours, which remembers astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1868 –1921) who worked at Harvard in the 1890s and discovered a way to measure stellar distances using the pulsing of variable stars. Women were not allowed to operate telescopes, so Leavitt worked at her desk into the early hours of the morning (the girl hours), calculating the brightness of stars as they appeared in the observatory's photographic plate collection.
Teach me to rise without standing,
to hold the galaxy's calipers
with the earth at one gleaming tip,
to live vastly and with precision,
where distance is no longer measured in miles but in lifetimes,
in epochs, in breaths, in light years, in girl hours.
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Our 2019 commission was a setting of a poem by Walt Whitman called Song of Myself, from award-winning composer Stuart Beatch. The text, excerpted from the poem of the same name by Whitman, is lush and fierce. It speaks not only of individuality and expression, but also of sexuality and gender. The setting highlights the strength inherent in the text, beginning and ending with the repetition of the words 'I am', and eventually transforming into statements of empowerment "I am enough'.
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In 2019, we also commissioned a choral arrangement of Take the A Train by Billy Strayhorn, from Clare Wheeler, a singer, arranger, composer and former Swingle Singer.
Strayhorn wrote thousands of arrangements for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Recent research has revealed that many of the compositions published under Duke Ellington’s name were actually written, either in whole or in part, by Strayhorn. He was an out gay black man in 1940s, together with Aaron Bridgers, also a jazz pianist with whom he lived for ten years. We honored Billy Strayhorn in our Stonewall 50th anniversary concerts as a significant 'Stonewall Warrior'.
In 2019, for our Christmas concert featuring women composers, we also commissioned Clare Wheeler to make a choral arrangement of With Us, her own composition originally written for, performed and recorded by Clare and the Swingle Singers.
In 2018, Senate House Library commissioned Stuart Beatch to compose a song as part of their exhibition Queer Between the Covers, which we premiered at the concert as part the season. The piece I Am Like Many, which is in four parts, comprises quotations from a 1958 debate when the UK Parliament discussed if homosexuality should be decriminalised.
Our composer in residence for 2014-2017 was Alexander Campkin
Our 2017 commission was a setting of a poem by Wilfred Owen called The Ghost of Shadwell Stair, from award-winning composer Alexander Campkin. Now celebrated as one of the greatest poets writing on the horrors of trench warfare, Wilfred Owen kept his sexuality secret during his army service. He enlisted in 1915 and met the poet Siegfried Sassoon, for whom he developed a profound affection and admiration and who mentored him in his writing. Many of the details of his life at the time are unknown as huge volumes of his letters were destroyed by members of Owen’s family who considered the content ‘discreditable’. Owen was killed a week before the signing of the Armistice and news of his death reached his mother by telegram as the country celebrated the end of the conflict.
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Our 2016 project was a competition to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. The 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was marked by major celebrations but the Fourth Choir wanted to ensure that we were also celebrating his sexuality. Very few people know that Shakespeare wrote 126 sonnets describing his love for a beautiful young man and we wanted to change that.
We received 96 entries from 17 countries around the world - and the winners were:
First place: Ian Lawson (Wales, UK)
Runners up: Benjamin Cramer (Minnesota, USA), Stuart Beatch (SK, Canada)
Honorable mentions: Justin Rubin (Minnesota, USA), Manos Panayiotakis (Crete, Greece)
Three Years by Ian Lawson
To me, fair friend, you never can be old
For as you were when first your eye I eye
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah, yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived:
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
Our 2015 commission was The First Kiss, the world-première setting by UK composer Alexander Campkin of two poems by the Ancient Greek poet Strato (C. 100 A.D). Until the mid 20th century, these poems about love between men were considered taboo - censored, left untranslated, or published under assumed names. Much thanks to Francis Nwokedi for making this commission possible.
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Our first commission in 2014 was Unleash the beauty of your eyes, a setting of a Sappho poem by Alexander Campkin. Sappho (c. 600 B.C.) wrote her poetry as lyrics to music – the poems were always intended to be sung, however none of the original music survives and until now, there has been no music in print that sets her poetry to music. This piece has been sung by choirs around the world, and included in choral competitions, such as The 54th International Choral Singing Competition Seghizzi.
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