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Composing for a Diamond Jubilee

Will Todd has been commissioned to write an anthem for the celebrations marking The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, celebrating her 60 years as monarch. Choristers from St Paul’s and a ‘Diamond Choir’ of young singers from around the UK will perform The Call of Wisdom at the Service of Thanksgiving on 5 June at St Paul’s Cathedral. We asked Will to give us his thoughts on the new piece and the occasion it is celebrating.

How did the commission for the Jubilee service come about?

I’ve written a lot of music for young voices including a piece called Lighting the Way, written for a Children’s Festival in Durham Cathedral and an Evening Service setting for one of the youth choirs at St Edmonds Cathedral. I got to know Michael Hampel (current precentor at St Pauls) on the St Edmonds project when he was on the staff at the Cathedral, so when Michael was planning this song for children’s voices he thought of me. I feel very lucky and honoured to be a part of this amazing event.

How did you approach the setting of the words? Were you given any specific guidelines as to their treatment?

Myself, Andrew Carwood (director of music at St Pauls), and Michael Hampel (who wrote the words) had a discussion about the part of the service that the new anthem would be in. We also discussed the emotional feeling of the piece using words like grandeur, uplifting, and beautiful. I tried to keep those ideas in my mind as I worked on the song.

How does it feel to be part of the grand tradition of composing music for Royal occasions?

Completely amazing! Since I was a child, singing in churches myself, I have watched Royal events on TV and thought what an amazing experience it must be to be a part of. Now I am part of it. I have to pinch myself to be honest.

Official portrait of The Queen taken in the Centre Room in Buckingham Palace in December 2011 © Royal Household/John Swannell.

As your piece will be broadcast all over the world, and in such a dignified setting, will you be nervous on the day?

Well it’s always a bit nerve racking when you have a piece performed for the first time. But I’m going to concentrate on giving the young people in the choirs as much encouragement and inspiration as possible and not show them that I feel nervous. I will try to just enjoy the moment rather than worrying about it. I have tried to write a piece of music that will lift the spirits of everyone.

Will you get a chance to meet the Queen?

Sadly no. She’s a bit busy that day! As soon as the service ends she is scheduled to leave St Pauls and process back through the streets of London. I’ll see her though, and I haven’t seen her in person since she drove past my primary school in 1977 as part of the Silver Jubilee when I was seven! I could never have imagined then that I would be a part of this event now!

British composer and pianist Will Todd has worked at the Royal Opera House, the Lincoln Center in New York, London’s Barbican, and with Welsh National Opera, award-winning choirs The Sixteen and the BBC Singers, and internationally renowned clarinettist Emma Johnson. He was commisioned to write an anthem for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, for which the sheet music is available in SATB or upper voice. Best-known for his choral works, his jazz-inspired Mass in Blue (2003) has been performed more than 100 times since its premiere. He won second prize in the 2002 International Giuseppe Verdi Opera Competition, and his Jazz Concerto for Clarinet (2009) has been performed in the UK, USA, and Finland.

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2 Responses to “Composing for a Diamond Jubilee”
  1. [...] Here are a number of resources we put together for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June: Composing for the Diamond Jubilee, How to Write Music Fit for a Queen, Diamonds, Royal quotations past and [...]

  2. [...] Composer Will Todd wrote a new piece of choral music which was included in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee service. Choristers from St Paul’s and a ‘Diamond Choir’ of young singers from around the UK performed The Call of Wisdom at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. We interviewed Will about it on our blog. [...]

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