Sound Becoming Song
An a cappella setting for mixed chorus of Ode to St. Cecilia by Malcolm Guite.

Duration: 5' 15"
Difficulty: 4/5

Click here to view score.
Ode to St. Cecilia
Malcolm Guite (1957- )

You rested briefly here Cecilia
In this good ground, the Roman catacomb:
Its rounded vaults are rich with sudden sound
As pilgrims hymn you through the darkened air.
For you made music in your martyrdom,
Transposed the passion of your wedding night
To angel-given garlands, wreathed in light.
In all your three days dying you made room
For beautiful abundance, gifts and giving,
Your death was blessing and your passing praise,
As you gave way to grace,
Like music that still lives within its dying
And gives in giving place.
Cecilia, give way to grace again,
Transmute it into music for us all:
Music to stir and call the sleeping soul,
And set a counterpoint to all our pain,
To bless our senses in their very essence
And undergird our sorrow in good ground.
Music to summon undeserved abundance,
Unlooked for overbrimming, rich and strong,
The unexpected plenitude of sound
Becoming song.
When Martin Neary asked me to compose a new work honoring St. Cecilia, he gave me the freedom to choose a text. However, none of the existing Cecilia texts seemed to “leap off the page” for me. So I asked my friend and collaborator, Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite, if he had ever written anything about the saint and his response included this sentence: “Her tomb is in the catacombs in Rome and I once had the thrilling experience of standing there in almost complete darkness whilst a group of visiting pilgrims sang a doxology in her honour.” This hallowed moment proved fruitful in inspiring his new poem and I, in turn, have tried to re-imagine it in my musical setting. From that starting point, the text and music blossom in reflection on how, in Malcolm’s words, “the dying grace of Cecilia’s martyrdom still lives within its dying,” like “the gift and grace of music itself.”
Commission & Performance History
Sound Becoming Song is scheduled for its world premiere by the Millennium Consort Singers under the direction of Martin Neary on 27 October 2013 at Pomona College's Bridges Hall of Music.