Congratulations to Jessie Reeves who has won the BBC Christmas Carol competition. When I heard the six finalist carols at their first semi-public performance sung by the BBC Singers at Maida Vale Studios a week ago, I had an inkling about her composition and picked the score out of the pile for a last look (as a judge of this competition, The Pile looms large in my consciousness until the winner is finally chosen, in a Radio 3 audience vote, and I can stop thinking about it.) Jessie’s music has been a total earworm in my head ever since.
As usual, it’s difficult to say why memorability emerged from this short stretch of music. I was impressed by all the six finalists – five music teachers (including Jessie as a current PGCE student) and an English teacher, all of them accomplished, well-educated musicians. One winning factor, operating subtly in the background, may have been the choice of metre. This year’s set text, ‘A new work is come on hand’ is a strong, broad-limbed medieval verse, and many of the entries expectably set the poem in a sturdy 6/8 or 4/4. But Jessie’s was in a lighter, dancing 3/4 – except for a couple of 4/4 bars woven unpredictably into the middle of each verse. Probably because I’m a composer, technical quirks like this really speak to me.
However, a couple of Radio 3 listeners amongst my acquaintance pointed out to me the consistently melodic quality of the winning composition; which also has the feel, somebody else thought, of a pop standard, but with classical expertise at its heart. Yet another suggestion for its success has just been made to me by a fellow dog walker in the park; ‘we liked the piano introduction which reminded us of the music we sing in church’. Just for once I would like to bless my part-time employers, the BBC, for instituting a competition which has made it possible to discuss the whys-and-wherefores of composing music more widely, and outside the usual confines of ‘contemporary music’.