A New Musical Piece Comes To Life For Christmas

Howard Goodall on 'The Gravity Of Kindness' to be premiered by the Addison Singers

Howard Goodall


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‘A new piece comes to life’ is how David Wordsworth, Music Director Addison Singers describes the unique composition by eminent composer and west London resident, Howard Goodall.

'The Gravity of Kindness' will be performed at the forthcoming Christmas in Chiswick concert on December 7th (see poster below) for what will be the premiere of the third, final and largest of the recent commissions undertaken by the Addison Singers in memory of Cathy Bereznicki.

Having worked with Howard Goodall several times and, having sung and very much enjoyed a number of Howard's pieces, the Addison Singers are particularly looking forward to this event.

Howard Goodall is a composer of musicals, choral music, and music for television, as well as presenting music-based programmes for television and radio, for which he has won a number of awards. His work 'Eternal Light: A Requiem' (2008) has had almost 600 live performances across the world. Howard is an EMMY, BRIT and BAFTA award-winning composer of choral music, stage musicals, film and TV scores.

For his text, Howard chose part of the well-known 16th century 'Coventry Carol' (Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child') and a traditional Mexican lullaby, 'Arroro mi Niño'. Enclosed and running alongside those two texts, is a beautiful poem by the Palestinian/American writer Naomi Shihab Nye. 'Kindness' was written after a particularly traumatic event in her own life, when she and her husband were robbed of their possessions on a trip to Mexico. A fellow traveller on their bus was murdered.

Howard says: "I had wanted for a while to write a work that addressed the Christmas story from a reflective viewpoint, and was delighted that David agreed to my proposal for a work shaped around a poem, Kindness, by American-Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye, a poem I’d long carried around in my pocket on a piece of crumpled paper.

"One day, I thought, I’ll set this to music, when the right opportunity arises. I’ve written quite a few carols over the years and have always felt that the nativity story – however literally one addresses its various anecdotal/historical/mythical/blurred-by-time details – carries a very powerful, universal message: a poor mother and her child, in difficult, fragile circumstances, seeking refuge, not reduced to a footnote of the tale but elevated to the very point and purpose of it.

"The smallest, least important people being centre-stage. Power transferred from a mighty empire to a child. We have been reminded in recent years of the potential power of unlikely yet immensely courageous children, from Malala Yousafzai to Greta Thunberg so the subtext of the Nativity is clear to us whether or not we believe the child in question was some kind of manifestation of God. "

"Once I'd started doing it, the idea of juxtaposing it with the other texts came into view because of the Christmas theme.

"Millions of mothers, right now, many of them displaced or stateless, are fearful of their children’s safety and future, and respond to the fear with an unquenchable, bottomless love, wrapping their babies in a cocoon of comfort and security as protection against the perils ahead, a process Naomi Shihab Nye describes as ‘the tender gravity of kindness’. It remains to be seen whether the music I have written to express these wonderful words successfully achieves its goal but my intention was to evoke in sound and voices the immense power and truth of that thought.”

concert poster

Howard reflects on how the changes in the world we live in, particularly with the advent of social media and technology, have influenced his own work.

"The community which we need to connect with has changed. Back in the day it was the village but now it is the world. I'm now aware that our community is a world wide one which is why I am drawn to a universal theme to embrace this."

He is passionate about music lessons being continued in schools and is happy that amateur choirs are flourishing. "There are some who may feel too timid to join if they don't have the skills to read music, but that's not actually true. There are lots of choirs you can join where you learn by ear etc.

"There is often a phenomenon where as people get older there may be loneliness and singing in a choir is a lovely way to overcome this. Younger people who may sing in a choir at school often get involved in their adult life with careers and raising families, but we often see that they return to singing at a later stage in life when they have more time. It doesn't matter if there is a 20 year gap. They can still reconnect."

The poem and indeed the piece ends in quiet optimism –

'.... only kindness raises its head from the crowd of the world to say “It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend” ‘

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November 23, 2019

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