Richard Skinner










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Over the last few years I have had a fruitful collaboration with composer Nigel Walsh, a friend from university days, who is currently the director of music at St David’s Church, Exeter. Together we have written Bethlehem! (a musical for schools and communities), a number of liturgical pieces, and some secular songs both silly and serious.

Early in 2009 Nigel proposed that I write the lyrics for a Christmas nativity musical for which he would compse the music, and Bethlehem! is the result of our endeavours. Lastiing about 40 minutes, it consists of 12 songs with a connecting narrative and involves all the usual suspects: Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, the (somewhat wacky) wise men, Herod and his henchmen, along with Old Testament prophets, a singing donkey, and Anna and Simenon prophesying over Jesus in the Temple. Many of the songs have both solo parts and choruses, making them suitable for a range of ability.

At Christmas 2009 it was performed, wholly or in part, by schools in Exmouth, Newton St Cyres and Crediton in Devon, Colchester in Essex, and Bishop Auckland in County Durham. Excerpts will be uploaded soon.

To the right are the lyrics to two of the numbers. For further information and to order the musical, please go to the Bethlehem! website.

Sacred music
We have collaborated on a number of short items, Bread is Broken, suitable for use in a church service, and a longer piece, My Name is Wisdom, based on verses from the book of Proverbs. Nigel also put to music a number of my Julian of Norwich poem sequence, In the Stillness.

Bread is Broken

My Name is Wisdom

In the Stillness

Secular music
We have written several items for Ide Aloud, the community choir of the village of Ide, a school song for the primary school at Ide, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the French philosopher Michel Foucault; a song on amnesia which it yet to be performed (make up your own joke), and several short occasional pieces. The following items give an idea of the range.

The Song of Ida, written for Ide Aloud

Darkness to Light, also written for Ide Aloud

Parrhesian Knights

Honey farewell: a ‘round’ written for Tom & Jean Honey on their departure from St David’s church, Exeter.

The Annunciation

Wake up Mary, shake off sleep; I bring news that will not keep.
God in spirit, modest maid, asks that you come to his aid:
Joy and tears, a boy from heav'n to you and Joseph shall be giv'n;
Call him Jesus; all the earth will one day bless you for his birth.

I am frightened by this news; but my Lord I'll not refuse;
He will comfort me through life, both as maid and Joseph's wife.
I shall love this child of mine, fully human and divine;
Joseph and I, we both shall sing to Jesus, boy and man and king.

Gabriel & Mary
God reveals to humankind one more glimpse of God's own mind;
All creation's called to be fully healed and fully free;
Seraphim and cherubim offer up their joyful hymn:
Men and women, heav'n and earth, shall extol the Christ child's birth.

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The Song of the Magi

We are known as wise men 'cos we often read a book,
There is simply nothing written that we overlook.
We do calculations of a very clever kind,
The sort you shouldn't try at home in case they blow your mind.

Late last night we saw a star appearing in the sky,
Not a star we'd seen before, it made us wonder why;
Looking in our books we find it means a special birth:
A mighty king more mighty than the mightiest king on earth.

We are off to visit him each with a special gift:
A sack of gold for royalty, which takes three men to lift;
Some frankincense quite frankly means we think he is a god;
And add some myrrh 'cos he will die, which for a god is odd.

We were known as wise men but we got it from a book;
There was simply nothing written that we'd overlook.
We did calculations of a very clever kind,
But when we tried them out at home they really blew our mind!

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The connecting narrative consists of a sequence of stanzas in 'rhyme royal', a verse form used by Chaucer for some of the 'Canterbury Tales'. It is ideally suited for narrative. It begins:

We start our story many years before
The birth of Jesus, at a distant date
When ancestors of his have lost a war
And everything’s a mess. If only great
King David could return, he’d change our fate,
They wail. But David’s dead... The future’s looking bleak...
Then through the prophets’ voice, they hear God speak.
(Prophets’ Song)

And now we let the centuries pass by,
Until one night in Nazareth, a town
In northern Israel, we see a shy
And modest girl called Mary, eyes cast down,
Alone and working hard to mend a gown.
Though half-asleep, she’s feeling happy with her life,
For she’s about to marry, she’ll soon be Joseph’s wife.

Although a carpenter by trade, it’s said
That Joseph really is descended from King
David. Mary yawns and shakes her head:
Who cares for talk of kings when love’s the thing!
A noise just then disturbs her quiet evening:
A shining figure fills the room: it is an angel,
God’s messenger-in-chief. His name is Gabriel.
(Annunciation song)

When Joseph learns that Mary is expecting,
He’s not a happy man; for it would seem
That Mary’s been unfaithful, she’s rejecting
Him and all his love. He wants a scheme
To put the wedding off... But in a dream
An angel tells him, "Listen now, make no mistake:
Her child is God’s, so marry her for goodness’ sake!"

These events which are of our concern
Occur when mighty Rome rules many lands,
And Emperor Augustus wants to learn
About the subject people he commands.
How many and where from? are his demands.
So Joseph, Mary (big with child) and others go
To royal Bethlehem. The journey’s long and slow.
(Donkey song)

In far-off countries, free from Roman rule,
There live the Magi: sorcerers, magicians,
Wise men and wealthy kings who like to call
Upon the truths of many old traditions
To help achieve their scholarly ambitions.
They watch the sky, they see its influence on earth,
They understand the signs of life and death and birth.
(Wacky Magi song)

Bethlehem at last; it’s journey’s end
For Mary, Joseph, donkey, everyone.
Mary is dead-beat as they descend,
And what is worse, contractions have begun.
A worried Joseph breaks into a run.
He finds an inn, he loudly bangs upon the door:
No rooms are free, he’s told; no spare square inch of floor.

The inn-keeper takes pity on their plight
And offers them a stable out the back,
So there in Bethlehem that very night
A baby boy is born amid a stack
Of hay and straw and general bric-a-brac.
And Joseph, seeing Mary’s out

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The Annunciation

The Song of the Magi

The Connecting Narrative
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