True friendships, the friendships that reach the deepest and most hidden parts of our hearts, always have the shock of surprise.  We are journeying on, struggling on the narrow roads of our daily pilgrimage, dragging our baggage with us, when in the streets of our lives we suddenly find that we are being greeted, and the face and the voice, which we have never encountered before, is utterly familiar, and yet, as far as we know, wholly new to us, almost like the story a friend told me of a piece of music he heard apparently for the first time as an adult, which nonetheless felt completely familiar to him.

He couldn’t make sense of his familiarity with a work which up to then he never consciously encountered before, until he spoke about it to his mother one day and she told him that he had indeed heard it before, but only as an unborn child when she was carrying him.  At a certain point in his life, through some grace the action of which he couldn’t at that time fully understand or appreciate, the friendship with the composer and his music had been reignited, and he had found another musical friend to accompany him and help him make sense of the confusing cauldron of his experience and emotional life.

So it is that truly great composers are speaking out loud, for all of us, what we can’t acknowledge or face about ourselves and our lives, and what we are desperately struggling with.  They articulate our sometimes silent cries of anguish and anger.  Composers will show us up as cruel, bitter, sarcastic and wounding, as having sinful, satirical, paradoxical intent towards each other – and it is so liberating to be given the gift of seeing all of ourselves, including the wrecked part of our humanity, with the clarity with which God sees us and knows us.  We find we may be all of these things yet acceptable to God, such is the redemptive power working through these works.  That, surely, is Bach’s most liberating gift.  Here is God, through this music, showing us what we are, and yet also giving us a powerful vision of what we are becoming through God’s deeply creative love.

An encounter with music is not all about our struggle though.  Music is also able to express the glory of being ourselves in our full and liberated humanity.  Composers release, thorough their music, powers of ecstatic praise in us and overwhelming joy that give us a foretaste of our glorified selves living freely in the presence of God in the beauty of our unique holiness.    Music becomes our own singing, and what a wonderful sound we find ourselves making.   Maybe we don’t think this as we caterwaul in the privacy of our showers and kitchens, but when we find that we are engaged with other human beings in a remarkably familiar struggle, the combined sound of our searching is that of a genuine and truthful engagement with God.

Thus when we engage fully with great music, praying and longing through it, it draws deeply from all aspects of our humanity.  It is thus true, I think, that we reinterpret all works of art autobiographically.   Once an artist completes a work and releases it, it ceases to be a private expression and becomes instead the means by which people engage with their own realities.  In that sense, a work of art is never completed but lives in a constant process of recreation, of engagement and resolution, in so far as we can fully resolve anything in our lives until we meet with God.  This process is partly described by the two time frames in which we live, linear time, the traveling from A to B, from minute to minute, day to day, month to month, year to year, and maturation time, the time of our growing and changing in God, which has a more circuitous quality as we return again and again to issues we avoid until we have made some sort of peace with them and are able to move on from them to new life and new growth.  Maturation time, like the holy season of Lent, is where we live in remembering, recalling to mind what must change, and in active response to God we make a passionate engagement with that issue in order to change the stuck and unredeemed parts of our lives.  Praying with music can be a key part of this remembering.  Great music, such as the music of Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions, make us remember our humanity and the organic nature of our spiritual lives as we are prompted by the message of the works to free ourselves.  This is the ambiguity of remembering, that we live most creatively by recalling ourselves, yet at the same time are moved by that remembering to change and become more fully human.

Music will speak to and for us and accompany us on our journey.  We will find a particular composer mirrors the struggles we are going through at a particular moment – thus sometimes we might love the music of, say, Beethoven but not want to listen to a note of English music, and then we find the wind in our emotional and spiritual sails changing and Howells becomes the friend who greets us from his own frail coracle.  I think this accompaniment is something very strongly akin to our relationship with God, to the gift of the Holy Spirit’s constant, but still small voice.  “The Spirit will remind you of all that I have taught you” Jesus tells us (John 14.26), and in the renewal and rediscovery process that is our life long journey, music becomes one of God’s instruments of love.

Bach’s genius has made him so mythical that we forget the very ordinary life that lay behind it, namely, that of a professional musician who sometimes had to struggle to find jobs, while at the same time trying to maintain and love a very large family.  He worked for most of his career for the still young Lutheran Church, so the St. Matthew Passion and the St. John Passion speak in the language of his hearers, which is why to translate them into the your own language is to live in the heart of the original.  Bach also included in his work the familiar faith songs of his congregations, the hymns in which they would have joined, so these Passions are not concert works as such, but part of a collective cry to God on Good Friday when they were first performed in his Leipzig churches in the 1720s.

The works follow the narrative thread of their respective Gospels.  The story of Christ’s suffering and death is largely told by the Evangelist, with the chorus and the soloists taking the various crowd parts and the parts of individual characters.  Chorales and arias then provide the individual human response to the story of God’s total identification with us through Christ’s Passion.   The story of God in the Gospels is indeed of the ever deepening identification by Divine Love with human experience, that we are led by the hand on our journey by a tiny and helpless Holy Child, by a Sinless One who nonetheless, humbly before God’s children, follows them to Baptism, by a Jesus who went through the worst and most humiliating suffering a human being can go through so that whatever we ourselves live through, we will be with a God who has been there before us and has not just sat on a throne judging us.

The experience today will therefore be like entering a great interior space of worship in ourselves, an interior pilgrimage starting at the main entrances of the two great opening choruses, before you discover how Bach portrays our humanity throughout the work.  The day will be divided into four Waymarks, and between Waymarks, you will have space to look at your personal response to the holiness of these musical Gospels.  While much of the focus will be on the St. John Passion, extracts from the St. Matthew will act as “side chapels,” and we will fill our interior worship space with our own prayerful and creative response to gift of love that God is giving us.

So Ammerdown’s Praying with Music retreats aim to help introduce a new perspectives to our engagement with music, namely finding in it a way of life praying: music as a medium given to us by the Creator Spiritus, our Creator God, through which we are able to bring the struggles of our lives with full honesty before a God who loves us utterly.                                Euan Tait, Lent 2012, Ammerdown.

We were surrounded, in these galleries, only by fragments, by sections sawn off and sold from church altarpieces, their incompleteness  a matter of regret for us but entirely logical for the churches in their own time, for when the images had started to break up and fade, it seemed to them a broken image could not represent the truth and power of their faith.  For us, however, lost warfaces and burnings later, the now missing shattered majesty of Duccio’s Virgin and Child, the broken body of Christ on his flood wrecked Cross, seems an apt music for our faith, a true incarnational sign of what it is, for us, to be human.

A leonine laughter

The draw at the heart that is in another scriptural voice, within another attempt by human beings trying to overhear the whisper, the soft wild growl of God.  The draw is because the heart is responding, and I have seen the holy lives lived within other faiths.  This holy book is full of God’s fierce, challenging humour, and is there all the time within it, and yet there is the peace given from our listening to it, an authentic, rich peace.

An old city dances!

We look at a city and think it is permanent – but anyone who knows and loves European cities sees and loves them as competing fragments of streetscapes.  In Bath, the overwhelming impression is Georgian of course, but it too dances with different elements of its long-lived self – a medieval city wall; the great Romanesque cathedral’s crossing tower piers at the east end of the very joyous Abbey church, whose fan vault pillars give the impression of great trees in constant and emphatic Spring flower; a war damaged fragment, a single story only of what must have been a much larger building on the south side of the old city, and occasional bubblings of the ancient landscape, the sandbanks that once flowed down to the river.  All cities, living and scarred beasts.

Arnold’s 9th Symphony (1986)

I was listening to this as the great tree beyond my window faded last night into the misty darkness.  The work is a creative miracle – dragged out of a pain distorted life, yet expressing this long journey with utmost simplicity – in the first two movements, a repeated tune is passed between the different voices of the orchestra, then the long cry of the Finale ends with a flute-inflected D Major chord, a final word of light.  The simplicity of a master, yet a simplicity that confused on its first performance.

Radio Interview

June 2011 Interview on local BBC radio about Swindon’s Safe Place Scheme – Euan comes in at 2’47”. Please click on the button below to listen.

Click to listen

Services

Services Summary

Euan has developed strong partnerships with a variety of fellow professionals, delivering highest quality training, librettos and retreats to colleagues on time, while being able to deliver a responsive service to different client needs.

Euan believes that his service delivery should put client requirements at the centre of his planning, whenever developments are required.

Examples of writings

from Among trees

I walk into the breathy gatherings of trees,
their games with light, their unease with sound;
unsettled instruments, they are voices perhaps,

unseen or missing, and in their tensed flesh
is their restlessness, shaped into strained sinews
over loud, troubled bones…

from 3 Trials by Water
The opera is set over the course of several months in a part flooded coastal city in the near future. The Opera is in three acts; the duration of each act is 40 minutes.

I.i
Orchestral Prelude – fleeing.
(The curtain rises on the CHORUS OF THE DISPOSSESSED, milling around the stage in confusion and terror. The scene is a bleak hillside, where they’ve clearly only just arrived, and on which they are encamped as refugees. There are tents, blue tarpaulin, cooking fires; they are a lost, disorientated people. Suddenly, they raise their voices in shock and agony).

CHORUS
No!
Not to us!
Not to our lives!
Not to our people!
Not the waters that came suddenly
like a violent army we had wronged,
vengeful, angry, full of our guilt,
sweeping us from our houses
up into these hills, where they pursue us
in terrible storms, rains that burn our backs,
falling like acid, making the ground boil.

It was a night a week ago
that became more and more restless,
more terrifying, more unknown:
the sea, for years, pressing on the land
as if to claim it, the ground slowly liquefying,
the air becoming an unnatural fire
of fierce rain and shimmering drought,
then that night the sun set
in strange, misshapen colours,
a distorted, inverted rainbow,
as if for the last time. Then, at midnight,
the sound of a great roaring,
as if a crowd was baying for us
and would not stop until we were caught.

No chance, no change:
we were outside
and it caught up with us,
sweeping us away until we died
or woke on the sea’s new shore.
The water will not leave us.
It declares us guilty…

from Hymn for Royal Wootton Bassett.

Tune: Abbot’s Leigh or Blaenwern
8 7.8 7. D.

We are God’s great shout of glory,
we are Christ’s fierce cry renewed,
we, the Spirit’s passionate mercy,
we are hope made real, made true.
God has made us royal in our calling,
royal in fullest humanity,
there with Christ in all His suffering,
this is our true royalty.

Truly, as the Hercules landed
bringing them from suffering,
so we stood in silence, grounded
in the Christ, the wounded king,
saying wordlessly, they mattered,
every name for us is known,
though by pain the heart is shattered,
yet the Cross is Christ’s true throne…

from ORDINARY TIME LITURGY

Acclamation of Christ
Why have we come here?
Because you, Lord Jesus,
have drawn us here in love.
Why have we come to pray?
Because, Crucified,
you draw us,
sinful and longing,
to you.
Why have we come to worship?
Because, Lord Jesus,
we proclaim we are your brothers and sisters,
that your elect are those
who know themselves poor and broken
and in need of you.
So we have come, so we are here.
So we long to know you, holy Lord.

Prayers of the people, ending with:
Creator God, who made humanity to be holy,
Holy Spirit, who lives in us,
Christ, who died for us
may your name be honoured and adored.
May your New Realm come,
for your Elect are not who we expected.
May your will be done,
and may we come to know and love your will,
in the daily acts of truth and love
that are the heart of God, and draw us to God.
Feed us with the bread of life and living springs,
for we are hungry and thirsty.
Forgive us our wrongdoings,
may we be willing to forgive.
Lead us away from temptation,
and deliver us from the evil that haunts us.
For yours is everything, all majesty,
honour, holiness, delight and power,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer
As we cry out for love, so God again calls us to the table of Her Son, Jesus Christ.
The meal of love is simple, mere bread and wine on a wooden table.
We are here in the presence of God, people who seek God’s love.
Love quietly calls to our whole being. Jesus, affectionate, tender and intimate yet blazing with holiness and grief for His suffering people, sits down to eat with us, even us.
The Creator of the universe, in all God’s glory, was hungry and thirsty, and as Jesus asked the outcast Samaritan woman for a drink of water so long ago, so now He asks us to eat and drink with Him.
And so, Lord, here we remember the time of your suffering,
that You, Jesus, in the same night that you were betrayed,
knowing you were to be betrayed
but persistent and vulnerable in your love,
took bread and gave the Creator thanks;
you broke it and gave it to your disciples, saying…

So come,
do not draw back
do not count yourselves unworthy to dine with Christ,
but receive Love with love,
for here Jesus says to you:
Peace be with you.

from Praying with Music (Bach Passions)
Waymark 2
As the whole experience of the Gospels gathers around these opening choruses, so our reading on this Waymark is not directly from the Passion texts but from the long engagement that Bach and his librettist would have had with the whole Christian story as it unfolded in their own inner lives. These two creative artists would have spent their lives listening deeply for the unspoken words and lives of the distressed, angry and sometimes joyful and hopeful crowds that people the gospels and their city (a city wounded by the persecution of its Jewish community in the 1930s, shattered by the 1940s bombings, and since then on a journey of healing, which included the eruption of hope in 1989 which ended the Communist regime).

Jesus had spent much of his life surrounded by crowds of those who longed to know him, be healed by him, be understood by him, be taught by him, if his teaching could reach into the parts of their lives and personalities that they didn’t like, didn’t understand and had never stopped being at war with. A people without God who died for them, or a people who, given the struggling reality of their lives, cannot bring themselves yet to believe in God’s mercy and healing, a people engaged in a permanent civil war with themselves, are the characters who make up the swirling crowds whose voices burst out at the opening of the two surviving Bach Passions.

At the opening of the St. Matthew Passion, Bach portrays us all on our long pilgrimage to our encounter with God at the Cross. The air is alive with our prayers, uncertainties, anxieties and questions…

Quiet Day (Holy Cross Day)
from Waymark 1

The story of the crucifixion seems to be that of the fabric of love, the love intended for us, being slowly, frighteningly distorted, twisted, then broken. Christ’s loving heart freely reaches out to Judas, but is answered by a bought betrayal. The protective, purgative, healing process of the law is twisted into the brutal, ugly story of Pilate’s political weakness and forced compromise against the instincts of his heart, where truth is blocked from deciding the outcome because the potential political and personal cost of that truth is unbearable to Christ’s judges. The tenderness of the body being washed, the feet, with its delicate nerve endings, handled by Jesus with such gentleness, becomes the skin-tearing scourge with its bone fragments in a leather strap and the nails and raw outcry and anger and spat mockery of the cross. It is the story of human evil and brokenness gradually unfolding, of terrible processes with deep roots in the human heart unfolding to their chosen consequences, and then the silence of the tomb’s shock and disbelief.

The strong, strange, awesome weakness of God, the holy oddness of His unexpected Spirit, means that a day that starts like this, a day that seems that it will only leave a deep scarring of guilt and grief on the disciples’ hearts, becomes by the sheer holy force of the Spirit a journey to renewal and hope, and not the slow, inevitable spiral of destructive guilt, with its physical and emotional consequences, that could have been the result of the disciples’ deep failure. Instead, the ruin of the Cross becomes for all who participate in its redemptive force, then and now, a journey that is still unfolding for us, a journey that will perhaps take a new turn for us today.

The Cross, that hideous, ugly symbol of criminality punished in a terrible way, is a place of strangeness and contradictions, and yet it is this kind of inner life that makes it the source of our spiritual energy…

Retreat Leader

I am an experienced retreat leader, liturgist and preacher.  At the Ammerdown Centre link, I have led all the Quiet Days and developed a new retreat called Praying with Music (see below).  I’m now being invited by outside organisations to lead retreats – see below for recent evaluations.

I am now working on the following projects:

  1. Waymarks of the Gospel, a new book of meditations based on the Gospel stories.
  2. Praying with Music, a book of meditations of the spiritual and emotional meanings of great music.

A sample of the feedback I’ve been getting:

19th April 2014: Easter Saturday Quiet Day, Chepstow Priory.

Dear Euan,
On behalf of the Parish of Chepstow, I should like to commend you for the Quiet Day which was organised and led by you at St. Mary’s Priory, Chepstow on Holy Saturday.
As feedback I should like to make the following observations about the day:
The ancient Priory Church had been prepared in advance in a way which lent itself well to the monastic history of the church. Stations were carefully situated throughout the building to give space and opportunities for prayer and reflection. The themes at each station led the participants on a journey around the central theme of the day ‘Called by Jesus’. These prayerful spaces were each accompanied by thought provoking visual aids to draw us into a theme for contemplation. They were placed in a way that created sacred spaces which were sensitive to the particular chosen areas of the church building.
The day allowed each person to choose how much or how little they wished to partici- pate in. However the high points of the day were the ‘Waymark’ talks which took place between the times for quiet reflection. Euan Tait has a special way of drawing you into a place of deep refection as he develops his theme throughout the day, allowing each per- son to reach their own level of contemplation.
The day was also complemented by an art workshop where Bible texts were chosen to create imaginative stations of the cross, which were then assembled and painted.
We all benefited from the way in which Euan led this Quiet Day on this most holy of days as we were drawn into the mystery of the Vigil of the Resurrection. He is without doubt the most sensitive and inspiring leader of a Retreat that I have ever encountered.
Our heartfelt thanks go to you from the Parish of Chepstow,
Yours in our Lord’s service,
Revd. Christopher Blanchard. Vicar of Chepstow

Exeter Cursillo Advent Quiet Day participants (December 2012):
Superb presentation at the right pace. Well written aims to meditation and thought. The soft, seated delivery is right as the subject dealt at times with emotive feelings…Excellent preparation & printed guidelines, spoke clearly, friendly and approachable…Offered the retreat as our own time – to do and join in or not. Relaxed and easy to talk to at the meeting time before starting. Pictures (or one) very helpful…Good pictorial helps. Talks on paper to take away. Gentle simple but incisive talks in lovely language. Gentle humour helpful. Advent song gorgeous. Euan’s joining as ‘one of us’ during the course meals etc much appreciated…Spoke clearly and slowly…Very well prepared. The materials are excellent and will be useful to think and meditate on over the Advent season. The pictures are inspirational and the questions thought provoking…Gave a lot of food for thought and time for reflection after each launchpad[talk]…I found the presentation helpful, prayerful, relaxing and meaningful… Speaking slowly and with conviction, making it all sound simple…Far exceeded my expectations, beautifully led and the right level and pace for me. I liked the handouts to refer to afterwards and will help me when I go home…Spoke slowly, was clear in his presentation, both verbal and visual. Material was useful during the day, also to take home when more time to study scripture. Session before lunch very helpful to me at the present time…Good quality presentation and materials.”
Quiet Day participants:  2012: “Well prepared and good material, created a very peaceful and prayerful atmosphere…A day of peace that feels like a week’s holiday…his initial welcome, introduction and explanation were excellent, so too the thoughtfulness and helpfulness of the Waymark contents. Euan’s spirituality shone through…gave choice for our own personal response, introduced the Reflections in his facilitating style which guided our private meditations. I found the Waymark format more meaningful for me…Euan was gentle and courteous, attentive to our every need. The day was profoundly spiritual…. good presentation- good questions, it makes one think and challenges us…made me feel at home, gave freedom/space, gave clear instructions, prepared thoroughly, challenged and reassured…inclusion of everyone…reflections very helpful, encouraged from notes to look at bible readings in a different way…day was well structured and had a narrative flow that kept my attention focussed, the questions were a real prompt to meditation. ..”  2013: Lent Quiet Day – “reflections well and deeply researched…very well written and presented material, well paced, thought provoking…generated a feeling of calm and inclusiveness.”  Eastertide – “was very sensitive to the needs of the group, nurtured and fed the group, I found the material very helpful…clear, concise programme, inspirational notes…prepared an empathetic space and presence…made us feel relaxed and welcome. encouraged our freedom to be where we wanted to be and included us…led the day with encouragement, but without intruding…”

From participants at 2012 Easter retreat: “The musical contributions made by…Mark and Euan were really outstanding…please convey my gratitude and thanks to all the staff and particularly to Mark and Euan…”

Praying with Music participants: 27th October 2012 (Bach Mass in B Minor): “Presented, explained and interpreted the music in a way which enriched my experience of the Eucharist, and made it even more meaningful. Also, rest for a weary soul. Thank you so much!…Good presentation, relaxed. Enthused, provided fresh insight…wonderful insights, cheerful, welcoming, warm…excellent combination of music itself, meditation and reflection, all of it really came from the heart…attention to detail. Everything from the heart and deeply felt…Wonderful! The printed material is excellent both for now and the future…” 16th March 2012 (Bach Passions): “presented the course very well, structure of course is excellent, good mix of meditation, music, quiet time, looking forward to similar courses…wonderful meditations, very welcoming, very centred on God’s love for us… made us feel comfortable (physically and mentally). Very well prepared…”

St. Bartholemew’s, Wootton Basset: “Thank you for all your wonderful prayers.”

Portrait

Librettos and Poetry

 

 

COMMISSIONS

Euan’s aim as a librettist is to write words that are a powerful catalyst for music, with strong choral architecture, and which speak in the widest possible way for the spiritual longings of a very diverse society.  I delight in writing for choral composers, and feel there is a growing passion for shared singing among the public, and would love to be there to offer new words for composers to enjoy shaping into their own music.   Please use the contact form for commissions.

Euan’s visibility as a librettist is increasing rapidly among choirs and conductors in the US, UK and EU.

Euan has now produced a wide range of choral works with the Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen. Two major works have recently been premiered.  The first, The Christmas Alleluias, was performed by The Valley Chamber Chorale, Stillwater, Minnesota,  and conductor Carol Carver in December 2015. The second, The Wound in the Water, was first performed in Norway’s great cathedral in Trondheim in July 2016 by Conspirare under Craig Hella Johnson,in the presence of government ministers, and was broadcast on national radio. Of the shorter choral works, Flight Song, dedicated to the St. Olaf Choir and conductor Anton Armstrong, was performed across the US, including at  Carnegie Hall, NYC.  December 2016 saw the widely praised premier of a new Christmas work, His Light in Us, under Anton Armstrong (also viewable on YouTube). See also the “Choral Music” section at http://www.kimarnesen.com/#!works/c1h6a which includes publication details of these works.

Euan’s first choral symphony libretto, Unfinished Remembering, with acclaimed music by Paul Spicer, was first performed on 13th September 2014, with the Birmingham Bach choir, the Orchestra of the Swan, and soloists  Johane Ansell (soprano)  and baritone William Dazeley. The vocal score is currently being prepared for a second printing for further performances, and Euan appeared twice on  BBC Midlands Today,  including at a rehearsal of his and Spicer’s new National song,  ‘A Shared Singing’.

Euan is developing other projects, with international choral composers, including an opera.

Response to Unfinished Remembering libretto (2014):

“laden with intensity and meaning…Tait generates a kind of counterpoint akin to David Pountney’s triple-layered text for his Royal Academy and Juilliard School student opera Kommilitonen! (the music there by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies)… it works staggeringly well in one key respect: there is the feeling of not just unease, but danger in the air. Battered by cruellest memories, we are reliving – just as Great War veterans, or Holocaust survivors, the bombed and the battered, the displaced and disquieted anywhere, must relive – the horrors of trauma, and seeking to preserve something, even some kind of ideal, from the rubble. ‘Who was the boy surrounded by hate and stabbed to death in our streets? What was his name? He was our dream architect…’. The endless questions boil down to one thing: a mutual, universal quest to discover our humanity.”  http://seenandheard-international.com/2014/10/premiere-of-paul-spicers-exciting-new-choral-symphony-makes-a-strong-impact-in-birmingham/

Kim André Arnesen, on the anthem text Flight Song:  ” I have had time to both read and sing your poem, and I think it´s beautiful. Just what I had in mind with a poem about singing, but keeping it universal and as you say, being valid for many people. And it really appeals to young people. And I feel it´s spiritual as well keeping it universal…t’s been a pleasure working with you.” (April 26th 2014, via email)

“The text by Scottish poet and retreat master Euan Tait opens with the line “All we are we have found in song.” Arneson’s setting of the poem was given a ravishing reading by the choir, and it truly seemed that the group of young people on stage had found themselves in song and (that they are) “alive to love, we sing as love.”Worcester Telegram & Gazette – telegram.com Worcester, MA, 2015

Response to A Shared Singing, the new national song for the Military Choir Birmingham, 16th November 2013:

“A Shared Singing” was also wonderful to hear and sing: somehow I think it could well be in the canon of patriotic songs in the decades and centuries ahead. I was not the only one who had that unmistakeable catching at the heart and slight crack in the voice, because of the words and their music, which goes with such songs, and if that is any sort of harbinger of things to come, well… what more is there to be said? … I can only say thank you so very much: it has a rightness of time and place which so rarely comes.”  Barbara, singer, Birmingham Bach Choir.