Howard Goodall: The Lord is my Shepherd

Known for his choral music and his music for television, English composer Howard Goodall CBE is a household name. After studying music at Christ Church, Oxford, Goodall has since been a professional composer and broadcaster. His work for television includes theme tunes and incidental music for some of the most famous UK comedy programmes such as Red Dwarf, Blackadder, Mr. Bean, The Catherine Tate Show, and The Vicar of Dibley. His extensive work in the music industry has earned him many awards, most notably his appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2011.

Goodall’s setting of Psalm 23 became the theme to the UK TV series The Vicar of Dibley, which has become one of the most well-known TV themes of all time. Proven not only to be a strong TV theme, but also as a stand-alone work that is often performed in concerts around the country.  The words to Psalm 23 can be seen here:

 

The Lord is my shepherd

I shall not want,

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

 

The Lord is my shepherd

I shall not want,

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

 

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

I will fear no evil,

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

I will fear no evil,

For you are with me,

You will comfort me,

For you are with me,

You will comfort me,

Comfort me.

 

Surely goodness and mercy,

Shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

Forever

Forever

Forever

 

The Music

The original recording was performed by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. George Humphries was the vocalist. Although originally composed as a serious piece of Church music, The Lord is my Shepherd is chiefly known for its use on TV.

Opening with the organ (or piano) stating the main melodic theme, a lyrical vocal line enters. This solo is in range for either a soprano or a treble (a boy soprano). The legato melody is warm, charming and essentially lays down the melodic core of the piece. Goodall’s word painting is subtle throughout, with words such as ‘leadeth’ being a melismatic phrase – which suggests movement.

The rich harmonies from the rest of the choir bulk up the sound in the middle section of the song. The homophonic texture of the middle section gives a different atmosphere from the start. The beginning was charmingly naive in some ways, whereas this middle section there is more growth. There is an emphasis on the word ‘death’ and the shift to minor tonality reflects this effectively.

The words return to the opening statements, which bring the tonality back into the major. The soloist appears once more, and the reinstatement of this original theme brings this song to a beautiful close. The repetition of the word ‘forever’ has a lasting impact as the choir start to dissolve, leaving the soloist to sing the last ‘forever’. The end of this song brings us back to the idea of spirituality and religion, and this works harmoniously with the whole premise of The Vicar of Dibley. 

Happy Reading!

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