Paul Mealor: I Am the Gentle Light


Paul Mealor was born in North Wales, 1975, and as a young child he studied composition with William Mathias. He attended the University of York, and studied under John Pickard and Nicola LeFanu. For fourteen years now, Mealor has taught composition at the University of Aberdeen. Mealor is perhaps most well-known for his commission to be the composer for the Royal wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton, at Westminster Abbey on 29th April 2011.

In 2012, Mealor composed the piece I Am the Gentle Light, which is written for a two-part treble choir, piano, selected percussion and strings. Dedicated to Christopher Bell and the National Youth Choir of Scotland’s National Boy’s Choir. The work was premiered by the choir on St Andrew’s Day 2012 as part of BBC’s Songs of Praise.

The lyrics used for I Am the Gentle Light can be seen below:


I am the gentle light,

The stars at night,

The morning bright;

I am the still, strong voice,

The living choice,

The hearts rejoice.

And if you follow me,

I’ll be with you for all eternity,

I will hold onto you,

My love will set you free.

I am forever love,

Light from above;

The peaceful dove;

I am your loving friend,

Your heart I tend,

Until the end.

And if you follow me,

I’ll be with you for all eternity,

I will hold onto you,

My love will set you free.

I am forever,

My love will set you free.

The Music

Set in the key of F major this work has a strong sense of tonality throughout. The opening four bars are purely instrumental with the piano and strings setting the serene atmosphere. Landing on a pause, a solo voice sings a solo with the first three lines of text. The music comes to a pause once more before the next solo lines sings through.

The accompaniment throughout is aptly very gentle and accentuates the steady tonality. The strings largely move step-wise, with the piano moving through tonic and dominant chords to create a pattern of certainty.

Mealor uses pauses throughout this short work to accentuate the effectiveness of silence as well as music. The elongated breaths between the pauses and the next section creates a spacious element between the text and music. After the second solo and third pause, all of the voices come together and the two parts sing in thirds. This is the highest the voices have gone thus far in the piece, which adds a sense of intensity to the music.

The voices then unite together to sing the phrase ‘My love will set you free’, which is a strong message. Unity equals strength, and this small musical gesture adds to the hope given throughout the text of this piece.

The second choir then take over the next section, with the top choir singing ‘ahhs’. The top choir are shadowing the right hand of the piano, which has been playing that exact phrase in bursts throughout the piece. This expressive section sees the accompaniment moving slightly more with the strings adding in passing notes and the piano playing with lower octaves, seeing as the top choir are singing the top melody line.

The second choir here are sing three sets of ascending lines to represent the rise of the ‘peaceful dove’. The choir then come back together for the reprise section. Again, the voices are singing in thirds until the line ‘My love will set you free’. The dynamic has come right down here to a delicate pp.

The piano leads into a final solo which repeats the line ‘I am forever/My love will set you free’. The final four bars are instrumental, which creates a mirror image from the opening. The music starts to slow down before the gentle finish on a tonic chord.

Mealor’s use of percussion is effective throughout, with chimes adding a shimmering effect to the music, and the soft cymbal adding to the climaxes that the voices lead. The strings add a new dimension and depth to the work. There is a lot of light and hope in this short piece of music, with tinges of sadness in places. The natural movement between the voices and instruments creates the desired gentle atmosphere expertly.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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