Further Musical Information

Have you ever wanted just that little bit more information about the music Cirencester Choral Society are singing?  Well below is a little more information about Midshipmen from C V Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet and also Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens.  This information has been provided, courtesy of one of our Tenors.



The last Newsletter asked for explanation of this line on page 21 of Songs of the Fleet where the soloist sings, ‘A dozen of middies were down below Chasing the X they love . . . ‘

Victoria Summerley provides the most likely solution:

I am fascinated and frustrated by this in equal measure. I have come across the term “X-chaser” as naval/yachting slang for someone who is mathematically gifted, but I haven’t found anything that explains/proves whether this is exactly what Newbolt meant.

Midshipmen were (indeed are!) expected to be able to perform not only navigational calculations but also naval gun trajectories. Today’s Royal Navy candidates are expected to have above average maths and physics.

Newbolt’s poem describes a dozen of them sitting around the table, presumably undergoing instruction or revising. There is the lovely description of the table curtseying “long and slow” as the ship pitches in the storm.

The next verse begins: “The lesson was all of a ship and a shot” which bears out the idea that they are doing some sort of calculation exercise.

Hope this helps!

In other words, the Middies were probably swatting up on their navigation or gunnery skills when the Sou’ Wester hit and their table started curtseying.


Many of us have been totally mystified by the words of this piece. Parry was commissioned by Stanford to compose a work using John Milton’s ode At a Solemn Musick:

Victoria Summerley was asked whether she could throw any light on the meaning of these two lines in paricular:

Dead things with inbreathed sense able to pierce.
Whose love their motion swayed in perfect diapason

This was her response:

I’ll have a go!

Milton was very fond of inverting clauses and sentences for the sake of poetic flow.

So the first phrase, in the language that we would use, goes something like:

Voice and Verse, blest pair of Sirens and an example to us of Heav’n’s joy,
bring the divine sounds that you make and your twin powers of song – which are capable of piercing dead things with the breath of life – 

and add them to our endless hymn of adoration to the Lord.

In perfect diapason:

Milton is saying that we sinful humans have introduced discord into the world and this has ruined or destroyed the 

… fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord

The bit that jars (if you’ll excuse the word!) is Milton’s use of the word “motion” which I think he is using here not in the sense of movement but of proposition, like a motion in a debate.

It’s particularly confusing to modern ears because he follows it with the word “swayed” which again suggests movement. What I think Milton meant was “swayed” in the sense of persuasion.

In other words, God’s creation is setting forth its statement of worship and prayer to the Lord in perfect diapason –  a swelling harmonious chorus – while they stand before him, obedient and blessed.

Hope this helps. I’m not an English scholar, but I remember singing Blest Pair in London and someone told me that if you turn all the phrases back to front it made more sense! 


We keep bragging about ‘our cruisers like Leviathan’ which inevitably leads to a dig in the Mine of Utterly Useless Information:

The Old Testament Leviathan was a sea monster – the embodiment of chaos. Early Christians associated it with the deadly sin of envy.

Four ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Leviathan:

HMS Leviathan (1790)

HMS Leviathan (1901)