The Sparrows Anthem

The Sparrow’s anthem was written and composed specially for our 25th anniversary year and was performed first in the Guildhall on 14 December 2019 in the presence of the poet and composer to an audience of over 250 people.

Click on the link below to listen to the recording of the premiere performance.

Play the Sparrows Anthem Recording

Sam Burnside and Anselm McDonnell taking the ovation from the audience and choir 14 Dec 2019, the Guildhall

Sam Burnside


Sam Burnside is a local poet who wrote the text for The Sparrow’s anthem.  The piece was commissioned by Stella Burnside, the founder of the choir for the occasion of our 25th Anniversary.  Stella’s commitment to the idea and practice of service to people at work lead Sam to link the ideas of the service of those within the hospital with the place outside, the hill of the sparrows (Alt na nGealbhán – ‘Altnagelvin’).  The text was then brought to life by the composer Anselm McDonnell.

Sam was born in Co Antrim and has spent most of his working life in the North West where was involved in Adult Education before establishing and becoming the first Director of the Verbal Arts Centre.

His writing has attracted a number of awards, including the Allingham Poetry Prize, the University of Ulster McCrea Literary Award and the Sunday Tribune Hennessy Literary Award. More recently he was shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize (USA) for his long poem “Stretcher Bearer” in 2016.

Sam has been an advocate for the democratisation of the arts through his public service with the Western Education and Library Board, the Arts Council for Northern Ireland and the Voluntary Arts Network for Great Britain.

His written work includes the libretto for “Columbia Canticles” with music composed by Laurence Roman. This was commissioned as part of the UK Year of Culture 2013, was premiered in St Columb’s Cathedral and later performed in Parliament Buildings Stormont; Shaun Ryan conducted London’s Southbank Sinfonia with the choirs of Aberdeen University and the University of Ulster.

The author of seven collections of poetry, his play The Long Now, designed and directed by Michael Poynor, was premiered at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace in March 2019.

Alongside his published work his public art works can be viewed in the city of Derry in the Garden of Reflection where his poetic Haiku inspired the creation of a series of inter-related words and images on stained glass panels, and in the City Hall in Belfast where his work is contained in a new stained glass window commissioned by Belfast City Council to commemorate the contribution of the men of Belfast in the Spanish Civil War. “Markings” – a series of inter-related words and images is on semi-permanent display in Derry’s Millennium Forum and Theatre.

Sam was appointed as Writer in Residence (2017-2019) by the Woodland Trust to Brackfield Memorial Woods and subsequently a selection of this poetry has been carved into a series of stone pillars while other works can be heard in a number of sound pods scattered throughout the woods.

In 2012 he was appointed MBE for his services to Arts in Northern Ireland.

Read more about Sam and his work HERE.

Anselm McDonnell

Sparrows’ Anthem is a short setting of text by the Northern Irish poet Sam Burnside, and both the piece and the poem are dedicated to the hospital staff who serve at Altnagelvin Hospital. The poem’s title evokes the image of a caring sparrow who gathers the needy and broken under its wing. It equates this warmth and compassion with the work of those involved in medicinal care, particularly the staff in Altnagelvin Hospital, but also more widely all who are involved in the role of caring in our society. In the music a plaintive solo melody, played by the oboe, soars above and around the choir – a darting bird flitting about in dialogue with the choir, until eventually both rest together in harmony. This musical relationship brings attention not only to work provided by those who care, but also the question of who cares for the carers in their busy tasks? Who acknowledges their work? Who supports them? Sam’s poem implores us, the recipients of this care, to respond with gratitude and encouragement – ‘Embrace the healers, steady servants, who from this high nest provide solace.’

Anselm is a composer of Irish/Welsh heritage based in Belfast who writes for orchestra, chamber groups, choirs, soloists and electronics. His music has been performed internationally in ten different countries and is regularly presented around the UK and Ireland. He has worked with a wide variety of ensembles, including the Chamber Choir Ireland, BBC Singers, Ulster Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the CRASH Ensemble. His music has received awards in China, Russia, Thailand and Ireland. Anselm has a passion for writing as well as music, often setting his own poems, and he has written on the subject of the Christian faith in relation to composition – contributing a chapter to the recent publication Annunciations: Sacred Music for the 21st Century, which includes chapters from other composers of sacred music such as Sir James MacMillan and Paul Mealor, published in May 2019 by Cambridge Open Book Publishers. 2020 will see the premieres of newly commissioned pieces for the London Symphony Orchestra and the National Concert Hall, Dublin.

Read more about Anselm HERE.

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