There is a reason I came to the poetry of Jo Bell, and specifically those that relate to her work that deals with living on and navigating the UK's canals. The first is that the poetry is just so staggeringly wonderful (as one would hope to expect from the Poetry Society/Canal & River Trust's inaugural Canal Laureate!) The second is rather more personal and bound up in the setting of the poems and the work's dedicatees. That's not to be gone into here.
There's more to come, do check back later.
Over the past year and half I've been writing this song cycle, based on texts from a wonderful anthology of poetry from Shambala Publications on themes of impermanence, mindfulness and joy. Some of it ancient and not quite so ancient Chinese and Japanese, some of it more modern and Western.
For most of the poems I've found myself conducting what I've termed 'fieldwork' - being in nature observing elements that form part of the poems, talking to - among others - a Buddhist monk about the notion of interconnectedness, for others drawing on elements of personal experience, including a trek to Everest Base Camp in 2015.
Scored for quite a darkly rich combination of alto flute, bass clarinet, viola and piano, with mezzo-soprano and baritone, the work is dedicated to Helen Charlston and MIchael Craddock.
Delighted that the Isolation Songbook is being performed to in-person audiences at two major festivals. Tickets are now available for both socially distanced events. If you can't be there in person, both are also being live-streamed on a ticketed basis.
The first is at The Boxgrove Choral Festival, Chichester on September 4th (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/boxgrove-choral-festival-isolation-songbook-tickets-165526206339)
The second, on October 12th, forms part of the renowned Oxford Lieder Festival (https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/event/1293)
Writing the second 'Fashion Song', a setting of Stein's 'A Long Dress', I spent weeks listening to as many of the poet's own recordings as I could. Trying to capture her elusive rhythmic delivery and the typical pitch-patterns, I used a frequency analyser at one point to help pin it all down. And then it seemed quite natural to listen to rap, because there's just so much of that in her delivery. So it was song after song. particularly by Drake. And then I had to let it all ferment and try to forget about it. The result - fifteen bars of mayhem written in two days, no alterations to the line structure, no repeated phrases, just the words as they are on the page. I am, every time, perplexed by how these things arrive on the page, good, bad or indifferent. It's a complete mystery.
The pandemic has been an awful time for the world. Yet some interesting things have come out of ‘the great pause.’ With more time, and cut off from so much distraction, many people have reappraised what’s truly important in their lives, and for many creativity in all its varied forms has flourished, and in some cases been reborn. What is true for many is true for me, and it has been a joy to return to professional composition, a place where I feel entirely myself, and safe.