Elegy for Jo Cox

This week I finished the first movement of a piece I've been working on since September. It’s the first movement of an Elegy for the murdered MP. I began to think about it a few weeks after her death when it became patently clear that her death was going to have no impact on the snarling nastiness that has become integral to our contemporary version of the peasants’ revolt.    

It was an interesting challenge to write lyrics that expressed the situation without recourse to religious or rhetorical language – which I was pretty certain would erode support among those who might otherwise give it. Eventually what emerged was 

Why is it that the golden ones are taken?
Why is it that those who bear most love fall first?
Why is it that what is noble can awaken
Poisoned feelings in a hate-filled breast?

Oh but this saddest of tales is the oldest of stories,
Those who risk least in their lives attract the most praise,
While those risking all for love are ignored within their days
and only afterwards accorded glory.

A week or so later I felt I knew the tone /feel it needed and a musical motif appeared. So the journey that lasted months began. I find that ideas as they are forming often cause depression – something of which you’re not at first aware seems to be sucking life and energy out of you; and then when it first pokes its nose out from its lair in the subconscious it’s like a tapeworm (I've heard) or a cobra that has to be coaxed into the light with milk, so that you can begin the business of wrestling it and the supporting framework into a unity. 
Philip Larkin once said ‘you can only usefully write poetry for about an hour a day; so you might as well do another job in the meantime.’ Not only do I find that true, but actually I've found over my life that whenever I sit and wait for inspiration nothing happens – but when I'm at full stretch then what/who-ever the geist is that brings ideas smiles like a Cheshire cat and places the final straw on the camel’s back, as if to say ’there you are: make of it what you will.’ And of course you have to, because if ignore it it won't return.* 
During this four months there weeks at a time when ideas didn’t flow. At one point I broke off and composed the second movement. It was like being stuck on a sandbank, waiting for the tide to float you off again, but not when when /how /whence /whether that tide would come.
Id always wanted to write a piece for choir and orchestra, but the occasion had never presented iself. The challenge here was to write something within the range of a choral society that wasn’t banal; so I tried to address that issue by creating orchestral interludes around the vocal sections. I think it works, but without hearing it live I don’t know whether /how well. But then all composition is just a hypothesis waiting to be validated by others.  

If you would like to hear it click here. I've placed a midi-audio demo on SoundCloud which lasts 9’45". Alas you cannot know what is being sung as the ‘voices’ are but ghosts in a machine; however you get the sense by reading the first two verses. The words are repeated so you have to hold back v2 till about 6' in. It is my plan to record just the vocal parts with live singers in order to put the piece in presentation form, and then see if I can muster any enthusiasm among Jo Cox’s former colleags before offering it to choirs in the north which is probably Elegy’s best chance of finding a ‘constituency’. Verse two is quite different, for acappella SAATB semichorus, but that won't be part of my presentation.

If you think this love’s labour lost, then you cannot think it more wholeheartedly than I – but for me creativity isn't simply about pleasing others, it’s about the process of being attentive. [The actual meaning of the word Muslim] And after a lifetime of coming to terms with my inner anarchy I've realised that when I listen best I am most fulfilled. A situation best exprest in this poem by the 1thC Indian mystic Kabir 

* In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.

Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.

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