Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen! A Fine Tribute By Jacob Collier

Here’s a touching treat for Saturday. What a voice this young man has. What a sensitive and unique rendition of this most covered Cohen song.  I love the way one human’s creativity inspires and nourishes the creativity of following generations. Long may it be so with Leonard Cohen. We cannot have too much of his humane insight and compassion.

This is also post number 555 at Writer On The Edge.

#LeonardCohenTribute

#HallelujahJacobCollier

Farewell Leonard Cohen ~ You Made Me Laugh

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“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016 Selected Poems 1956 -1968

 

Leonard Cohen was in his seventy fifth year when he put on the cool hat (to go with the sharp suit), set off on a world tour (2008-2010) with a band of brilliant musicians and reinvented himself.  He mined his back-catalogue, a body of work that the media in their trite, reductionist fashion, have long classified as doom-laden, wrote a host of new songs too, and generally set about letting in the light.What a star.

He made me laugh on the inside – little pulses of pleasure – wry, acerbic, revelatory – that hit my cerebral cortex and then migrated at a cellular level to all parts including those spots under your feet that practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine call ‘the bubbling well points’. In short, he was life-enhancing. He may have delved in dark places where we don’t often care to look, but he was also very funny. And we humans do need to laugh at ourselves now and then. Even, and maybe especially, a good dose of dark laughter is always worth having.

We were lucky to see him in 2009 when he was playing the Labatt Stadium (now Budweiser Gardens) in London, Ontario. The venue was packed, with every generation represented, from a bunch of retirement home residents to babes in arms. The concert was as fine as could be, and if you want to see it for yourself the DVD of the 2008 London UK concert is a good buy.

Coming up is a clip that especially makes me laugh inside. He’s performing with U2, and it comes from the 2006 documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.

The man’s dry humour and humanity live on. Thank you, Leonard.

 

N.B. This is an update of an older post so some of you will have been here before.

“Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…

 

…and I still have my hands at the wheel.”

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My mind seems to be drawn to the sea just now, hence the posting of this video. But what a line this is – “Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…” As a writer and teller of tales, I have a huge admiration for the storytelling talents of songwriter, Billy Joel. He is a troubadour of our times (well of mine anyway); a poet, musician and social commentator. So I hope you enjoy this multi-stranded creation, musical flash-fiction if you like, and so well constructed. Please do look at the full lyrics too, at the link below.

The Downeaster Alexa by Billy Joel

Full lyrics HERE

Quoting Creatively: the ‘Out of Africa’ connection

Ngong Hills, view of Rift Valley to the west

I may be wrong about this, but doesn’t John Barry’s Out of Africa film score owe just a little something to George Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad Rhapsody? Both works ride on a swell of yearning for a life, a love, a land that is lost or unobtainable. Both composers are English, and Barry probably knew Butterworth’s small body of very English song-cycles. (Butterworth died in 1916, a casualty of World War 1).

Of course, the influence of one composer upon another is common enough, and could well be subconscious. On the other hand, Barry might have chosen deliberately to nod to the earlier work. There are many reasons to do so, and it all begins with that other very English creation, the collection of poems called A Shropshire Lad, by A.E.Housman, the work that inspired Butterworth’s Rhapsody and the several Housman poems that he set to music.

I have written elsewhere how this collection of ballad-type poems inspired several composers in their works, and not only Butterworth, but also Vaughan Williams and Ivor Gurney. At the time when I wrote that post, I had not thought about the Out of Africa film connection. But now I have thought of it, my interest is rather personal.

Firstly, as a writer who has worked with several illustrators, I like the way one artist’s creativity can provide inspiration for other artists’ work. Indeed, when it comes to A Shropshire Lad, there is a veritable multiplier effect of allusion and quotation in other works throughout the twentieth century. This includes Dennis Potter’s disturbing play Blue Remembered Hills (A Shropshire Lad poem XL).

Secondly, Housman’s poems, and in particular the music they inspired, make reference to Wenlock Edge and the town of Much Wenlock where I live.

Thirdly, I have also lived in Kenya, the country that inspired Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa.

And fourthly, in the script of Sydney Pollack’s film of the same name, which derives more from the biographies by Judith Thurman (Isak Dinesen) and Errol Trzebinkski (Silence will Speak) than from Karen Blixen’s book, includes two very striking quotations from A Shropshire Lad.

Both arrive towards the end of the film, and both relate, directly and indirectly to Denys Finch Hatton, Karen Blixen’s lover who died in an unexplained plane crash at the age of 44. For more of their story go HERE.

The first and most heart-rending is at the burial of Finch Hatton up in the Ngong Hills. Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen reads, not from a prayer book, but from a book of poetry, and the poem she reads is poem XIX To An Athlete Dying Young. This is the final stanza:

And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girls.

 

(You can read the whole poem HERE)

While I can find no biographical reference that supports the reading of the poem at the actual burial, I can only say that it could not have been more aptly chosen. In other words, if it is a Hollywood invention, then it is a good one. It adds to our understanding of both Blixen and Finch Hatton in real life.

Denys Finch Hatton had rare glamour.  He was man who was adored and admired by men and women alike. He was a consummate sportsman, a soldier, hunter. He was an elusive adventurer and the son of an English Lord. As a great lover of poetry  he would doubtless have known A Shropshire Lad very well. More importantly, he is said to have had a pathological fear of growing old, and was ever to be seen wearing a hat once his hair began to thin.

In her biography of him Too Close to the Sun, Sarah Wheeler makes the analogy with Icarus. This too is apt. With his shocking death, burned in his plane, the self-regarding sheen of aristocratic settler life was diminished. The film’s burial scene thus prepares us for Karen Blixen’s final exile from Africa. Loss piles on loss.

Before she leaves the country, the film shows her being treated to a drink in the ‘gentlemen only’ bar of Muthaiga Country Club, a restriction which she apparently infringed when first arriving in British East Africa. The toast she gives her hosts is one said to have been used by Denys:  ‘rose-lipt maidens, lightfoot lads’.  This comes from poem LIV:

With rue my heart is laden

For golden friends I had,

For many a rose-lipt maiden

And many a lightfoot lad.

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By brooks too broad for leaping

The lightfoot boys are laid;

The rose-lipt girls are sleeping

In fields where roses fade.

 

So where are these quotations taking us? What exactly is being evoked by their appearance in the film script?

It all comes back to the unobtainable or unclaimable: of the lost life, love and land that I mentioned in the beginning. The settlement by British and European aristocrats of British East Africa (Kenya) in the early years of the last century was an epic romance, one filled with the notion of noble master and faithful ‘noble-savage’  servants. There was the pitting of human courage and wits against the African wilderness; a wilful dance of death wherein sporting valour was supremely admired.  There was a notion of overbearing entitlement; that East Africa was their own country; that only they understood it. As a dream, it was bound to fail. It is a visceral longing for something that cannot be possessed.

For Housman the loss was for a love he could not have: another man. He was a respected academic who ultimately lived as a recluse. He wrote the entire collection of 63 poems while living in London, and without setting foot in the part of Shropshire that he evokes. Of this anomaly he makes the terse comment that, having grown up in the neighbouring county of Worcester, “Shropshire was on our western horizon which made me feel romantic about it.”

And here is where Out of Africa – book, film, and the true lives behind, find common ground with A Shropshire Lad; the ‘I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills’ moment; the sense of tragic romance, ‘The happy highways where I went and cannot come again.’ Those ‘blue remembered hills.’ The human condition of longing for something we think we had, or should have, but never can.

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And finally then the music. Below are renditions of Butterworth and Barry. (The first begins with the song Loveliest of Trees, poem II, from which the orchestral piece derives). Compare and contrast, or simply ride the emotional tsunami – across Africa, or Shropshire, or wherever you think your lost Paradise resides.

 

 

Related:

Songs from an Inland Sea: “On Wenlock Edge”

Caught inside a Kikuyu Garden: A Memorial to Karen Blixen’s Lover, Denys Finch Hatton

A E Housman A Shropshire Lad  A Gutenberg e-book

 

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Kudos to North Cambridge Family Opera and their upcoming show Rain Dance

 

 

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Art by Brian Lies  (Copyright Brian Lies)

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The North Cambridge Family Opera Company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been working long and hard for their upcoming production of Rain Dance. This will be the US premier of the young people’s opera created by librettist, Donald Sturrock (official Roald Dahl biographer) and award-winning composer, Stuart Hancock. I am honoured to say that this wonderfully witty creation was inspired by one of my short stories, The Hare Who Would Not Be King, originally published in Spider, part of the Cricket Magazine Group in the US. Above is some of the artwork by children’s writer and illustrator, Brian Lies. I especially love Brian’s hats.

Rain Dance was originally commissioned for performance in 2010 by W11 Children’s Opera in London. As such, the cast comprised entirely young people from London schools. North Cambridge has a different approach, putting on shows that involve all family members – kids and adults together. And the reason I know they have all been working so very hard is because there is a PREVIEW of the performance on their website. If you click HERE you can not only download the score and read the synopsis, but hear an entire performance scene by scene. Please listen. You truly will not be disappointed. Stuart Hancock’s score is captivating, and Donald Sturrock’s libretto is very funny.  And it is all about failing rains and lion-style political corruption down at the waterhole  (based on an original Akamba traditional story). But if you live in MA and can make an actual performance, here are the details:

Home

Directed by David Bass and Kathy Lindsay
Choreography by Rachel Zimmerman

Performances:
Saturdays March 29 and April 5, at 3:00pm and 7:00pm
Sundays March 30 and April 6, at 1:00pm and 5:00pm
AT:
The Peabody School  (Directions, map, parking)
70 Rindge Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140

 

Frizz’s challenge ‘tagged K’

Double take, double bass and all that jazz down at the Eagle Tavern

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Sunday jazz at The Eagle Tavern was a regular haunt for us in the early 2000s when we lived in Rochester in Kent. The local jazz club worked its socks off to secure a programme of first class trios and quartets. We were never members. No one even asked us to join, but for the price of a few raffle tickets we could sit with a glass or two of good Kentish ale and the Observer crossword and enjoy some of the best jazz musicians around.

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Gilad Atzmon at the Eagle Tavern

Bands would drive down from London to perform at The Eagle. Gildad Atzmon, Renato D’Aiello, Derek Nash, Alan Barnes – all top names in British jazz – were among the musicians who often came to play for a couple of hours over a Sunday lunch-time. In return they received nothing more than a pub meal and  the raffle takings, but they came because they knew that every note they played would be listened to, appraised and appreciated by the dedicated members of the Medway jazz club. Besides which, it was a good place to warm-up for their paid Sunday night gigs back in the capital.

Unfortunately the Farrell filing system – both mental and physical, failed dismally when trying to access the name of the double bass player rendered severally above. For which apologies all round, and most especially to the musician himself. To make up for this omission here is Gilad Atzmon, first  in whimsical mode, then a more serious piece.

© 2014 Tish Farrell

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Chrissie Hynde Queen of the Castle

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It’s not often that a rock legend comes to perform practically on your doorstep, but in the summer of 2002 Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders did just that. They were booked to show in the outer bailey of Rochester Castle. At that time we’d not long moved back to the UK from Kenya and were living along the Esplanade in Rochester, Kent, a short walk from the castle. We could not believe our luck. The tickets cost £15 and we had to bring our own chairs and refreshments. Midge Ure did the opening set and it was all rather low key, with people milling around and having sunset picnics. And then the Pretenders were on and the night turned electric…

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The 12th century keep of Rochester Castle, Kent _ The Pretenders’ venue July 2002.

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And now for a classic favourite performed live:

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#chrissiehynde #thepretenders #tishfarrellwriter #rochestercastle

Songs from an Inland Sea: “On Wenlock Edge”

This week’s Word Press writing challenge, with its musical theme, has set off a whole host of notions. In fact this may just be the post where all the strands of my  ‘writer on the edge’ blog come together. This, though, is only a proposition and by no means a promise.  One thing I can promise:  there is some very fine music at the end. And for those of you who do not know the  English composers Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)  and George Butterworth (1885-1916), then please consider this an early solstice gift. And if by chance you do not care for it, or indeed anyway, by all means pass it on.

So to return to the notions.  Those of you who  have read my past posts will probably know that I live on the edge of  Wenlock Edge, a twenty-mile limestone scarp that bisects the county of Shropshire from the River Severn above the Ironbridge Gorge, to Craven Arms on the borderland with Wales. Aeons ago this now wooded, much quarried ridge was once a shallow tropical sea lying somewhere off East Africa. Today, and especially now through bare wintery trees, you can look out from its summit and scan a great panorama – the farm fields, villages and hills of Shropshire.

View towards Eaton Manor & Wenlock Edge

Looking up to Wenlock Edge. Photo: Eaton Manor

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As I’ve said in other posts, there is a lot of history in this place – over 400 million years’ worth. Too much to embrace. But in the recent past (geologically speaking), you might have looked out from the easterly end of the Edge onto the smog-laden valley of Coalbrookdale as the Quaker ironmasters stoked their blast furnaces and helped fuel an industrial revolution. Travel back a further 1500 years and to the north you would have gazed on the impressive public buildings and sprawling settlement of the Roman city of Viroconium. Or in earlier times still you might have witnessed the building of the great Iron Age hill forts on the Wrekin and in Mogg Forest, or perhaps glimpsed some Bronze Age smiths plying the ancient ridge-top trackway en route for Wales.

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The Edge, then, is full of spirits, and  it is not surprising that it has long inspired artists, writers and composers. And so we come to the music, or rather, we come first to the work that inspired the music – A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.  This collection of sixty three poems has been described as a gift for composers. The poems are written in the style of traditional ballads. And if at first they seem too obvious in their rhyme and rhythm, then look again. These are songs of loss and fleetingness – lost youth, lost love, the soldier’s death. That they are set against some scene of suggested rural perfection only heightens their poignancy. The work, too, somehow anticipated the bleak waste of the Great War, and so it was that, when the time came,  A Shropshire Lad went with many a soldier into the trenches.

Housman’s  sense of melancholy and loss stem from his own life: his mother died when he was twelve, his brother Herbert was killed serving in the Boer War, and his deep love for another man was unrequited. Nor did his work A Shropshire Lad have a very good start. Although it has remained in print since publication in 1896, in the beginning Housman could not find a publisher and had to pay to have the first five hundred copies printed. At first, too, there was a lukewarm reception. But within a few years, and much to the writer’s surprise,  its popularity suddenly grew. This in part was due to the fact that several composers seized on some of the poems and set them to music.

In 1909 came Vaughan Williams’ song cycle On Wenlock Edge. The work’s title is taken from the opening line of poem XXXI: On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble. You can hear the storm-driven trees in the opening of the first video clip where English tenor, Ian Bostridge goes on to talk about his recording of the work with Bernard Haitink.  You also see him in rehearsal singing one of the most moving poems. It is written in the voice of a ghostly young ploughman returning home to see how his girl is faring. Here are the first two stanzas.

XXVII

“Is my team ploughing,

That I was used to drive

And hear the harness jingle

When I was man alive?”

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Ay, the horses trample,

The harness jingles now;

No change though you lie under

The land you used to plough.

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The entire Vaughan Williams song cycle sung by Anthony Rolfe Johnson is performed in the third video below. Other composers inspired by the poems include Samuel Barber and Ivor Gurney (The Western Playland and Ludlow and Teme). I could not find clips of these works but I did find George Butterworth, who was a friend of Vaughan Williams. He set eleven of the poems to music including Is my team ploughing. He also composed the orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. It is yearning, elegiac piece, performed in the second video and accompanied by Shropshire scenes. Butterworth himself was killed on the Somme in 1916, his composer’s career barely begun.

So,  you may ask, how does this all fit with ‘Tish Farrell – writer on the edge’? Well I suppose it comes down to this. As a fiction writer, or indeed a blogger, my focus is ever on the evocation of place (both through time and space) and how it resonates through the lives of the people and events I write about. And so I love the fact that the place where I live and have known most of my life has inspired so much creative work. And, indeed, continues to do so. In fact, I’m planning to feature more of it on this blog – the artists of the Edge. I am, anyway, fascinated by the process by which, in wonderful synergy, one person’s work inspires another’s creative response, thus building into a  body of cross-referencing works. See what good things we can make when we listen in good faith to each other.

Wenlock Edge of course has its own music. I hear it most when I’m working on my allotment – the windrush in the woods, the mewing buzzards, the calls of rooks and jackdaws, and through it the chiming of the church clock. I screen out the traffic sounds of course. So here we have it: the rural idyll that never was, the music of Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth evoking the peculiarly human need to long for something we cannot have, and finally Housman’s  own words from poem XL:

   Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

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And now, courtesy of Gutenberg Press, here is your copy of  A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.

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Weekly Writing Challenge: Moved by Music

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Rain Dance: all together now – let’s sing!

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There are some African wise words that say: if you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk you can sing. And this is what the children’s opera, Rain Dance is all about, giving young people the chance to perform and tell stories through song and dance (emphasis on the singing).

The opera was created by librettist Donald Sturrock and composer, Stuart Hancock, and my own small contribution is the fact that my retelling of an African story, The Hare Who Would Not Be King, was the starting point for the project.  Sometime back in 2007, Donald Sturrock  wrote to me asking if he and Stuart Hancock could adapt my story for a children’s opera. Their intention was submit the work to the London-based WW11 Opera in hopes of winning a commission for one of the Opera’s annual productions.

Time passed, and more time passed, but win they did, and Rain Dance was performed at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London in December 2010 to a packed house. I was there with G of course, sitting amongst throngs of excited children. By the time we came to the finale with its rousing Rain Dance theme, I was pretty much as excited as my junior neighbours. I might even have been jumping up and down in my seat: to think that my story had been the very small spark for this wonderful new work, and its exuberant performance.

The finale of Rain Dance. Photo: WW11 Opera

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Of course this splendid show with 85 young performers (9-18 years) was only made possible under the auspices of the  W11 Opera for Young People. This is a London-based charitable trust, founded in 1971, to give young people from all backgrounds the chance to sing and perform. Every year a  new opera is commissioned with the aim of creating a repertoire of song-based works that can be staged by schools and community groups. W11 Opera also showcases the work of new and established composers, and its productions have seen the launching of star performers such as Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

And so, as may be imagined, I am incredibly pleased to find that the opera, which began life with the W11 Opera, will be performed once  more. In March 2014 Rain Dance will have its North American premier at the North Cambridge Family Opera Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The NCFOC has a slightly different approach to the W11 Opera: the cast includes both young people and adults, and thus is a chance for family members to perform together. That there are people who put their time, enthusiasm and creativity into making such things happen makes me want to burst into song as I write this.

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Performances March 29 & 30, April 5 & 6, 2014

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As to my story, that had its own sources. It tells how the plains animals vote for a bullying lion to be their king and of the dire consequences of their actions. Hare, the familiar trickster of many African tales, is the reluctant hero of the piece, and nearly ends up as lion food. The plot is based on a story once told by the Akamba people of  Kenya.  I was living in Kenya at the time of writing, when the country was struggling towards a western-style democracy after years of one-party rule. This situation very much influenced the retelling. My version of the story was first published in the United States in Spider Magazine February 1999, accompanied by some fine illustrations by US writer and illustrator, Brian Lies. You can read an extract and see some of the original illustrations HERE.

In the meantime it is good to know that, in the last week of October, eager performers (young and older) will have been showing up for the Rain Dance auditions at the North Cambridge Family Opera.  The story that Donald Sturrock has created is far more complex than mine. It draws on another African story besides, creating a updated version of the race between Tortoise and Hare. The animal election has all the razzmatazz of a human election with full media coverage. There is also the theme of climate change and its effect on the water-hole, to say nothing of hilarious interludes with Hare’s family and four shopaholic lionesses. Throughout, Stuart Hancock’s musical score is utterly original and captivating with no hint of ‘African’ pastiche in his lovely melodies.

The NCFOC performances are scheduled for March 29 & 30, April 5 & 6, 2014. Go, if you have the chance. You won’t regret it. You’ll come away singing and dancing too.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

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RELATED: The Hare Who Would Not Be King