Huddersfield Choral Society to premiere two pandemic works with words by Simon Armitage

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Huddersfield Choral Society will on Saturday 28 November be performing two new works in response to Covid-19, with lyrics by the poet laureate Simon Armitage, and music by composers Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Daniel Kidane.

The online world premiere of We’ll Sing and The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash will take place on Saturday night at 7.30pm. In an interview with Channel 4 News Simon Armitage, who is from the nearby village of Marsden, and “had an upbringing in the amateur operatic world”, explained his involvement, saying that he grew up “listening to choirs … there’s a big tradition of singing in this part of the world … Huddersfield Choral Society are very well known for their Messiah”. 

He spoke of his lyrics for the two songs, saying that “one is a fairly impressionistic thing, and the other tells the story of someone visiting a relative, and trying to speak to them through the window … some of our most innocent and intimate experiences are among those that have been outlawed”.

On its website Huddersfield Choral Society said: “UK choirs have fallen silent due to the recent Covid-19 pandemic. The Huddersfield Choral Society has had a particularly torrid time as two of its members died from the virus in spring this year. It will take a long time for music and singing to fully recover. As a way of providing hope and maintaining a voice within these uncertain times the Huddersfield Choral Society decided to commission two brand new works and present them as music videos in autumn 2020 in place of their cancelled subscription.

“The starting point for these commissions came from the members of the Huddersfield Choral Society. Poet laureate Simon Armitage asked the members of the Choral to choose one word that reflected their experiences of lockdown. The words were then submitted to Simon who used them as inspiration and a base from which to write two sets of lyrics.

“These works, We’ll Sing and The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash, were shared with composers Daniel Kidane and Cheryl Frances-Hoad, who set the words to music. In the spirit of collaboration the composers were able to discuss the poems with Simon to fully get beneath the texts and to use music to expand on their meanings.

“The two compositions then provided the soundtracks to two new music videos which were created by the award-winning Century Films. This project is dedicated in particular to Stephen and Philip and all singers who have been affected by the pandemic.”

Here are the online screening details. And here are Simon Armitage’s lyrics to We’ll Sing and The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash:

 

We’ll Sing

♪A train in the sidings aches with rust,

the motorway makes an emergency stop,

a single vapour trail drifts and melts,

Wilson has swapped his pipe for a mask.

Till the world discovers its voice again

we’ll sing, we’ll sing.

 

The shopping centres are overgrown,

it’s always Sunday, except in church,

a traffic light runs through its range of moves

but nobody stops and nobody goes.

Till the world discovers its voice again

we’ll sing, we’ll sing.

 

A downpour drums on the bandstand roof,

the west wind strums the trees in the copse,

sunlight fingers the cobweb harps,

a blackbird stirs and opens its throat.

Till the world discovers its voice again

we’ll sing, we’ll sing.♪

Simon Armitage

 

 

The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash

♪ Through the hospital window

she said to me

she’d forgotten the name

of her special tree,

and forgotten the name

of her favourite bird.

Through the hospital window

I mouthed the words:

 

the song thrush and the mountain ash.

 

Through the hospital window

she asked again

why I stood outside

in the wind and rain,

and said she didn’t

understand

why I didn’t want

to touch her hand.

 

The song thrush and the mountain ash.

 

She said she liked

the flowers I sent

but wondered why

they had no scent,

and why the food

had lost its taste,

and why the nurse

had covered her face?

 

And why the gates of the park were shut?

And why the shops were boarded up?

And why the swings were tied in knots?

And the music ... why had the music stopped?

 

Through the hospital window

I called her name

and waited a while

but she never came,

then I saw reflected

in the glass

the song thrush

and the mountain ash.

 

The song thrush and the mountain ash. ♪

 

Simon Armitage

 

 

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