The recording session for Blue Shroud Band‘s new album « All This This Here » will take place from 24. – 27. March in Matosinhos, Portugal.

Here are Barry Guy’s programme notes about this new composition :

The title of this new work for the Blue Shroud Band comes from Samuel Beckett’s “what is the word“, his last poem and an elegiac meditation on language.
Additionally to “what is the word”, I have also used one of Beckett’s late poems “Brief Dream” which refers to the theme of transiting life and the acceptance of ending – “go end there / one fine day” and Barra Ó Seaghdha’s (Irish writer and poet) evocative poem “Waiting” .

Two 18th century Edo Haiku complete the texts featured in this piece that collectively focus on life in transit.

Various people
And evening comes on

The tide of age
Ever flows
And never ebbs

It was the great Irish actor Barry Mc Govern that illuminated the meditational quality and pathos of Samuel Beckett’s last poem “what is the word”. His delivery of the text grabbed my attention whilst I was pondering over a structure for a commission by the Kronos quartet , and inspired me to consider the architecture based on the internal and mostly hidden rhythm of Beckett’s words. Quietness, introspection, an implied questioning (although the question mark is never used in the text), and perhaps a yearning for an unfulfilled sense of place were the apparent qualities of the poem. “What is the word” can also be seen as a philosophical understanding of the expansiveness of language as it pans out In front of us like an open landscape.

Guitarist / composer and Blue Shroud musician Benjamin Dwyer had almost simultaneously composed a most exquisite and important chamber music piece based on Beckett’s “what is the word” for an ensemble of violin, guitar, bass and voice. My immersion into the text again, whilst rehearsing and performing this work became more and more intense. So I reasoned that the structure of the string quartet written for Kronos (with no voice as such) could become the basis of a companion piece for the Blue Shroud Band with Beckett’s poem being presented through our vocalist Savina Yannatou – a kind of second generation thought process that had its gestation in string quartet music.

The baroque element :

Kronos’ 1st violinist David Harrington who was aware of my interest in baroque music had suggested that I refer to some fragments of Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Whilst intrigued with this possibility, what in fact emerged was my renewed interest in a verse anthem “O Lord my God” by Pelham Humfrey (1647-1674) whose music could coexist well with contemporary soundscapes.

Whilst the Pelham Humfrey fragments and harmonies offer calm moments within the string quartet structure, I could not resist using them in another form in “all this this here” , providing “portals” into freely improvised passages.

Following so many stunning performances by the Blue Shroud Band over the past few years, it was an exciting moment to find a collection of writings that would send me on a new compositional journey. This latest work represents a celebration of the band’s versatility and in particular the comradeship that has built up since we embarked on our various projects.
My hope is that we can reach beyond words through the collective humanity of the Blue Shroud musicians expressing themselves with all their creative energy in an extended musical piece.

With thanks to Edward Beckett and the Samuel Beckett Estate for permission to use “what is the word” and “Brief Dream”. Also sincere thanks to Barra Ó Seaghdha for his poem “Waiting”.

Thanks also to Pro Helvetia for their financial support for this project and last but not least to Marek Winiarski for hosting the première of this composition in Krakow.

Barry Guy 2021

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