Felixstowe Recorded Music Society: Heather Farthing

Heather Farthing 30th March 2016

SPRING FORWARD

You will know the old mnemonic Spring Forward, Fall Back to remind us whether we put our clocks forward or back when they change. It had obviously worked, said Heather, as we were all present. That had been the jumping off place for her programme, as the clocks had gone forward the previous weekend. The trouble was having to think of the title well in advance and then having to decide what to put in her programme.

So she started with Louis Armstrong and All the Time in the World, composed by John Barry, as we had all the time offered by the evening, blank before us.

But from a straightforward linking of the evening’s theme to the change of the clocks, and movement towards Spring, the theme began to develop as Heather thought more about it.

What was our favourite season? On a show of hands, Winter got no votes (unsurprisingly), Autumn and Summer did, but Spring was the clear favourite. As it is for Heather. With its hope and reflection of the natural order, seasons ever turning with everything in its rightful place. Which seemed to become more important as the years passed. It includes the aging process and new life, passing of one generation to the next. So there is movement and hope springs for the future.

For the first part of her presentation, Heather told us a story. A story which therefore included the passing of time, the turning of the years. 10 tracks (or extracts) from one of her favourite CDs, which had never fitted into any previous presentation. It was called Winter’s Crossing, released in 1998 by James Galway and Phil Coulter. Sir James Galway is a familiar name but Phil Coulter less so. He is an Irish pianist. Heather finds his music rewarding to play (not too difficult but sounds good).

The CD tells the story of the crossing in winter of a group of Irish emigrants to America. They have a rough crossing but arrive in America full of hope for a new life. Heather linked each track with the words from the booklet accompanying the CD without further comment, in the hope that we would feel that turning from darkness to light, so hope springs forth as dark and rough winter passes.

Are you sitting comfortably? Time to engage your powers of imagination.

A story of making a new beginning, of joy and sadness, hope and despair, of tragedies suffered and dreams fulfilled. The story is set in the late 1800s when well over two million men, women and children, over a quarter of the population, left the shores of Ireland to seek a new life in North America. It concerns one group of emigrants who sailed from Derry, Phil Coulter’s home town in the north of Ireland, in the winter of 1866 headed for Pennsylvania. They were a mixed bunch. There were Gaelic speaking peasants from Donegal, fleeing from hunger, Catholics from County Derry and County Tyrone driven out by discrimination and Scots Presbyterians from County Antrim leaving to seek prosperity. They had precious few possessions – maybe a battered old fiddle – and no photographs to remind them of their home and loved ones. Just their music, songs and stories. A mixed bunch indeed. Thrown together by fate and the shared dream of beginning again in the new world.

Our story begins in the mountains of Tyrone, in the half light of dawn, 10 families recently evicted from their lands set off to walk the 50 miles to Derry to catch the emigrant ship. The odd sad song is sung on their journey, for their hearts are heavy as they say goodbye for ever.

Slieve Gallion Braes and Steal Away

In their research for the CD, Galway and Coulter turned up a contemporary account of heart-breaking departure. It was read by Liam Neeson.

Thousands are Sailing

On the quayside in Derry, the Gaelic speakers from Donegal, even more intimidated than the others, camp for the night a little distance away. As the heavy rain begins to fall, a young girl sings in the darkness of the love she will never set eyes on again.

Cailin Na Gruaige Baine

Finally underway the ship pulls clear of Lough Foyle heading for the open sea. The emigrants crowd the open decks looking longingly ashore, straining for one final glimpse of the hills of their homeland. All are heartbroken. Some are terrified of what lies ahead, others are excited at the adventure of this Winter’s Crossing.

Winter’s Crossing

Two weeks at sea and the crossing has been very rough. Deep in the bowels of the ship, down in the misery of steerage, they are disorientated, they are damp, they are cold and they are hungry.

Six weeks at sea. An icy dawn breaks to find the ship moving slowly through dense fog. The sound of seagulls tells them they are getting close to the first landfall, and the high swell and rolling sea are warning that they are over the treacherous

Grand Banks Newfoundland.

It is days before the fog lifts and they get their first distant view of the east coast of America. When the initial excitement and deep sense of relief subsides, reality dawns. They will shortly set foot in a strange land where they have no family, no friends, no roots – and no idea what will become of them. As the enormity of their situation dawns, their thoughts turn to family and loved ones left behind.

The Shores of Amerikay

In years to come hundreds of immigrants would feel their hearts soar and their spirits rise as they first caught sight of the city of New York. The euphoria would be short lived. They would be set ashore at Ellis Island, the notorious quarantine station through which all immigrants had to pass. If they were deemed to be ill, infirm, aged or unsuitable for entry, they would be sent back on board ship, to relive the hell of another Atlantic crossing. The gateway to a dream or the gateway to a nightmare.

Christmas Eve, Ellis Island

The Irish were never sad for long. They were country folk, so from New York they pressed westward to the farmland and hills of Pennsylvania. As they made new friends and met new neighbours, one of the means of communication was to trade tunes. Here the Belfast Polka is traded with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Belfast Polka – Pennsylvania Railroad

Time passes slowly in their new land, and they gradually acclimatise to their new surroundings, new people and the vastness of this new country of seemingly endless horizons. They immerse themselves in their work and these new surroundings of the new people, and seemingly endless horizons. But their thoughts are never far away from their homeland. They gather to pray, to celebrate, to draw strength from shared experience and to remember the old country.

Hymn for the Heartland

Years pass with births marriages and deaths. The immigrants are growing older in this new land. But they never forgot their homeland. Never forgot their music, and sure as hell, never forgot how to party. The final track is Appalachian Round Up! a celebration of their new homeland and an affirmation of the human spirit.

Appalachian Round Up!

After this new to most of us and thought provoking music, Heather took us to the break with two lighter pieces by Leroy Anderson: The Syncopated Clock and (quite irrelevant and almost extinct but enjoyable – we were probably the last generation to know what a typewriter is) The Typewriter (where the sound of typing complete with bell is part of the music). Richard Hayman and his Orchestra.

Interval

If we were wondering where was the classical music, said Heather, there is a saying attributed to Confucius but according to Wikipedia, belonging to Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu, that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So returning to the classical genre, we heard Chopin’s offering on the subject, the Minute Waltz Opus 64 No. 1, which to emphasise the elastic nature of time and our perception of it, lasts almost two minutes! It was played by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

When Heather was putting together her first programme, some years ago, the much missed Gillian Bishop advised her just to include what she enjoyed. Appropriately (as Haydn was Gillian’s favourite composer) Heather next played the Clock Symphony by Haydn, No. 101 in D, the second movement which gives the symphony its nickname. Played by the Dresdner Philharmonie conducted by Gunther Herbig.

Then we had another story. This time it was Wintersmith. Heather came to this by way of the music. She heard Steeleye Span at the Corn Exchange and thought they were pretty good. The story here comes from Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series. This was the third in the series, published in 2006. The collaboration with Steeleye Span arose in 2013, with Terry Pratchett being a long-time admirer of Span. Outlining the plot makes it sound operatic, and as she said, sometimes hearing Norman outlining the more convoluted plots of some operas, her reaction has been: “For goodness sake….”

The Wintersmith is the personification of winter, not a real human being, who meets the heroine of the book, who delights in the name of Tiffany Aching. The Wintersmith mistakes her for the Summer Lady, the personification of Summer. He is infatuated and enchanted by Tiffany, mystified by her presence and he subsequently tracks her (stalking really).

Tiffany does have some of the Summer Lady’s powers – plants start to grow where she walks barefoot. (“That sounds fabulous”, said Heather, “wished that happened in my garden.”) The Wintersmith decides that the reason Tiffany will not be his is that he is not human. Learning a simply rhyme from some children about what basic elements comprise a human body he gathers the correct ingredients, makes himself a body out of these elements and pursues Tiffany but without truly understanding what it is to be human. The Secret is that:
A man has strength enough to build a home
Time enough to hold a child and
Love enough to break a heart.

Meanwhile the Wintersmith continues to cover the land with snow. The harsh prolonged winter starts burying houses, blocking roads and killing off animals. Tiffany hides but the Wintersmith discovers where she is, and he takes her to his palace, where she ultimately manages to stop him, melting him with a kiss.

So the dance of seasons in which Summer and Winter die and are reborn in turn is restored.

Let the seasons turn
Let the rivers start a flowing
Let the hot sun burn
And melt our frozen hearts
Let the warm winds blow
Send the North Wind on his journey
Sweep away the snow
The Summer Lady’s here.

The tracks we heard were:
1 – Overture
4 – You
10 – The Making of a Man
12 – First Dance
14 – The Summer Lady

Like Winter’s Crossing, this was new to most (if not all) of us. It is always interesting to broaden one’s horizons.

Part of Heather’s theme this evening had been balance and place in the great scheme of things, so we could not leave without a track from Karl Jenkins, The Peacemakers. The texts for this project come from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and the Bible and Qu’ran. Something from which she had previously chosen a track. The news these days tends to be pretty depressing, but if we could embrace the words of Nelson Mandela on this track, Let there be Justice for All, then maybe we could spring forward in hope. The seasonal round is a round of hope, of everything where it should be.

Time has gone by and Heather ended with Bryan Ferry, and the Herman Hupfeld classic As Time Goes By. Heather’s first choice came from a film, the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, and her last choice also came from another film, “Casablanca”.
In thanking Heather, Norman said he had been profoundly moved by Winter’s Crossing, not so sure about Wintersmith – he would probably need to hear that a bit more.

Mike Fowle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *