Taking on the task of composing something for The Bridge Singers to perform at our upcoming concerts in Felton, Keswick and Lanercost Priory, I visited Lanercost on several occasions, and while many ideas floated into my head (many of which are still there brewing) the image that I could not shake was of the statue of Elizabeth Dacre Howard amongst all the memorials and tombstones inside the old monastery. She died in 1883 at the age of four months and the statue was made by Sir Edgar Boehm.
I considered several approaches: the death of infants was a common occurrence in Victorian Britain, even amongst the wealthy; Elizabeth’s brothers and sisters went on to be soldiers, politicians, wives of these; her mother and father were influential figures too.
The nagging feeling that I could not shake off was that I wanted to write a lullaby for this and every other child who had died in infancy, and a radio interview I heard at the time told of the experience of bereaved parents listening out for the sounds of the missing child in the silences that used to be filled by that child. And so this became my focus, and thereby the title: Lullaby Of Silences.
Another point to consider for this lullaby was that it was to be a part of an autumn-themed concert, so I have gone for all four seasons passing by, and the sounds of the child being summoned by silent things that happen in each season: the opening of a daffodil; the shimmer of a rainbow; the curling of leaves; the falling of snowflakes.
I have made this video to help The Bridge Singers learn the song, and I hope that in a couple of months’ time I will be able to replace the soundtrack with a recording of them singing it in Lanercost Priory itself.
Lullaby Of Silences - the text
The year moves on, I see a baby in a pram.
She rushes by, and leaves me silent.
I hear your chuckling in the opening of the daffodil,
And I smile at the thought of you.
The sun is warm, the rain is glistening on the grass.
The families leave me in the silence.
I hear your snuffling in the shimmer of the rainbow,
And I rejoice at the thought of you.
Each healthy glow on a baby’s rosy cheeks
Nips at my heart, renders me silent.
I hear your sighing in the curling of the leaves,
And I weep at the thought of you.
Stony fingers resting gently by her side
I touch her hand, but she is silent.
I hear your whimpering in the falling of the snowflakes
And I tremble at the thought of you.
So I will write a lullaby
And in the silences await your cry,
And as I listen deeply within my memories
In the aching hush, I’ll hum myself to sleep.
As I re-read this above, looking back on the first performances of Lullaby Of Silences, I’m afraid I cannot give you a full recording as sung by The Bridge Singers, but have every confidence that we will indeed manage to do that soon. I can give you lots more information though, and lots of snippets!
Almost from the very outset it was clear that this lullaby was going to be very popular with the choir. Comments to the effect that it was a favourite of all the songs I’d written for them have been common and this sort of feedback always makes me very happy and ups my confidence levels – it really is quite an extraordinary thing to pour your entire being into creating something that you consider to be worthy of a load of other people putting a lot of effort into, and then presenting it to them and trusting that they will go with you along the journey with enthusiasm.
Anyway, I wrote the tune, words, harmony and initially tried it out on my pal Penny at her house, accompanying myself on her piano. “I’m thinking basses on the first verse, or maybe one bass,” I suggested. She agreed, she gave me great encouragement with her cheery feedback. I then arranged it into SSA and tried it out on The Cheviot Singers – their director Veronica drafts me in when she goes on holiday. They loved it. I organised a summer holiday sing-along and invited people from all my choiry spheres (The Bridge Singers, Rock Festival Choir, Lionheart Harmony, The Cheviot Singers, other friends), and tried it out on them. They also loved it.
Buoyed by this, we set to with great speed and efficiency and mastered it in The Bridge Singers in time for our Autumn concerts at the end of September and beginning of October. The world premiere was in Felton at St. Michael’s Church. Here’s a snippet of that occasion.
We then took the song to Keswick and sang it at St. John’s Church to a small audience. My sister, mother and friend Fran were part of that audience, which was very special indeed for me. Here’s the next verse from that occasion!
The next day we went to Lanercost Priory and performed the lullaby twice more. The second of these was in our Autumn concert inside the glorious acoustic of the church there. My sister had the recording machine with her in the audience and here is the ending of the piece complete with audience shuffling noises, but you really do get the idea!
Prior to this concert inside the church at Lanercost we were allowed to go into the English Heritage property surrounding it and we gathered around the statue of the baby Elizabeth Dacre Howard, and we sang the song in what was an incredibly moving performance. It was hard to sing it there, and I gather hard to listen to. There were tears, as there are now as I write this. I do feel that I have written something very moving in this lullaby, but the whole piece is lifted to another level by the singing of this choir and in particular by my friend Connor, who sang the bass solo at the beginning with such sensitivity that he alone had people weeping before the rest of us had barely started. My friend Fran videoed this performance and while the tone quality does not really give justice to Connor’s gorgeous voice, I think you do get from it the rather emotional and poignant setting.
So I do not have a full recording of The Bridge Singers: at Felton they were tentative; at Keswick the setting on the machine created distortion on the loud bits; at Lanercost outdoors…well singing outdoors never makes for happy recordings and at Lanercost indoors there was a multitude of audience clicks and shufflings, but I think these four clips give you a good idea, and as I said, I think the whole thing will indeed be recorded sometime soon.
Lullaby Of Silences is the thing that I am proudest of in 2019. I set out to compose something moving and that everyone would love, that the choir could learn quickly and that we could perform at Lanercost Priory beside the statue. I feel that all of these objectives were met successfully!