I wrote a new song this month. I’ve been working on it for a few weeks. I’ll post a video before too long. Let me know in the comments if you get the Henry Vaughan connection.
The Beauty of Death
© Feb. 2017 by Tim Chesterton
The beauty of death is it comes to us all,
To the rich and the poor, to the great and the small.
Every person on earth gets to hear that voice call;
In the end there’s no difference between us.
The justice of death comes to all at the last;
There can be no escape when the die has been cast.
We can run from our deeds but we’re just not that fast –
In the end they will still overtake us
The terror of death, it haunts all our days,
Though we try to avoid it, to keep it away.
But there still come those times of complete disarray
When the dark rises up to engulf us.
The wisdom of death is the light that it casts
On the things that don’t count and the stuff that won’t last,
While the days turn to years and they go by so fast
– too fast for the things that distract us.
The beauty of death is a gift in the end
For the wounds that won’t heal and the hurts that won’t mend;
In the place of a foe we discover a friend
As we lay down the burdens that crush us.
They say a good death is the meaning of life –
To gaze unafraid at that ring of great light.
To rest in God’s love and take joy in the sight
Of the beauty that’s spread out before us –
Of the beauty that’s spread out before us.
I don’t have a lot to say today in response to the fatal shooting at a Quebec mosque last night, or to all the evil policies coming out of the office of He Who Must Not Be Named in Washington. But somehow this Billy Bragg song (based on some words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke) seemed appropriate. This song can be found on Billy’s brilliant album ‘Tooth and Nail‘.
There have been a lot of people on Facebook recently sharing albums that shaped them when they were teenagers, which is quite interesting. I thought I’d also like to share my current ‘Top Twenty’ – in alphabetical order by artist surname, with the proviso that I will not let myself pick more than one album per artist. These albums are by the artists I currently play the most and consider essential to my musical well-being and inspiration.
- Nicola Benedetti: ‘Vaughan Williams/Taverner’
- Billy Bragg: ‘Tooth and Nail’
- Anne Briggs: ‘A Collection’
- Matthew Byrne: ‘Hearts and Heroes’
- Martin Carthy: ‘Martin Carthy’
- Bruce Cockburn: ‘Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws’
- Maria Dunn: ‘Gathering’
- James Findlay, Bella Hardy, Brian Peters & Lucy Ward: ‘The Liberty to Choose: A Selection of Songs from the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs’
- Genticorum: ‘La Bibournoise’
- Nic Jones: ‘Penguin Eggs’
- Choir of King’s College Cambridge/Philip Ledger: ‘Orlando Gibbons: Tudor Church Music’
- Mark Knopfler: ‘The Ragpicker’s Dream’
- London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis: ‘Handel’s Messiah’
- Maddy Prior: ‘Seven for Old England’
- Jean Ritchie & Doc Watson: ‘At Folk City’
- Red Tail Ring: ‘Mountain Shout’
- Stan Rogers: ‘Northwest Passage’
- Kate Rusby: ‘Ten’
- Martin Simpson: ‘Kind Letters’
- Sting: ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’
Anyone else like to share their top twenty?
Because one should regularly return to the most magisterial versions of the great folk songs, I hereby post this morning Paul Brady’s classic 1977 take on ‘Arthur McBride’. Beautifully sung of course, and Paul’s flat picking here is extraordinary.
My two favourite moments in this video are (1) the delicious word ‘spalpeen’, and (2) the mischievous grin on Paul’s face at 5.54 when he sings the line ‘We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits’!
There’s an interesting discussion of the song at Mudcat Café here.
Paul Brady’s website
I heard this piece for the first time at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton on Wednesday night, in a program of French composers who were completely unknown to me. This was the last piece on the program and I found it very enjoyable, especially the last movement which reminds me at times of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.
The program notes from Wednesday night give the following info about Hérold:
Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833)… From a long line of musicians, Hérold’s father had been a pupil of C.P.E. Bach, and Ferdinand had studied with Méhul. After winning the Prix de Rome in 1812, Hérold studied music in Italy, and his operatic compositional career really got started when Boieldieu asked the young composer to write part of a privately commissioned opera – beginning a steady stream of both operas and ballet scores by Hérold. He wrote only two symphonies, and Symphony No. 2 was written as part of his requirement for winning the Prix de Rome – laureates were expected to write such works to demonstrate their progress as composers. In fact, both symphonies were written during his time in Italy, the second in 1815. (notes by D.T. Baker)
Suddenly, this Bruce Cockburn song from the early 1980s seems horribly relevant again.
Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs — “Security comes first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
Callous men in business costume speak computerese
Play pinball with the third world trying to keep it on its knees
Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea
And the local third world’s kept on reservations you don’t see
“It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
Fashionable fascism dominates the scene
When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means
Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream
As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream
Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst
The trouble with normal is it always gets worse
Written by Bruce Cockburn • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Carlin America Inc
This is an Advent tradition for me. I love the Franz Family’s version of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’; it’s far and away my favourite version of this Advent hymn.
The Franz Family website appears to be no more, but their Facebook page is here, and their iTunes site here.