After a long and hot drive via a swim at Charmouth (very hot car without air-conditioning!) and staying overnight with friends in Dorset, I arrived on the beautiful Romney Marsh. Even as you leave Rye something changes. It’s like stepping back in time: the roads narrow, become twisty; there are railway tracks with barely any gates; animals graze in mixed herds on flat land and there’s a painter’s sky. You glimpse fine churches with sloping roofs dating back over a thousand years; vegetables for sale beside the road, and a sense of mystery in the air. I was welcomed by Angie, Richard and Fred – and their very beautiful flowers – tall sentinels, silent songs….
I’d barely arrived when it was time to go to St. Nicholas Church in New Romney for a programme of music performed by voces8 and the Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir.
Driving down the motorway in the on the way I’d listened to Radio 3 and heard a marvellous piece sung by voces8 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b8bk8z )- I’d wept as I drove, thinking, ‘how on earth am I going to work tonight, to not cry?!’
I found myself a place to sit near the front, to one side, where I hoped to be unobtrusive. I was working with the sound of the music, rather than the visual aspect, at this stage. I found a little table and placed my watercolour sticks, oil pastels and sketchbooks within easy reach. It was important that I did not make a sound to disturb the performers or the audience – I was very mindful of this and felt that I hardly breathed during any of the performances!
Here are some notes I made during the concerts:
Angels are here, in the air moving down with the sound. Golden sound.
The song is made of colour.. mother folds it all in..
Magnificat brings halo and a great crown of many horns and foliage boughs
Moondance – a drawing of a golden child/chrysalis – power of music to liberate, to enhance movement towards individuation
Ave Maria – holding form, enclosing form, comfort; also bridge, all-seeing eye;
Dove: In beauty may I walk – orange band, vertical figures/strokes
Music forms a Spirit cloud above, impregnates the ear, is born in cells; I can make myself a safe ground in sound.
The human voice was prominent on this first evening. I felt a golden quality, a purity, a roundness, a bell-like resonance. The following day I sat in Angie and Richard’s lovely kitchen and began to work from my notes and my quick drawings. What emerged were watercolours in yellows and golds, exploring what happens to the cells of the body as the music is heard and absorbed. Listening to the music, feeling it tranforming the body, had the effect of instilling in me the feeling that I could create my own ground, a safe ground, through it’s transforming and purifying qualities. It’s like having every cell of one’s being stroked and restored.
I was also feeling that the music provided wings which could carry and support, like a marvellous etheric horse….or bird… or winged creature… like this moth, an elephant hawk moth, which I found one night in the house where I was staying…
The beautiful pink and greeny gold of its wings and fur inspired me to soften my palette. I am always influenced by the beauty of Nature which I find around me when I work; most mornings in Littlestone I walked and took in the beauty of the air, the squealing swifts, the red tower, the open beach, the grey-green sea foliage, the white dog, and the black horse…
was performed by the BBC Singers conducted by Michael Zaugg. It was remarkable. I was fortunate enough to hear some of the rehearsal, and I was struck by the intense ‘Russianness’ of the singing, and of the deep mood. I had a good position to one side, and I made a number of drawings and quite a few notes:
The force of the music pushing against my chest is explored through a series of quick drawings. The power and richness of the sound provides a body/earth-opening/splitting implement.
The song finds the earth’s navel, hollows it out, makes a nest. Has a round end like the tip of a colossal thigh bone resting in the earth’s newly made socket….
and the earth is opened by song; when the air itself sings it wraps the human form, makes it new.
Heart meets song; extends vision. Pierced by music. Makes me two;splits me in half (initiation).
Journeys into itself, bids us accompany.
Swift squeal in sky above. Purity.
Roof breast for/to sky
Roof as woman’s body
Sky drinks milk
the bones below
Flesh floats up
I think of the steppe, of tightness in the chest; waiting.
Hum, chatter, waiting for the deep, the song sea, the high, the bathing of spirit
- song as air become liquid to bathe the spirit.
We are sung into being.
this was a wonderful day in two churches – one in the fields, in the quiet, surrounded by tall stems and grasses and wind (St. Mary the Virgin church, St. Mary in the Marsh); the other in the atmospheric St. Leonard’s Church of Hythe, with it’s fine organ and Ossuary.
Drawings of Linda Nicholson (the brilliant keyboard player)becoming a raptor, a fierce focussed bird crouched over the keyboard as she plays.
Organ: reverberations cause the body fluids to move, to change, to flow: the body flows.
Music perceived as pink; pink substance imprinting the cells – music as doorway, the opener of the channels..two sequences coming together, as my dream of two separated poles winding together and apart at the same time, making a sequence of new animals on the greeny-blue gel which is moving between them…
Music as bridge over swimming souls.
The organ reaches out to me, wrapping air in gold
I rest in the flood and
Air bunches in prayer.
Notes as nodes in a net of sound
Rocking a baby
A safe father
Fatherly in a kind way
Different emotional qualities of voice and organ
Organ resonates deeply with the cells of my body: I sob.
On the last Saturday I worked with my ‘hollow bone’ technique, using my drum and monotype equipment, with people in Sussex and Kent who had booked to have a session with me. The work is sacred, powerful and confidential, so I will not write about any details here. Grahame Davies, the Welsh poet worked alongside me and contributed his own experiences to the participants. It worked very well.
On the last night in New Romney, I gave myself the treat of sitting in the front row, near the London Mozart Players. As I was so close I knew I couldn’t use anything wet. I also didn’t have a table, so I just worked with my notebooks and pencils, and this time, more in respnse to the movements of the conductor than to the way the music affected me. Daniel Cook contains a lot of energetic charge in his body when he conducts, and it was a great pleasure to draw him – but I had to be very quick! I also made a few drawings of a fine young soloist from the Mousai Singers.
Faure: Daniel Cook – wing pressing on ear – this is where I spent the time concentrating on the movements of individual bodies in response to music.
Mantas’ Serenade for Strings: the notes are crying; like a carpet for sleeping; the music strokes my arms (I wrote these words before reading about the music and its’ inspiration/dedication)
On the final day there was an exhibition of works in progress, and in the afternoon Grahame and I gave a talk about creativity, inspiration, and dreams. Grahame read aloud some of his poems, and I spoke about a few of the works I’d made, and about the process of working alongside classical music.
On my way home I stayed near Eastbourne and I caught the train to London – so I could go to the Queens’ Gallery to see the exhibition of Mughal Paintings – I’m a big fan! and it didn’t disappoint…
and I was entranced by the golden lilies in my aunt’s garden…
which continued the golden theme…and then there was West Bay in Dorset…
and finally another reminder of beloved Shetland… a fish box seen by the harbour at West Bay…