Rhythm, rhyme, the expression and stirring of emotion, memorable phrasing, all elements of poetry and of music. All through the ages, poets have been inspired by composers and composers by poets.
I got my chance, last year, to realise the magic that occurs when music and poetry combine. Isaac Zee, a highly talented young composer isaaczee.com came into my life when he rented a room in my house (how to pay the mortgage). He was invited to compose a piece for an innovative music project conceived by his colleagues Tristan Zaba and Mackenzie Warrener. Through their new company, Slow Rise Music they had landed funding from the Canadian Music Centre to produce three new vocal multi-instrumental compositions. Isaac was to write one of these and he needed lyrics. Would I be interested? How to say no! And yet I’d never before worked with a composer.
The theme, initially inspired by the previous year of pandemic, was “Survival”. And yet we were invited to think more broadly on this theme. What did survival mean to me? I’ve always written landscape poems — survival of the environment; I’ve written about my mother, who I care for, surviving life itself (she’s 91).
I began to write a new piece based on notes I had made on the topic of domestic abuse. The “Me Too” movement had raised awareness of the endemic nature of toxic masculinity and its impact on women. In England, many of us were raw with anger and sadness after the murder, by a serving police officer, of Sarah Everard a young woman simply walking home. For myself, I know too many women who have borne the scars of abusive relationships. And I know women reject the notion of victimhood. Women survive.
Isaac and I began the work. We met over Zoom and had wide-ranging discussions about how a poem works: structure and form and elements of musical composition. How did I write a poem and how did he compose a piece of music?
Our collaboration brought the composition “Cardinal” into life. It was one of three pieces for voice, keyboards and guitar performed in November 2021 in a concert, “Hanging By a Thread”, for a small Toronto audience. Tristan, guitar and bass voice and MacKenzie, keyboard and soprano voice had begun to realise their goal of breaking down barriers between genres in classical music. Conventionally this concert would have been a quartet, two musicians, two singers. Pop music or perhaps folk, more associated with the set-up they chose.
The video has a slow, silent start, be patient. Cardinal is the second song.
My thanks to Isaac for lifting up my words inside his music and to Tristan and MacKenzie for a profoundly moving performance.