Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Lay of Life and Loss

I've gotten myself into an interesting project recently. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to a friend of mine (whose personality is at least as melancholic as mine) what I like about much of the Old English poetry I've read: the lamenting of what has gone before; the depiction of sorrow in a society that valued heroism; the times where the sounds of Old English words seem to match the meanings; even the appropriate, almost monotonous chanting of old Germanic alliterative verse. She was interested, but I had no idea just how hooked she was until, a week later, she had read the Wanderer, the Seafarer, and the poems on the battles of Maldon and Brunanburh (including prose translations and the verse settings by Ezra Pound [Seafarer] and Tennyson [Brunanburh]).

Add to this the fact that Mikaela (as I'll call her) writes music. Beautifully sad and wistful and, generally, minor key music. And she shares my affection for music like the Rohan violin theme from the LOTR movies, Loreena McKennitt, and (now) Grey Eye Glances.

Just add water. Salt water. And hail. And wind, and seagulls, and a lone seafarer, and memories of lost family, friends, and king. In the same week that she'd read those poems so voraciously, she already had lyrics and music for most of a song.

The resulting project is a trilogy of songs written in (mostly) English with some Old English appearing in various bridges or counterpoints or harmonies.

Now, to be clear: I can't write music. I can read sheet music enough to slowly identify notes, but the entirety of my musical arrangement ability can be found in a handful of old mix tapes and various mood-based winamp playlists (upbeat.m3u, lifisl├Žne.m3u, ruhe.m3u, etc.).

So we have worked together on adapting the texts of the poems I mentioned into modern-style songs. And then she composes the music for them. Sometimes just seconds after I've written new lyrics. I can't begin to describe the excitement I felt when I first heard the poetry I love so much set to music that seemed to capture its tone so well.

Mikaela has her own very enjoyable and very accurate description of what it's been like working on this at her own blog, where I am very generously referred to as Sullivan.

The plan is to play/sing our trilogy at her annual St. Cecilia party. Last year I was surprised at the feedback I got after reciting Grendel's approach to Heorot from Beowulf in Old English, and then in translation. This year I'm going to recite my translation of Bagme Bloma, and then give it in Gothic. (It really is a beautiful sounding language!). So we'll see how it all goes. If it goes well, we may do more with it, but even if not, it has been more rewarding than I ever expected to work on our little trilogy.

1 comment:

Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Wow! This sounds really neat!

Been away on business, so to speak...