Friday, August 31, 2012

THE JOURNEY HOME - An Oratorio composed by John Drummond

from the Otago Daily Times

"To commemorate the centenary of Captain Scott's ill-fated journey to the South Pole, the Southern Sinfonia is presenting the world premiere of The Journey Home. Charmian Smith talks to composer Prof John Drummond.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott's last landfall in 1910 before sailing to the Antarctic was Port Chalmers, where there is a memorial, and the news of his team's death came ashore at Oamaru in 1913.
John Drummond has written an oratorio to mark the anniversaries.
The Southern Sinfonia will perform his The Journey Home on September 8.
The idea started when Prof Drummond received a text developed from Scott's journal by librettist and opera historian Jeremy Commons about four years ago. He suggested setting it for baritone and piano, but Prof Drummond thought a significant event like this might need something else.
He looked at poems about the Antarctic by New Zealand poets who had been there and found evocative works by Claire Beynon, Chris Orsman and Bill Manhire.
"I thought it would be nice to do this for a series of soloists - a baritone who could sing Scott's journal, a soprano and tenor who could do the poems.
Then I thought, let's have an orchestra. Then I thought if we are going to go that far, why don't we add a choir. Make it a proper cantata or oratorio." He planned to add texts from the Latin requiem mass, but Commons persuaded him Scott wasn't a Catholic so he found appropriate texts in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
"It finished up with quite a lot of text. Jeremy's text covered the whole of the expedition from the beginnings, but the more I looked at it, the more I felt the interesting part of the story was the last part, which happened 100 years ago this year," Prof Drummond says.
"When Scott realises he isn't the first to reach the South Pole but the second, because Amundsen had beaten him by five weeks or so, that must have been a very disappointing and traumatic moment for him. The journey home from the pole and the sense he hadn't achieved what he wanted to achieve. That became something I wanted to explore."
The Journey Home starts with Scott and his party's disappointment and the prospect of the journey ahead.
They think it will be a journey back to his base camp and then home to England, but as the weather grew worse and then he and his companions struggled, it became a journey to a different home, one we are all going to in the end, a journey to the home of death in the Antarctic, Prof Drummond says.
"I wanted to explore his feelings throughout that experience, but not make it a totally gloomy and tragic business, because I don't think it's necessarily like that. I think what those texts, the Common Prayer texts are trying to do, is to remind us there are things beyond life; there are things beyond this world and there is a spiritual dimension. I want to tap into that. I suppose what I'd like people to feel at the end is an awareness of the tragedy of it all, but I don't want everyone to end up weeping.
"The journey is about contact with things eternal, really, and I think that's one of the things music can do quite well because it can go beyond words and speak directly of other things to us."
Scott made mistakes in his planning for the expedition and the weather was unexpectedly bad, with blizzards and extremely low temperatures.
However, Prof Drummond suggests that another factor making the return impossible might have been Scott's state of mind, his disappointment at having not been the first to the pole.
"It's like getting the silver medal - yes, you are really pleased to have done it, but you had hoped to get the gold. Your state of mind is bound to be slightly different in those circumstances."
He particularly enjoyed setting the poems - there's a wonderful one by Bill Manhire, The Goddess Hypothermia.
"He's written it like the Goddess Hypothermia has come to embrace me. It's a very clever little poem because it's got this amorous flavour to it but nonetheless, underneath, you know it's something very dangerous. I love that poem and really enjoyed having the opportunity to set that."
A more difficult piece to set was the famous quotation by Captain Oates.
"Everyone knows he said 'I'm just going out and may be some time', and it's one of those lines people use in other circumstances, so trying to set that without it becoming funny just because of the associations was very interesting. I had to have quite a few goes at that. I hope it works in the context."
There's a poignant passage in Scott's journal, when he realises he won't see his son again, that Prof Drummond set as an aria for the baritone.
"Scott's son was Peter Scott, who was a great naturalist in the UK, and the song talks about how he hopes his son will grow up to love nature. Having met Peter Scott many years ago - he was a friend of my sister's - I felt it was a really nice poem to set because that is what did happen."
Prof Drummond says he writes music he wants people to enjoy listening to and musicians will enjoy performing, which means they will communicate well with the audience."

See it - John Drummond's The Journey Home will be given its premiere performance on September 8 at 8pm at the Regent Theatre by the Southern Sinfonia, conducted by Simon Over, with soprano Jenny Wollerman, tenor James Rodgers, baritone Robert Tucker and the City of Dunedin Choir. Also on the concert programme are Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien and Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite.

Monday, August 27, 2012


My writer friend SUSAN LANDRY (Portland, MAINE, USA) wrote the following exquisite and piercing piece in response to a New York Times article ---  

"I have remained obsessed with the news about the discovery of a fresh-water lake beneath the ice at Vostok station, in Antarctica. 

(Dr. Luckin, director of the expedition, said, ‘For me, the discovery of this lake is comparable with the first flight into space.’ There have been much–disputed hints that life might still exist there. New York Times 2/08/12)

We live in a pale globe, haloed in the light of underwater moons. Like the blood of a medusa, we are diaphanous; woven of silken threads, spun from microbial skeins, soft as smoke. The skin of our world glows overhead, a membrane holding in fluid and song. We have words; not to say out loud, just to look at. We press them into shapes or memories and release them. The word called blue can be sky or long afternoons. Brown can be sand pebbles or an empty heart. Like birds, blue and brown can soar and glide. They can spin like star motes or flatten, like feathers in a storm.

We dance. The space between us is sacred. The space around us is eternity. We never ask questions. We do not begin or end.

We are crying. There is too much noise, a dark thrum, like music that is wrong, like music with sharp edges.

We are afraid to look: the words break like black ice; splinters of red pierce the grey green sky. Our eyes hurt; we want to shut them, lock them tight as fossils. Our ears are curling up, like seashells. Words like drill or science or discovery pulse through the water like words for pain. We are dying."

Susan blogs here. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012



On The Edge Of The Clearing Weather | Claire Beynon | Oil on Paper 2010

‘It is all one water – a finger in a tide pool brings us all together’ 
Marylinn Kelly

Water, in its many forms and expressions, has been an integral feature of my work for the past three decades - as raindrop and storm, puddle, waterfall, river, ocean, sea ice and glacier. Aside from painting and drawing and creating short narrative films, I fold paper boats - at last count my flotilla numbered around 1600. Since I first began making them in 2007, these boats have taken on a life and presence all their own. You can read their story HERE

Concern about the declining health of our world's waterways prompted me to invite members of the blogging community to participate in a project titled Waters I Have Known.  ( My wish was to create an open, online studio, a space where I could post images of work-in-process, share web links, invite questions, ideas and discussion. This site is the result.  

Waters I Have Known documents recent water-related projects. Some have been solo endeavors - the majority have had a collaborative element to them. 

Early paintings in the Waters I Have Known series were a response to the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. A stream of lively debate around the power, wonder and fragility of our world’s oceans was already under way when I suggested to readers we take our discussion further and contemplate the internet as an ocean of a different kind. Moved by the range and richness of texts gifted in response, I incorporated their words in several G ULF paintings, including an 'ocean of words’ titled Standing In The Heart. These texts were also worked into a collaborative poem* that became the narration for a 2011 climate change film Love The Waters. 

                                                 In the wide sound of the sea
                                                 the song of a vast adventure
                                                 a music that follows flight
                                                 paths of blood rushing 
                                                 through veins. And the roar 
                                                 of the sea is the roar of our planet. 
                                                 Salt. Spray. Ice. Sand.
                                                 Each wave a limb of the earth.

                                                 The oceans are hoarders 
                                                 of holy mysteries, generous 
                                                 to a fault - all heaving movement,
                                                 energy and gorgeousness; life
                                                 packed into every inch and drop
                                                 of it; ah, its drama! Its secrecy.
                                                 The way it carries the past, future
                                                 and present in it.

                                                 Dream of the sea and from its edge
                                                 gaze out to the pencil-thin line
                                                 of the horizon where sky and water
                                                 are one. And the sea? 
                                                 How it murmurs. 
                                                 How it murmurs.  

                                                 It is all one water.
                                                 A finger in a tide pool 
                                                 brings our shores together

One of the things that struck me during this web-based process was the generosity with which these men and women – most of whom have never met – responded to my call. A community comprising writers, artists, scientists, musicians, a police detective and a nun, they hail from places as far-flung as Ireland, Australia, USA, Germany, the UK, South Africa, Italy and Tasmania. Without exception, they offered up their prose and poems as gifts – no strings attached. 

There is a potency and intimacy peculiar to web-based communities that overwrites conventionally-perceived limitations such as age, political bias, ethnicity, kronos time and measurable space. The web is a mighty equalizer – like the ocean, it wraps us around, drawing our continents together. We take our place around the virtual table and at the press of a key, enter worlds we might ordinarily not have access to, with people we might ordinarily never meet. Before we know it we’re engaging in a depth of communication that has all the elements of privileged encounter and sacred space. If water is the medium of the unconscious, might we consider the web its metaphorical equivalent?

During these times of crisis and accelerated change, I am drawn ever more to poetry, music and the moving image as powerful communication tools within our global arena. It seems to me that as our world’s clamor and confusion increases, so listening and stillness are being recognized as vital agents for peace, advocacy and transformation. We are being invited to find new ways of communicating that transcend the all-too-familiar notes of violence, fear and separatism and express instead as a 'protest of poetry and pause.’

This is a second iteration of the film using the same text but different film footage and soundtrack. 

* Collaborative poem by Claire Beynon (NZ),  Marylinn Kelly (USA), Therese Clear (USA), Pamela Morrison (NZ), Elisabeth Hanscombe (AUS), Kay McKenzie-Cooke (NZ) & Scott Odom (USA).

Porcelain sculpture by Christina Bryer (SA). 
Music by Chris Tokalon (SA). 
Hand dancing by Kate Alterio (NZ). 
Underwater photography by Shawn Harper (USA). 
Ice divers - Sam Bowser (USA) & Shawn Harper (USA).
Filmed & produced in Explorers Cove, ANTARCTICA & Dunedin, NZ 2008 - 2011.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Today's Ocean Stories


"The ocean touches nearly every aspect of our lives - making it essential to the economic, social and ecological well-being of everyone, everywhere.

How do we measure the health of the ocean?  The Ocean Health Index is a new, comprehensive measure of the ocean's overall condition - one that treats people and nature as integrated parts of a healthy system. Here begins a journey to sustainably manage our relationship with Earth's greatest resource. . . "

Follow this link to the OCEAN HEALTH INDEX ---


Sobering evaluation of New Zealand's waters with regard to the Ocean Health Index -


This list of threats to our ocean comes from the Smithsonian Institution's Ocean Planet exhibition and from the book Ocean Planet: Writings and Images of the Sea, by Peter Benchley and Judith Gradwohl (published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., 100 5th Ave., New York, N.Y. 10011)


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Two quotes

The following quotes found their way into my mailbox today - 

Anyone who can solve the problems of water, will be worthy of two Nobel prizes - one for peace and one for science.
John F. Kennedy

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water. 
Benjamin Franklin.