The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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A Norfolk Song Book

Ten songs for soprano and recorder, texts by the composer

1. Gallows Hill
Soprano and treble recorder
2. Hare
Soprano and sopranino recorder
3. The world oozing
Soprano and sopranino recorder
4. Hedgerow
Soprano and descant recorder
5. Wind shouts
Soprano and descant recorder
6. Barn Owl
Soprano and tenor recorder
7. Gulls jostling
Soprano and sopranino recorder
8. Rainbow dance
Soprano and treble recorder
9. Black Sky
Soprano and treble recorder
10. Spring tide
Soprano and treble / bass recorder

For Tracey Chadwell and John Turner

Since 1972, the North Norfolk coast has been my English retreat for composing and meditating. There I wrote some poems in the spring of 1986, the same year the US used its air bases in North Norfolk for the bombing of Tripoli. They’re not great poems, but they caught something essential for me, and provided the texts for Tracey’s and John’s song book.


Gallows Hill is not what I would call a hill, it rises so gently from the shore. Yet here I see fields, woods, town, marshes, sea, spread straight to the horizon, but mostly I see sky and clouds; throughout the northern hemisphere there’s nothing to obscure the view. There’s always wind. On the calmest day a breeze still laps the corn, tasting of salt and camomile. Did they ever hang a man or woman here? Did someone—like myself—put rope around a neck like mine, pull gently, considerately, till first the noose bit, burnt my flesh, until blood rising hot and hard and sure I slowly burst for breath? Now the name is just some words upon a map, a shadow to thrill the children on a summer evening walk. To the south, a monster plane grinds behind the wood of beech and pine and holly, slowly emerges above the deserted cottage, and hoists its bulk into the heavy air. On the wire fence near where three roads meet hang bright shrivelled eyeless skins of crow and rook and weasel.


Pheasant crows from the hedgerow, partridges creak around the field, the last thrush flourish from a spindly oak, hare melts into dusk.


Far, far off, a steeple rises above the line of the marsh. My boot marks dwindle, stretching way back to the edge of the mud. Dunlins flicker along the last creek left by the falling tide. A mile away, beyond the piping redshank, an oilskin digs for shellfish in no man’s land. After the piping, only the sound of the world oozing. Where’s the sea? To the north, already covering dunlin, oilskin, mud-blisters, me.


Hedgerow, Yellowhammer, Yellowhammer, Yellowhammer, passing tractor, dust.


The wind shouts, hurls clouds of stinging sand. A twist of curling foam rips a buoy through the racing tide. Whichever way I turn something catches in my eye.


White-flecked-tawny, along the hedge two hunched wings carry a pair of eyes, intent, alert. Along the hedge and up the chase, no shape or colour now, bare movement in the least of light, death passes silent, rhythmical. Returning along the field’s further edge, a sudden side-slip, then steady flight across the road— death glides patiently in the growing light; it floats on its own time to feed young owls by sunrise. Yesterday, less patient birds flew these skies to Libya. What children did their talons feed? What dawn to their stark day?


Gulls jostle the tide, a band of oystercatchers ambushes a mud bank, the sea wall shoots a lark into the sky; whatever next?


Black sky, grey beach, the pines a shadow across the bay; the rain sweeps in on its side. Everything is running!


Sea retreated, clouds blown away, leaves still, caught in the web of rain-washed sunlight a spider watches the Crossbills’ rainbow dance.


Spring tide of sunlight rising over sand, mud, water, washing the far line of pines, and coast guard’s hut, gilding creeks, those diamond snakes, twisting through the salt marsh, flooding grain ships lolling at the quayside grinning through their rusted paint, battered metal proudly gleaming, floating gulls twisting in currents of underlight, hawking the wake of returning fishing boats, screaming, bickering over drowned fish, embracing playground swings, war memorial, HARBOUR CAFE and public lavatories smiling, gossiping, stretching arms, nodding greetings to a surprised, stranded milk float parked beneath the elevator of the stolid granary, warming its bricks, which, standing high above the quay, sees the bank of grey cloud stretched out above the rising sun, waiting to engulf it, and restore the little town to order, to mute colours, soften edges, still reflections, before the postman on his doorstep sees it, drops his bag and stands amazed, marooned.

DL, Crossing Cottage, Warham, North Norfolk, Spring 1986.