Eastertide, Simnel Cake and a Sense of Place

Today is Easter Monday, and as the greeting goes at Wakefield Cathedral just 300 yards from my studio, Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed! Although I no longer celebrate Easter I find it hard to ignore its presence in the life of my family or in the vivid memories of past Easters spent at Stanbrook Abbey in Worcester.

The chapel by Pugin at Stanbrook Abbey


My eldest son, as a cathedral layclerk, has sung his way through Holy Week. On Palm Sunday he was the soloist in Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s interminable The Wilderness. A light baritone he certainly had the measure of it, but for the unbroken voices of the boys of the choir it was a bridge too far. It is such a long piece and requires a deft hand to keep the work on its toes. The Wilderness is English Cathedral Music at its lowest ebb. It is only saved by moments that echo (and if only for a moment) the glorious verse anthems of the 16C, which, thanks to our continuing Cathedral tradition, have maintained their presence in the repertoire.

David skating


As for the other children David has been maintaining his research into new spaces for skating (skateboarding not the in-line stuff), and Meg has been into some heavy-duty shopping, though she did serve as an acolyte at High Mass on Sunday. They come home for food and money, and occasionally call out the taxi service. 

Meg's Easter bargain . . . £17 instead of £70 . . . hmm


With my wife away I have been busy in the kitchen; Nigel’s fish pie for Good Friday, Thai Fishcakes on Saturday and roast beef on Sunday (though salmon for me). I also made a Simnel Cake, which sits proudly on the dining room table with the daffodils and chrysanthemums.

My Simnel Cake


Before I devoted an hour each Sunday morning to sitting in stillness and silence I was a serious Anglo Catholic, and following my discovery of the Rule of St Benedict (through Ester De Waal’s book Seeking God) spent several Easters with the Benedictine sisters at Stanbrook Abbey, The abbey is deep in Elgar country (in sight of the Malvern Hills and the River Severn) and I used to stay in the Presbytery, a glorious early 17C house, once the original enclosed convent. After my first visit there for Holy Week I wrote about the experience to amplify a programme note for a composition on my website. I had for so many years wished to experience the night offices of the monastic church, particularly  the mystery of the Nocturns of Holy Week, the subject of a composition of that name for flute and guitar from 1972, to all intents and purposes my Opus 1 (I’ve not acknowledged anything written prior to that date). At Stanbrook I finally got to be there to hear it (at 5.0 am), and despite the anguished texts of the psalms (68,69,79) sung at each of the three Nocturns, it was the most special experience in every way. Over the years I’ve returned time and again to Stanbrook, often to compose in the silence of the Extern Sisters library (it is still an enclosed order), but also for the Triduum –the four days of Easter. Now the sisters have moved to a splendid purpose-built eco-monastery on the Yorkshire Moors, and I have become a Quaker.

 So my Easter morning was spent at Ackworth School (famous for its embroidered samplers from the 18C) in company with the annual Easter Gathering of former students and staff. I had previously driven over to Dewsbury Minster to attend their Sunrise service on Easter Day complete with breakfast, and seen the sun rise in the driving mirror on the Dewsbury bypass. My only other nod to Easter was reading an excerpt and a stunning review by the Archbishop of Canterbury of Philip Pullman’s new ‘fable’ The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Fascinating and thought-provoking.

From scribble to score . . . part of Sense of Place


All the above is my way of saying that there has not been a lot going on this past fortnight on the weaving front. I do have a further excuse. I have finally begun to see the music for Sense of Place materialize as sheets of manuscript on my desk. I am rather ashamed to say I began to prepare this music (for Jilly Edward’s forthcoming show at High Cross House at Dartington) back in late January, and it has taken several months to put the ideas together in such a way that real sounds start appearing. The work is to be some 35 minutes long and consists of both a concert score and music for an installation across seven rooms of tapestry artefacts (and many wonderful paintings and ceramics of the period 1930 –1990 including several by Winifred Nicholson, the artist upon whom my forthcoming opera Unknown Colour is based).

Winifred Nicholson - Cyclamen & Primula


I’ve never done anything quite like this project before, and if nothing else I have realised that a concert work and an installation are two quite different animals. In the concert hall the focus of visual and aural attention from the audience is entirely on the performer and the music. In a gallery, or in this case a room being used as a gallery, music has to know its place. It should not be in the foreground. It needs to have ambient qualities. It should not grab your attention, but when you stop browsing and remain still for a little while in front of a tapestry creation the music should suddenly enter your consciousness and gently amplify something of what you are seeing. That’s been my intention, and I’ve thought long and hard about creating material, which can serve both situations. You can get a hint of how the music is developing, together with its own distinct programme, on a new web presentation here

A Page from the 'Winter' movement from Sense of Place


As I work on this score (composing and rehearsing every day) there is absolutely no time to weave. To get this ready to record in the each room of the house along with a soundscape of inside and outside sounds (to achieve this ‘Sense of Place’), the music has to be finished in the next fortnight . . . and I have to learn to play it! Fortunately, the first live concert performance is not until June, whereas the opening is on 4 May! I’m so looking forward to the recording, which my assistant Phil will supervise and we’ll jointly edit. Dartington in the Spring is such a joy and a treat to visit, even if only for two days.

Looking towards the Tiltyard in the gardens of Dartington Hall, South Devon


Last weekend I had one of those welcome surprises that happens to a blogger just occasionally, and seems to make the whole exercise worthwhile. I received a comment about my blog Double Weave at Last! from Lialia Kuchma. She’d been looking for web references to double weave and stumbled across mine. I think she was more taken by my photos of Anelog Mountain, but no matter. A Ukrainian living within the Chicago Ukrainian community her work is well known in the USA and it is both exciting, ambitious and mostly large! There is a confident mix of images, abstract, figurative, even portraiture, and latterly ventures into Jacquard. I’m at the stage with my own explorations into tapestry where I find some of the textural effects readable from a photo very intriguing. She kindly sent me two images in response to my blog about lines. I think the image below is a photograph. Whatever its provenance I find it very beautiful. There are several good introductions to this artist’s work on the web. Here are two: a Fibrearts review by David Johnson and an American Tapestry Alliance feature. She’s also published a book on warp faced weaves.

Image by Lialia Kuchma


I have to admit over the last fortnight I have been suffering from melancholia, a surfeit of Chinese poetry perhaps – as late at night I’ve been working on a novella called Summoning the Recluse about two poets of the Third Century, Zuo Tsi and his sister Zuo Fen. The Ancient Chinese had a love for themes of absence, and separation. Inseparable as children, brother and sister Zuo spent most of their adult lives apart and wrote copious letters to each other.  They believed that such correspondence ‘unburdened the mind of its melancholy thoughts in the form of elegant colours: its purpose to state one’s feeling without reserve’. Doesn’t seem to work for me though . . . Here’s a poem by Wu-ti translated by the inimitable Arthur Waly.

My bed is so empty that I keep waking up.

As the cold increases, the night-wind begins to blow.

It rustles the curtains, making a noise like the sea:

Oh that those were waves which could carry me back to you.

So it was good to be cheered up by an email to say the academic paper I’ve co-ordinated with those involved last summer with Fifteen Images has been accepted for the first edition of a new journal Craft Research. As this is a refereed journal I had to smile when I got the reviewers’ critiques. They were about as different from each other as two reviews could be, and the editors had sent them entire, which in my own disciplines of music and computer science is unusual. I usually hate the thought of re-crafting a paper one has spent hours carefully putting together, but I have to say this was a very positive exercise and the revised paper is something, though I say it who shouldn’t, I’m proud of. Thanks to the Fifteen Images team  for their patience and imagination. We all got terribly stuck with this question of Carol Treadaway’s we had clearly failed to answer adequately – How does experience of materiality shape our creative use of digital imaging tools, and how does the technology influence creative practice? You’ll have to wait for the journal’s publication in September to find out how we dealt with it!

Back in my studio I got out the Tissanova loom I was given for Christmas. Now I have the manual and today is a public holiday I thought maybe I’ll put it together. So here are the bits . . .

My Tissanova loom


One Response to “Eastertide, Simnel Cake and a Sense of Place”

  1. alison Says:

    I’ve been following your fascinating blog for a while – haven’t got time to comment more now but just stopped by to let you know that ‘The Book Depository’ has copies of Sheila Hicks Weaving as Metaphor – I asked to be notified if they got them in stock after reading your recent review.

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