'Shame, Shame, He dies for his country'

- for amateur SATB choir

PROGRAMME NOTE

[This piece was written for the Strathaven Choral Society, as part of Making Music's 2014/15 Adopt A Composer scheme, which pairs up a composer with an amateur ensemble for 1 year]

With this piece it was always my intention to try and link my own region with that of the Strathaven Choral Society through some historical, musical or other link, as another way of bringing our collaboration into the composition. To this end I drew musical material from two Northumbrian folk songs - 'Bellingham' and 'Bonny At Morn' - and found a piece of 19th century Strathaven history from which to create the text and title.


Of the two Northumbrian folk songs I borrowed from, 'Bonny At Morn' is quite personal to me as I remember my mother singing it to my younger brother when he was a baby, but indeed both songs are beautiful in a melancholic, modal way which is often characteristic of North East folk songs. In my piece the songs are not simply 'set', or arranged, as folk songs have been many times by other composers, but instead I have used bits of them in different ways - sometimes chaotic, sometimes simple - to create my own work. My focus in writing it has always been on reaping the bounty of rich choral harmony while giving the choir the opportunity to make music in new and at times unfamiliar ways, and I have been fortunate enough to be working with such an excellent group of singers, who have rewarded my efforts.

The text and title come from a piece of early 19th century Strathaven history, which concerns the rise of Radicalism and the trial and execution of James 'Pearlie' Wilson, a Strathaven weaver who helped to organise opposition to the Corn Laws Act before being (probably unfairly) tried for treason. He was found guilty and executed in Glasgow, and all accounts agree that at his execution the crowd repeatedly intoned, "Shame, Shame, He dies for his country". His body was secretly brought back to Strathaven, where a monument was erected on the site of his house, with a plaque on which is enscribed a text celebrating his life, principles, and noble political intentions, and condemning his execution. All of the text in my piece is taken from this plaque.

Due to the amount of mining around the North East, many of my region's folk songs deal with loss, particularly people being taken from life in unfair circumstances (such as mining disasters), and this same loss is embodied in the tale of James Wilson. History however also saw fit to connect loss to this piece in a further way, as my mother lost her battle against cancer as I was just beginning to work on it. 'Bonny At Morn' was a favourite song of hers, and my memories of her singing it to my brother are vivid, so it is partly for this reason that I drew from it in composing my piece. I feel that loss is therefore represented in all aspects of the work - albeit contrasted with the tremendous positive aspects of a long and happy collaboration with the Strathaven Choral Society - and as such I have tried to create a work which is thoughtful, gentle, and moving. My mother's half-sister Annabelle also succumbed to cancer while I was busy with the composition, and as such I have dedicated the piece to her memory.