The title of this new work for the Blue Shroud Band comes from Samuel Beckett’s “what is the word“, his last poem and an elegiac meditation on language. Additionally to “what is the word”, I have also used one of Beckett’s late poems “Brief Dream” which refers to the theme of transiting life and the acceptance of ending - “go end there / one fine day” and Barra Ó Seaghdha’s (Irish writer and poet) evocative poem “Waiting”. Two 18th century Edo Haiku complete the texts featured in this piece that collectively focus on life in transit.
And evening comes on
The tide of age
And never ebbs
It was the great Irish actor Barry Mc Govern that illuminated the meditational quality and pathos of Samuel Beckett’s last poem “what is the word”. His delivery of the text grabbed my attention whilst I was pondering over a structure for a commission by the Kronos quartet , and inspired me to consider the architecture based on the internal and mostly hidden rhythm of Beckett’s words. Quietness, introspection, an implied questioning (although the question mark is never used in the text), and perhaps a yearning for an unfulfilled sense of place were the apparent qualities of the poem. “What is the word” can also be seen as a philosophical understanding of the expansiveness of language as it pans out In front of us like an open landscape.
Guitarist/composer and Blue Shroud musician Benjamin Dwyer had almost simultaneously composed a most exquisite and important chamber music piece based on Beckett’s “what is the word” for an ensemble of violin, guitar, bass and voice. My immersion into the text again, whilst rehearsing and performing this work became more and more intense. So I reasoned that the structure of the string quartet written for Kronos (with no voice as such) could become the basis of a companion piece for the Blue Shroud Band with Beckett’s poem being presented through our vocalist Savina Yannatou - a kind of second generation thought process that had its gestation in string quartet music.