Life changes in the blink of an eye, or the striking of a piano key. As I type, my 12-day-old daughter sleeps in a cradle beside me and my elbows rest on a three-inch deep stack of instrumental part proofs and a completed full score of 17 Days. So while I haven't written a new blog for a while, I'm sure you'll understand that I have been productive in other areas…
When I last blogged back in July I was in the midst of composing the ecstatic 15-minute climax of 17 Days; a depiction of a miners' thunderous journey up the rescue tunnel to resurrection. The words at the beginning of this sequence are from Emily Dickinson's poem Hope: "Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without words / And never stops at all." I imagined the miners opening their arms, sprouting wings and flying up the rescue tunnel. Poetic imagery often unlocks my musical imagination, the truth that the miners bumped and bounced their way up to the surface in what was essentially a slow and rattling elevator was rather too prosaic.
Dickinson's next stanza has a touching innocence: "And sweetest in the gale is heard / And sore must be the storm / That could abash the little bird / That kept so many warm." I decided that the children's choir should take the tune for these lines as their voices more naturally exemplify the fragility of the "little bird", hope.
The structure of the work then suddenly ruptures, as though the ascending miner breaks suddenly from their reverie and is filled with an overwhelming sense of exultation. The words at this point come from the King James Bible (John, 11:25): "I am the resurrection and the life". These were the words that opened the piece some forty minutes previously but set to new music; the tone and interpretation of them transformed from exclamatory to doubtful, and finally to jubilant.
The words for the final pages of the work are also from the King James Bible (Isaiah 26:19): "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust. Awake!" The tone of the music here is a mirror image of that which opened the work: congregational, loud, powerful and full-hearted.
The climax of 17 Days is a blaze of glory that is made all the more radiant by the pitch-black darkness of the music and words that precede this fifteen-minute crescendo. And the dark heart of 17 Days will be the subject of my next blog… Excuse me, it's time to change a nappy!