A Shout (January 2005) for Soprano Soloist, Women’s Choir and Piano

Specially written for Jean Cumming’s choir and as an “In Memoriam Bill Cumming” who was sadly run over by a young speadster in Christchurch in 2003. We got to know the Cummings on one of our first trips to Europe when the children were very young. They also had two children of much the same age (also a Fiona Jane!). At that time Bill said how he had been influenced by the painting and ideas of Paul Klee, whose work he’d got to know well through a course given by Michael Harlow—Michael had worked for Adult Education in his early days in New Zealand. It was therefore appropriate to use texts by Michael in the piece—texts, which were about Klee (see no. 1 below):

'Taking a line for a Walk'

‘Taking a line for a walk’,
you find your way through
the deepening dark, and all
our conversations are with
the living and the dead—
and the dark is light enough
to hold you still—you are
listening for that shout of green

Listening for that shout of green,
your ‘devotion to the small’ so
little being said, so much being meant;
and the dark is light enough to hold
you still—and you know, entering
the day you would be most alive
when you died, taking a line for a walk,
some few years from now, trees
will be called very important people.

Michael Harlow
Taking a line for a walk

Bee-Bird

Such sweet singing sips
Of aire, everywhere Αυδονι [‘ayedhóni]
How she ‘consorts with flowers
To make her yellow honey’:
In the dark hold of the hive,
Αυδονι, fill the heart with gold

Michael Harlow
Bee Bird

Chatter Bird

Chit, Chatter-bird
such nattering all the day-long
the nightlong ‘as when
the clamour of cranes goes
high to the heavens’, so unstoppably
non-stop, and so unprettily
rowdy roistering song
you would think, wouldn’t you,
there are no full-stops in heaven

Michael Harlow
Chatter Bird

A Shout

Opening your arms:
the first full sun of winter; light
falls, the fine calligraphy of trees
waiting for that shout of green

Mariner’s star
this bright flower of sun,
like a stunned bee
in the small hour of your hand
waking from its

hive, the gold the dark has been
keeping, inside the ‘mind’s
tenderness to the heart’, waiting
for that shout of green.

Michael Harlow
A Shout

The first performance was originally to have been about the same time as the reading of the Rothko Variations and we would have visited Christchurch during this NZ trip to hear it but it was adjourned until early 2006 so we thought we would miss it.

19.04.2006, Jean Cumming wrote a sad letter, she had had to leave her choir:

… I have had to resign from my conductorship of the Cecelian Singers … Some of the members were threatening to resign from the choir because of my choice of music and also that I demanded too much etc. etc. …

I am so very sorry. I feel that I have let both you and William down. But I hope in the future to find a choir to perform and record A Shout. I was so excited about the work and wrapped up with the whole concept that I failed to take on board the commitment of the choir to what was a personal dedication for me. I know you will understand, but I still feel bad about it all …

A Shout