Stephen McNeff's new song cycle, I Am The Song for upper voices and piano receives its world premiere on 21 February 2009, given by the Bournemouth Symphony Children’s Chorus, conducted by Greg Beardsell at the Lighthouse in Poole.
I first met Charles Causley in about 1977 when I was working at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter and I asked him if he would write a stage work that I could set to music and tour in the West Country. He wrote The Ballad of Aucassin and Nicolette which was a great success, eventually ending up as a Monday Night Play on BBC Radio 4 (recorded in Bristol with an orchestra of 18 and cast and chorus of about 25 - those were the days at the BBC!).
After that Charles and I wrote a number of other stage works together and became good friends. He came to Western Canada when I was at the Banff Centre in the Rocky Mountains – a trip which inspired a volume of poetry called Secret Destinations. I used this as a title for my orchestral work written for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2007 when I was the BSO’s resident composer, a work written as a memorial to Charles who died in 2003.
Charles was a wonderful person to work with, very professional and inspiring. He was very relaxed (with me at least) about setting his poetry to music and encouraged me to find opportunities. At our first meeting he gave me his collected poems and pointed out which ones had already been set to music by an impressive variety of composers and showing me ones that he thought would work particularly well with music.
This new set of songs fulfils a promise I made to him many years ago to write a set of songs for young people. Charles was a primary school teacher in Cornwall until he ‘retired’ to become a full time poet. He taught music at the school and was a good pianist so he knew what he was talking about when he discussed writing music for young people. He once played me some snippets of a setting of one of his own poems that he had done himself, breaking off laughing saying, “but you’re a real composer, you’ll know what to do…” This new set contains echoes of that day a long time ago; I think I knew what to do.
Child’s Song Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience My Mother Saw a Dancing Bear On the Border