I have assembled this collection of pieces and songs from earlier CDs, which are no longer being issued (Clear Away, Voice of Creation) and added a live excerpt from Gift of Vision.
1-2] In January 2001, Gift of Vision: The Life & Work of Fitz Hugh Lane was staged in Gloucester -- the manifestation of a collaboration between choreographer Carl Thomsen, poet Maryclaire Wellinger and myself. While Gift has yet to see a definitive recording made of it, I offer here the piece that inspired the first dance Carl choreographed for it, along with a live recording of the Soliloquy.
3-12] Clear Away: A Fisherman's Farewell was developed also in collaboration with Carl, evolving from an earlier show that had been accompanied by the recordings of other artists. The show was a source of pride for the community, not only for the fine performances given by local people, but for the history that we Cape Ann residents share. (FROM WHOLE SHOW: SYNOPSIS / COMPOSER'S NOTES / PRODUCTION PHOTOS)
13-15] I have discontinued the CD for which these were recorded -- a mixture of original and classical compositions. (The latter were preserved on From Dowland to Silvio, which is being released at the same time as Flame without End). "Samba of Two Children," which brings the phrygian mode to Bossa Nova, originally had words in which neighborhood children ask me to take them special places. Late afternoon shafts of light descend from the clouds for Jacob's Dream: "in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." (Genesis, 28:12) The synthesizer accompaniment could be described as "an ostinato over a ground" and is intended to induce a hypnotic state. The long reverberation in "Sunset Reverie" implies the vast space between the viewer and the sun as it sets on the ocean horizon.
Envy of the Seas
Would you like to crew her? No!
And sail the open sea?
There’ll be cod for the take,
Lots of halibut and hake,
With a fat share guaranteed.
Do you have what it takes men? No!
It’s not all drudgery.
When you step back on land
You will fin’lly be a man
And no more be in need.
Come all ye strong and stout hand-liners,
All ye dirt-poor Maritimers.
Never have ye sailed such boats as these!
For a schooner out of Gloucester
Is the envy of the seas.
built just like a castle. Hah!
you prefer the farm life? Yes!
who will board this vessel? Me!
you keeping watch as the sun rises?
men have an endless thirst for power.
This "Clear Away" is significantly revised from the version last performed in August '98 — which was itself appreciably expanded from the original "Heave To" production of July 1997. In the latter, Carl choreographed to recorded music, while I danced. For last year’s production, I wrote music or arranged songs by others to be performed by live musicians. Now we reach the logical conclusion of this progression: a score that is (with the exception of three short traditional tunes) entirely my own. The new songs and pieces, in turn, have generated new dramatic situations.
Carl wanted to retain the title "Clear Away" (which came from a song by Maine’s Gordon Bok) for the new version of the show, so I wanted to be sure those words featured in one of the new songs. Once Carl penned, "Stow down your gear, cast off the line, Clear away..." and I came up with "... from the pier, leave it behind," we had our motto. Soon a Celtic-flavored melody and chord progression came to me which I played for Daisy Nell (who featured in the 1998 production). She suggested three images used in traditional maritime lore: the candle lit in hope of a loved one's return from sea, the dream of a loved one dressed in white signifying his having been lost, and the gulls fleeing inland warning townsfolk of a storm at sea.
The melody for "Sailing Home" was mostly lifted from a lugubrious solo guitar piece I wrote in 1977. It's bridge came from the Fisherman's Wife solo composed for the 1998 production. "On the Banks" layers the 3/4 "Sailing Home" over a 6/8 texture. The descant (soprano) line at the end sounds like a recap of the bridge to "Flame without End" but the melody actually came to me in this context first. "Sailing Home" only recently found its home following Carl’s "Lovell" story — suggesting an image of the old man singing to the men of his past while also refering to the voyage of our "Clear Away" crew.
The music for "Gloucester Wife" was actually written late one evening after one of our August 1998 performances of the show. Returning from a standing ovation to the solitude of an empty home, I created the song (then titled "Peace with Thee") to keep me company. The first three chords of the verse were in conscious emulation of Andy Stewart's "Lament for the Fisherman's Wife" (as was "Fisherfolks Reel") that we had used in that production. It was easily transformed into one about a wife's longing for a fisherman's return. Later we realized that through this song the Flirt — a character much expanded since the previous show— and the Wife find their common ground.
Away: A Fisherman's Farewell" is by and for the Gloucester community, involving
performers and supporters at many levels of skill and experience. Much like the
crew on the old schooners, each of us has had an important role in the success
of the voyage. Some of us have had direct experience of the losses this show commemorates,
while the rest of us have only heard stories, but what we all have experienced
in putting on this production is the most important legacy of Gloucester's past:
community. Whether a boat returned without a man or a whole fleet of vessels
went down, it was left for the community to rally its resources to ease the pain
and see to the survival of those affected.
Clear Away: A Fisherman’s Farewell is about saying goodbye and moving on. The score is dedicated to my father, Robert R. Steele, a man with close ties to the sea who lived just long enough to see the previous version of the show performed in June 1998
-- Jeffry Hamilton Steele
is 1899. The place, Gloucester. A celebration begins for the fishermen who
will leave on the schooner Clear Away in the morning on a voyage to the
Grand Banks. Townsfolk gather to eat drink and dance. In doing the old pantomimes
and dances, the townsfolk relieve their fears and express and renew the strength
of their community. The Fisherman dallies with a conspicuously Flirtatious Woman,
infuriating his Wife.
Early the next morning, the Fisherman finds his Daughter fishing on the wharf. She fancies the flight of seagulls and dances for him the Ballet of the Air. Soon the whole town gathers to say good-bye to the Men. The Fisherman and his Wife exchange identical scarves, a token of their love and faith to be reunited upon his safe return. As the men sail away, the song and memories of their families stay with them beyond the horizon.
The women of the town return to their unending chores of maintaining house, family, and community. Their greatest fears rise to the surface as they feel the wind change.
The Flirtatious Woman is alone in her room grieving for the man who left her for the sea. She reaches out through the walls of propriety to the Wife to share her pain, but meets with rejection.
As the storm builds outside, the Elderly Widow calms her granddaughter (and herself) with a story of her long lost husband, Lovell, the girl's Grandfather, who sailed off one day long ago and was never seen again.
Aboard the Clear Away, the crew is becalmed. Tempers flare as they sense the approach of something horrible. When the gale finally hits, all hands frantically stow down their gear. As is traditional, one man is left onboard at the wheel. All others go below to ride out the storm. Against the captain's orders, the Fisherman sends his best friend below and takes the helm himself.
Back onshore, the gale rattles the windows and the nerves of those huddled inside. With her Daughter finally asleep, the Wife lights a candle in the window for her husband and tries not to think about what he is going through. Outwardly she must keep herself calm, but the Inner Woman is raging with fear and anger.
At sea, the Fisherman struggles against the gale to keep the ship on course and his mind focused on his task - survival. The wind suddenly rips the scarf from his hands and casts it into the waters. Struggling against the gale outside him and the close-coiled tightening of his fear, he barely notices the sudden rise of a huge dark mountain of water...and then, silence.
Onshore, his Wife awakes from one nightmare into another. The candle has gone out. Knowing in her gut what has happened hundreds of watery miles away, she collapses. The Inner Woman comes like an angel to comfort her.
The men return from their voyage. Impeccability and discipline are all they have to stave off their grief. The townspeople greet them and learn the news of their loss. The Wife and Daughter are the last to learn. Her grief and rage are unutterable. She has lost her emotional mooring and begins to descend into a mad grief. The Elderly Widow reminds her that the sea gives much, but is also takes much in return. Fisher-folk all live in this circle of giving and taking with the sea. It is a terrible bargain, but it is also our strength and our bond with each other. She be must be strong now and raise her daughter.
Mother and Daughter re-unite and gather with the Elderly Widow along the shore. One last task remains: that of forgiveness. The Wife must face the Flirtatious Woman, and in their shared loss they find common ground.
The glacial mountain of grief begins to melt. The townspeople weave the fabric of their community back together as they have done so many times before, and bid those lost a final farewell.
-- Carl Thomsen
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