SONGS FROM A
Being from Shropshire, I find it amazing how many of us (Shropshireites!) are still a oblivious to the existence of Housman's poetry, which (if you didn't know!) is dedicated entirely to our beloved county. I was, perhaps, lucky, that I chose to do English Literature at A-Level, and I just so happened to have a teacher who had, that year, chosen to select WWI from the syllabus. With Housman being the artistic catalyst for so many of our poets going off to war, I do recall being introduced to some of the poems in an analytical sense, but I maybe didn't appreciate the gravity that the text has had on the literary world, or indeed on the musical world that I am currently living in. As a visitor to Shropshire, you many notice various editions of the collection for sale in souvenir shops, and often the works are read and performed at summer festivals, but for many of us locals, "A Shropshire Lad" feels a little under the radar.
I first felt the "pull" of the text properly in 2017. I was due to move to France for a period of about three months, and it was the first time that I had been away from the UK for more than a few weeks alone. I happened to throw a small copy of selected Housman poems into my suitcase, probably with the intention of bettering my knowledge of them in quiet breaks between practise or rehearsals, but with no real incentive or intention. As anyone who has worked away from home for any period of time will know, there is very often an inconvenient decline in mood at around the six week mark, when the excitement of something new has worn off, routine has kicked-in and energy levels seem impossible to recharge. It was at this point that I picked up A Shropshire Lad. Aside from the satisfaction of recognising so many of the locations exalted in the text, the sense of longing and nostaligia created through Housman's desire to visit Shropshire was one that I appreciated as a view of home from across the water. Critisied sometimes as portraying an "arcadian idyll" (aren't all daydreams?) the sepia-tone warmth and imaginary ideals painted by the text became a source of repose and comfort. I suddenly found interest in how this world could possibly be conveyed musically, and knowing that a recording project was imminently looming, an idea was born.
So, the next step was to move the appreciation from text to music, and work out which settings I liked most, or indeed, could potentially work nicely for female voice. The Vaughan Williams cycle "On Wenlock Edge," followed closely by Butterworth's "Six Songs From a Shropshire Lad" are perhaps the more better known, but there are countless other composers over the past century who have identified with the creative scope that the work has to offer. Motivated so much by the text (moreso than ever before!), I have lost some of the "tranditionalist" performer in me (I usually commit to an entire song cycle, rather than selecting portions of to perform in concert) and so, create my very own "Shropshire Lad Playlist" featuring a mish-mash of "most played" or, "the songs I like best". VW and Butterworth will certainly feature, but so will Ireland, Somervell and Barber as well as a brand new setting from Ashley Thompson.
The CD is due for release in March of 2020, and has taken me already in directions that I wasn't expecting! As usual, there are already a long list of people to thank - Jon French, who will accompany, is at the very top; when asked, he took surprisingly little convincing given that he has played many of these songs for the past twenty years, with far greater singers than I could ever imagine!
Independently released recordings allow artists complete management of the process and their work from start to finish, which I really feel is paramount to this project. I am so lucky to have so many friends, musical and non-musical, who have helped in some way so far, including audiences who have supported the various "Shropshire Lass" recitals I have put on over the past 12 months. Thank you - your support is paramount and I am so excited to finally share our creation! Much more info coming soon - A Shropshire Lad, sung by a Shropshire Lass!