I have always been drawn to the poetry of Christina Rossetti- her work contains a passion and a mystery that speaks to the kind of music I want to write. ‘Echo’ is a poem that I’d had in the back of my consciousness for some time, so when Crouch End Festival Chorus got in touch to say that they’d like me to write a piece for them a plan started to form. The poem has one of the most beautiful, extraordinarily redolent opening lines: “Come to me in the silence of a dream”- it’s so immediately evocative, so-otherworldly and so ripe for setting to music. It feels like a poem that straddles two worlds- where the living and the dead strive to meet and touch - and Rossetti implores her lost one to “Come back to me in dreams.”
A different kind of unreality hit during the writing of the piece. Covid19 struck the world and suddenly I found myself writing Echo through the first lockdown. During this time my Dad was in hospital and then a hospice – unable to receive any visitors- and the poem started to take on a new, extremely personal meaning. The words were, at times, unbearably poignant as there was such a strange intertwining, a literal echo, between the world of the poem and my own torturous days of “watching the slow door”. But, like many artists, it was also a balm to be able to process my futile longing to see my Dad. Writing Echo provided solace and a degree of sense at a time when my world was falling apart: the words held me and made me feel less alone. “Speak low, lean low” became a kind of mantra on the darkest days and forms the most tender section of the piece. I wasn’t able to see the magnificent, complex, funny Geoffrey Sydney Curry before he died, and I didn’t get to hold his large, rough, hard-working hand, but this piece will forever be a link between those worlds of the living and the dead, and it will stand as my tribute to him.
So many of us lost loved ones in 2020 so I also hope that the music will provide a small degree of solace and connection to those of us who experienced a different, traumatic, very new kind of grief; one for which there was no roadmap. Despite my profound sadness the piece has a hopeful centre which surprised me as I was writing – “Pulse for pulse and breath for breath” pushes us into an as yet unwritten future with a strong, beating heart. There is life and energy and a will to carry on in the piece; but there is also the pushed-down, deep, secretly-carried hope of being able to see the loved ones we lost just one more time.
Jessica Curry December 2020