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"The Abiding Tides was commissioned by Jack Richards for soprano Jenny Wollerman and the New Zealand String Quartet. The work is a setting of a series of poems about ships sinking at sea. While the string quartet obviously acts as an accompaniment to the voice there are also musical interludes that give the instrumental ensemble the opportunity to comment on the unfolding narrative" (Ross Harris).
"The Abiding Tides is a group of poems specifically written for Ross Harris to set to music. The sea has no favourites. Some of the figures and voices in the songs are rich, some are poor. They are young and old. Some of the songs concern the most privileged of disasters, the sinking of the Titanic; others relate to 'Boat People', their stories as recent as last month, or for all we know, this afternoon. The words of the final song are from ecclesiastical Latin, their emphasis on a God who cannot be understood" (Vincent O'Sullivan).
The Abiding Tides (poems by Vincent O’Sullivan)
- The morning is clear
The morning is clear, the sea is pure glitter,
We might have harvested diamonds had we brought the right net.
The sea we still dream because we have seen it,
Seen from the beach, its paths opening without end.
Another world is rising the merest mile
Beyond sighting. The streets know our names.
The songs have already begun, ‘This is yours, and yours.'
The boat to Ithaca calling, who says no to that?
The boat from the richest wharf, from the midnight beach.
We follow the moon’s ribbon tied to our wrist.
- A child at the rail
A child at the rail is telling
Her doll of the famous city.
‘It is taller than us, by far,
The city is coming towards us.
She is so high,’ she tells it,
‘The lady white as her torch.
We will count them every morning,
The days until she can see us.’
The girl holds her doll up high,
How far to the west?
While the famous lady
Is walking, walking towards them.
To the girl who is counting,
To the doll that is watching.
And at night she is telling it
Too, how the city is shining,
It is brighter even than these,
Chandeliers of the sky!
And the doll she is holding to see
How the white lady is coming,
The doll whose eyes glitter
Like chips of ice.
- Time’s slow distant surf
Young girls don’t cross the ocean without what was that, sir?
Without glamour? Without promise? Oh, I know, I know!
Look there in the mirror, how the world is at my shoulder,
Look across the ballroom, all the nations looking back!
Touch your bracelet. Tap you necklace.
Toy the tiny buttons of your glove.
The famous opera singer’s raising her Parisian lorgnette.
Mrs Astor told me ‘Swell!’ when she passed me on the staircase.
There is so much crystal flashing you’d think the sky had lowered.
There is so much laughter, love, you cannot imagine silence.
When the band strikes up its Straussing, oh yes, oh yes!
If God could waltz can you imagine he’d ever miss a beat?
The whole world colluding as you whirl in the crescendo!
My heart’s a golden rabbit in that diamond hutch, delight!
Young girls, sir? What was that, sir? Without what?
My watch is in my cabin. Without time’s slow distant surf.
Remember how the lead boat used to sink in the bath,
How the plastic fish floated,
How the yellow ball you held above your head
Was the moon that gloated!
Remember how when it rained you could lick your arm
And the wide sky smelled of water,
If it rained enough the street would spread like the sea
And your mother would call out, ‘Where, where are you my daughter?’
Remember when you splashed in the sea that was once a street
The sea the can flood the moon so
Its blackness floats where the lead boat sinks,
And the game is over so soon, so.
- This is a charm I wear
This is a charm I wear, I am holding
It now. The day has become a disc
Too hot to touch. Salt walks
On my lips, talks its fatal talk.
If I cut my arm it will bleed
The colour of the sea. There is nothing
Moves in my head but the hills of the sea.
We have sailed a thousand miles. We have never moved.
The water that is left to drink is as bitter as copper.
The mother bites her arm to stop calling out.
The child closes its eyes. It will not wake up.
The new world, the mother whispers,
It cannot be far, she whispers.
I take the charm from my neck for the child’s throat.
I hold a hand which is dry as five small sticks.
- Attend what you must
Attend what you must encounter, the seven demons.
You hallucinate in the desert, you see rivers flow.
You think of home, a place that no longer exists,
You pay a man to lead you, who leads away.
A friend is a hand you hold until it is still,
The words you say are not the words you intend.
The horizon burns its rope to everyside.
You have counted six demons when you find the last.
The boat will take you to sea, where the sea will win.
Light seeps its grey
Composure on the mild day.
On the waters of creation
Peace lays its palm.
Sea, whose beginning and end
Ride abiding tides.
- Nox perpetua
Nox perpetua et aeterna.
Stellae et mare in manus tuus sunt.
Dona eis pacem, Deus absconditus,
In tenebrae, in tenebrae, absconditus.
[Perpetual, everlasting night.
The stars and the sea are in your hands.
Grant them peace, God whom we never see,
Whom we never see, in darkness, darkness.]
Text by Vincent O'Sullivan
07 Mar 2010: NZSQ: Ten
27 Apr 2011: Performed by the New Zealand String Quartet at the Nelson School of Music, in Nelson
01 May 2011: Performed by the New Zealand String Quartet at The Regent on Broadway, in Palmerston North
07 May 2011: Performed by the New Zealand String Quartet at the Auckland Town Hall, in Auckland
11 May 2011: Performed by the New Zealand String Quartet at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill
12 May 2011: Performed by the New Zealand String Quartet at the James Hay Theatre in Christchurch
30 Mar 2012: Death and the Maiden: New Zealand String Quartet
19 Aug 2015: Ross Harris | Birthday Concert