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This piece is the second work of mine which draws on the poetry of Bill Sewell (1951-2003), specifically his Erebus cycle. It follows on from Breaking the Quiet of 2008. Both works set texts relating to the crash of an Air New Zealand sight-seeing flight in the Antarctic on 28 November 1979. At the time it was the world’s fourth worst aviation disaster, killing 257 passengers and crew. Both pieces are beginning steps towards an opera based on that event, and more particularly on the aftermath – the royal commission and its conclusions.
Erebus: a poem by Bill Sewell was published in 1999. It is an extended poem in thirty-four sections, and covers not only the events of the crash, but also the aftermath and its effect on New Zealand society. 'The Necessary Rain' is the sixteenth section of the poem, and as with Breaking the Quiet the poet draws attention to the fact that nobody was there to witness the crash, and nobody was there who could have warned the pilot of the imminent danger as the plane headed directly at Mount Erebus.
The ‘necessary rain’ of the title is the rain that always seems to accompany times of great loss and sadness. It '…does not discriminate but has a preference for death and death’s rituals'. The poem includes passing references to the Tangiwai rail tragedy (1953). and the sinking of the ferry Wahine (1968).
To Bill Sewell’s poem I have added the Lux aeterna from the Requiem mass text. Light was a crucial factor in the crash on Erebus: the phenomenon of ‘whiteout’ created no visual distinction between the snow and the white clouds. The counterpoint of the contemporary words, with the traditional Latin and its plea for rest, seemed appropriate.
My thanks to Amanda Powell, Bill Sewell’s wife and literary executor, for permission to set this poetry.
The Necessary Rain was commissioned by Auckland Choral and music director Uwe Grodd. Its composition coincides with my own 30 years of singing in the choir, and the recent conclusion of fifteen years as deputy music director.
Commissioned by Auckland Choral and music director Uwe Grodd
Text from Erebus: a poem by Bill Sewell and Lux aeterna from the Requiem mass
25 Aug 2012: Auckland Choral
Perfored by Ursula Langmayr (soprano), Auckland Choral and Piper's Sinfonia, conducted by Uwe Grodd.