A Harvest of Souls (1973)

by Hermione Harvestman

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Harvest of Souls : Requiem with Dancers (Unseen) : Performed live in the chapter house of York Minster, Thursday November 1st 1973.

The dancers (unseen! - as to my knowledge no photographs survive from this event) were attempting (and I quote) "...a ritual dialogue between ancient pagan lore and Christianity in an exploration of the notion that Christian feasts were based on Pagan ones, just as Christian places of worship were sited on Pagan ones, likewise much of the consequent imagery and narrative we might now think of as purely Christian is rooted in a darker medieval sense of what had gone before and still lingered in the shadows of the human experience unenlightened by the mission of the church at the time..."

My remit was simple enough, to provide a sequence of improvisations prescribed in terms of duration and 'mood', each relating to particular ideas in their programme and arrived at by intuitively reacting to the movements of the shadowy dancers - just as they would, in turn, intuitively react to the even more shadowy movements of the music. There was no discussion beforehand, and absolutely no rehearsal. I'd arrived earlier that day to set up my equipment and do the briefest of sound-checks and take several photographs of one the 'green men' carvings that had always held particular fascination for me owing to Hilda Cuckfield featuring it as being 'seminal' to the thesis she presented in 'The Foliate Heads of Gnostic Albion' (1933).

Happily everything worked, and I managed, more or less, to adhere to the basic prescriptions, although one of the pieces extended itself rather as, truth to tell, I'd lost interest in the dancers, only too happy to be sitting in the candle-lit dark on the stormy night of All Souls 1973 playing my music into such a hallowed ambience, thinking of my last visit there a little over twelve years earlier with my heavily pregnant friend Sheelagh, daughter of Hilda, who, in being most keen to photograph the various carvings her mother had featured in her book, induced the labour that had her giving birth to her son right there in the chapter house, much to the consternation of both tourist and usher alike. But not Sheelagh, who acquitted herself calmly throughout, effectively delivering herself as she squatted dead centre o'er the marble floor to scream the joyful sanctity of life into the place before wrapping her mewling babe in the swaddling clothes hastily improvised from my wimple which I was still wearing at the time.

Regardless of the ideas of the above 'ritual dialogue', there is an enduring seasonal resonance that happens around the Hallowe'en / Samhain / All Saints / All Souls / Bonfire Night mark in which one feels the presence of an ancient autumnal something-or-other that might give us pause to ponder the nature of human mortality in general, and feel ones own impending inevitability a good more acutely than one might lazing in, say, the sunny green pastures of mayfulness when all that matters is an immortal sense of being alive.

Here, at the very door of winter, there is the promise that next time around, if indeed there is a next time, we'll try and appreciate it all the more.

To that promise - and to the dark mystery of death itself - I dedicate these eight wistful contemplations; likewise to the memory of my dear friend Sheelagh Sweeney (1933-1964) and to her mother Hilda Cuckfield (1907-1947) who fetched up in the self-same chapter house one strange day in April 1929, finding in the curious foliate visages cause to ponder the underlying Gnostic dialectic of nature and nurture that resonates yet, even at the very heart of this music.

So make the most of it, least we never pass this way again. 



Hermione Harvestman. October 2011.

* Eight of Hermione's photographs are presented here to accompany each of the eight tracks.

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released November 1, 2016

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Hermione Harvestman UK

'I feel like Wainwright - we are both hermetic ramblers. He made his books for when he was no longer capable of rambling his beloved fells, and I made my music for when I'm no longer able to ramble the by-ways of Albion - but only to listen, and think "Was that really me? That solitary figure who stood in a landscape dreaming of ages past in dread fear of the future."

Hermione Harvestman
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