Michael Symmons Roberts, from 'Her Maker's Maker' (E)
Choral level of difficulty: 2 (5 greatest)
This beautiful upper voices piece was written for the Farnham Youth Choir and premiered in 2012. Fittingly it is dedicated to MacMillan’s daughter Catherine and his new granddaughter, Sara, who tragically died so few years later, in 2016, of complications due to Dandy Walker Syndrome. The joy of this work reflects the joy of the family at its new addition however disabled she was and as MacMillan said in the eulogy he gave at her funeral, ‘Over these years with Sara some of us experienced other, more gradual, more surprising, more silent and transformative realisations of the divine love…in the unassuming, patient, tiny, broken, handicapped, smiling, listening, quacking, delighted presence of Sara’.
This piece reflects all that overflowing of love in its warmth, its slightly unusual sound-world (for MacMillan) of light-romanticism and the lovely upper voice writing in four parts. The text is a beautiful poem by Michael Symmons Roberts from a set of three Nativity Poems as an echo of the birth of Jesus but for our own day: ‘I show him all we made of his creation, colours of injustice: women slaving in the fields to cut the flax…so rich high priests and kings can drape in robes of lustrous purple’. But we, representing the three Kings, ‘brought two turtle doves as offerings. No shame: we cannot afford a lamb. On our journey home, a woman gave to us a sheet of linen: ‘New-made for a king’, she said, ‘a cloak, a net, a sail, a shroud’. And it is at the mention of the shroud that everything changes. The piano drifts upwards, the voices rise and fall humming sadly (Lontano), the piano rumbles as low as possible and we are left anticipating the death of Jesus. But how sadly prescient this was also for little Sara.
This affecting work needs an upper voice choir of some capability. The notes are not difficult for a group used to singing in parts, but the engagement with the text is crucial for making the most of MacMillan’s inspired realisation.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer