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Work

Seven tanka : soprano with ensemble

by Johanna Selleck (2009)

Score Sample

View a sample of the score of this work

Audio Sample

Performance by Merlyn Quaife, Judith Dodsworth, Arwen Johnston, Anne Norman from the CD prospect and bower of bliss

Work Overview

The poems comprising Seven Tanka were written after Melbourne poet Graeme Ellis attended a concert at the University of Melbourne in September 2008 featuring Johanna Selleck's Songs of the Earth and Sky for shakuhachi and percussion. After hearing this work, Ellis responded, "A spirit world opened up at once - inhabited by eerie presences which were just as interested in us as we were in them". In imagining shakuhachi combined with voice, Ellis commented further, "I found the register, colour, and the manner of the shakuhachi and soprano voice of Merlyn Quaife simpatico. They elaborated and adorned this strange world". Soon after, he composed Seven Tanka , from which Johanna in turn created the present song setting. Thus, a circular process of inspiration across artistic mediums finds full expression in the poetry and music of Seven Tanka.

Selleck's musical response to Ellis's Seven Tanka reflects her general approach to composition, which often centres on exploration of human emotion and the natural world, interpreted both literally and metaphorically. Hence, the subject matter and the vividness of perception and sensation, so clearly apparent in Ellis's poems, presented a strong inspirational trigger for her. The ability of haiku to capture the very essence of human experience with such brevity and colourful juxtaposition of imagery has fascinated Selleck since her student days and led to continuous experimentation with this poetic form. A significant milestone in this creative journey was her composition Becoming, an hour-long song cycle of haiku composed by different poets across time and place, 'stitched' together in the form of Japanese renga. It was natural, therefore, for Selleck to feel an immediate affinity with Graeme Ellis's evocative Seven Tanka.

Work Details

Year: 2009

Instrumentation: 2 sopranos, shakuhachi, percussion (1 player).

Duration: 26 min.

Contents note: Curve of ivory -- That distant thunder -- Grey before the first dawn -- Red wine of maple -- Long crane free feathered -- The moon is gliding -- Five white stones unite.

Dedication note: Dedicated to Merlyn Quaife, Judith Dodsworth, Arwen Johnston, Anne Norman

First performance: by Merlyn Quaife, Judith Dodsworth, Arwen Johnston, Anne Norman — 18 Sep 09. 'Songs for a Changing Planet' concert, Melba Hall, University of Melbourne

Subjects

Performances of this work

10 Feb 2017: at The Prospect and Bower of Bliss by Johanna Selleck (Melbourne Recital Centre).

18 Sep 09: 'Songs for a Changing Planet' concert, Melba Hall, University of Melbourne. Featuring Merlyn Quaife, Judith Dodsworth, Arwen Johnston, Anne Norman.

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