James Bryce

Four Odes After Rumi

for two choirs and three trombones

duration: 17 minutes

Four Odes after Rumi
"When I first came across the work of Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and mystic, I was so struck by its clarity, utter joy and above all relevance, that musical thoughts came to me immediately, so when I was asked to write something for the Maesbury singers, as part of a programme which included work by Gabrieli, I knew a) that three trombones were de rigeur and b) it had to be the Rumi. As I worked, I began to realise that what I had in my head would demand greater resources than the choir possessed, so I wrote a version of the first movement for solo choir and trombones, which was performed in 2000.

The full version places two choirs arranged stereophonically around the trombonists. The four odes are paeons to life. In two of them, Rumi adresses Shams, a mystic teacher, who changed Rumi's life. I have taken the figure of Shams to represent Life, or the ineffable, itself.

The first ode "Don't Unstring the Bow" makes full use of the stereophonic placement. At the outset, the choir has a stuttering quality, unable as yet to give full utterance to Rumi's definite cry for liberation. This moves through a canon of doubt to a full passionate climax of faith.

The second ode, "When it's cold and it's raining", is quietly contemplative, as of a whisper to a child or a loved one.

In the third ode, "Note how each particle moves" the trombones reintroduce the leitmotif which began the whole work. This develops into a moving canto firmo, over which the choirs, again utilising the full stereo effect of their placement, sing of the wonder of life in its myriad forms.

I wanted the fourth ode, "When I die, do not weep", to be a personal human statement, thus features the choirs alone. It is introduced by a solo voice, under which a softly rolling theme develops, representing Rumi's "sunset moonset". At the end, Rumi's words of praise "Your mouth opens here and closes there with a shout of joy" is not a loud affirmation, but a quiet coming together of the two choirs, which echo into almost meditative silence.

James Bryce was born in 1950, and, at the age of 13 (under the combined influence of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and then-current rock bands) set about writing pop songs while exploring the weirdest chords he could find. In the late sixties he studied briefly under John Purser and Cedric Thorpe Davie, but describes his main training as "Listening, listening, listening, writing, writing, writing... anything."

Through the years, he has continued to write in a number of genres, while pursuing a career as an actor, and has written music for a number of theatre companies. For a time he led an ensemble in London, combining elements of jazz, rock and the classics (the Glasgow Herald once described his popular songs as "somewhere between boogie-woogie and advanced atonality."), then, in the mid-nineties, realising his musical self wouldn't go away, he decided to devote himself more fully to composition, and took part in workshops with John Metcalf and Edward McGuire. Since then, he has produced works for saxophone, choir, brass band, handbells, string quartet, and writes regularly for Radio and Television .

Back to shortlist.