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Buddhist Rain

Buddhist Rain

Meehan | Manhire | Griffin

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Hannah Griffin (vocals)
Colin Hemmingsen (reeds)
Bill Manhire (words)

Bill Manhire has won numerous awards for his poetry, had a spot as New Zealand’s Poet Laureate, and continues to be NZ’s best-selling poet. This album represents a new phase in his work. Norman Meehan is a well-established composer, performer and educator, whose album The Bells was nominated for Best Album in the New Zealand Jazz Awards in 2008. His last album, Sun Moon Stars Rain (Attar Music, 2009), successfully set a selection of poems by e. e. cummings to music. Hannah and Colin were also featured (along with fellow Wellingtonian, Nick van Dijk on trumpet), and it set the template for what would lead to this beautifully realised recording.
  
Buddhist Rain is an intimate, insightful, at times witty selection of beautifully recorded, very attractive compositions. Norman’s sensitive and supportive piano playing gently propels each track with an acute feeling for the subtle shifts in nuance, mood and tonality evident in Bill’s poetry. Hannah and Colin shine, each bringing great clarity and presence to the material.
 
I had mixed feelings when Norman first got in touch about setting my poems. Didn’t they have music already? But I liked what we did with them enormously – I felt that he had somehow found new cadences and melodies in the words that were as true as anything I felt was there originally. And I loved Hannah’s voice.  – Bill Manhire
   
Having set, performed and recorded some poems by e. e. cummings, I was interested in working with material closer to home. A friend gave me a pile of New Zealand poetry books, and as much as I enjoyed them, the poems didn’t really spark musical ideas for me until I started reading Bill Manhire’s “Collected Poems”. Over the first two weeks of looking at these poems, I had written six songs, which is incredibly productive for me, but the poems were so rich and pregnant with music they just kind of popped out. Norman Meehan.


RAT-D020 (September, 2010)

This project was made possible through the support of the New Zealand School of Music

Production: Keith Hill, Norman Meehan
Recording: Neil Maddevar (for Sounds Unlimited, Wellington)
Mixing: Steve GardenNorman Meehan (at Garden Shed Music Studio, Auckland)
Design: UnkleFranc

Thanks to Attar Media for its support of this project


Across the Water  (1:46)
The Oreti River  (4:27)
Poem  (3:50)
My Sunshine  (4:18)
Pacific Raft  (3:31)
The Voyage  (3:53)
To Begin  (2:24)
Song  (3:21)
The Occupation Against Time  (5:05)
The Proof  (3:55)
Garden Gate  (3:36)
The River  (3:07)
Buddhist Rain  (6:23)

Click here to view and download the album booklet

All songs © Norman Meehan and Bill Manhire 2010


 

Comment by BILL MANHIRE:

I've always subscribed to the belief that poems don't mean anything until they're read, and that it's the reader who finally brings them to life. Thus, a poem has as many lives and meanings as it has readers. But I also go along with the Mallarmé idea that a really good poem has in a sense already been set to music.

So I had mixed feelings when Norman first got in touch about setting my poems. Didn't they have their music already?

But I liked what he did with them enormously - I felt that he had somehow found new cadences and melodies in the words that were as true as anything I felt was there originally. And I loved Hannah's voice.

It was out of that surprise and pleasure that I found myself suggesting I try writing lyrics specifically for setting. I liked the thought of making words that were flexible and "plastic" - primarily available for musical interpretation. I actually began by suggesting a set of titles, and asked Norman and Hannah which ones sounded like they ought to be written. "Buddhist Rain" and "Pacific Raft" came out of that rather cranky and arbitrary starting point.

What I like about song lyrics is that they aren't affected by gaps or sudden narrative moments - because in performance the music holds everything together. And I love the way a chorus stops the story so that you can live for a while, almost forever, inside the story's feelings.

 

Comment by NORMAN MEEHAN:

Having set, performed and recorded some poems by E. E. Cummings, I was interested in working with material closer to home. A friend gave me a pile of New Zealand poetry books, and as much as I enjoyed them, the poems didn’t really spark musical ideas for me until I started reading Bill Manhire’s “Collected Poems”.

The first one that really leapt off the page was “Poem” which I think I set as a song in about fifteen minutes – something of a personal best; it kind of wrote itself. Over the first two weeks of looking at these poems, I had written six songs, which is incredibly productive for me, but the poems were so rich and pregnant with music they just kind of popped out.

The process was that I read the poems first just trying to get a feeling for them as poems (whatever that means), but keeping an eye open for ones that were musically resonant. I’m not sure what that is, but sometimes they were evocative in a way that music can be evocative – I think “Song” was like that – or else there was something about the meaning of the verse or the way the lines scanned that made me feel they’d work well as songs. “My Sunshine” was one of those.

I played the first set of poems in a concert that Bill came along to hear. I hadn’t met him prior to that and felt quite nervous about performing his poems, actually. But he was very generous, seemed positive about the songs, and he enjoyed the way Hannah sang his words.

We met up for a coffee a few weeks later and he suggested we try collaborating on some songs. There are four poems in this collection that came about by this process. “Pacific Raft” was the easiest – it was written by the end of the day I received the poem. “Buddhist Rain” was the most difficult. I think it wasn’t until the third completely new attempt and after many revisions that I felt like I had gotten to the heart of the thing. It’s a fabulous poem, and ended up a good song too.

 



 

ACROSS THE WATER

Oh la la la la la la
He showed me the Peninsula

Oh la la la la la la
We walked above the harbour

Oh la la la la la la
We went a little further

Oh la la la la la la
We saw the ships at anchor

Oh la la la la la la
We gazed across the water.

Africa, America
We gazed across the water

Africa, America
We went a little further

Oh la la la la la la
It's fine what you discover

Oh la la la la la la
My sweet Otago lover

 

THE ORETI RIVER

I thrust my
toes down

through white
pebbles

into wet
gravel. They

wriggle
about, like

worms. I think
of the

mice, dressed
up in old

newspapers, dancing
in

the cupboard. I
run into

the
water and

pretend
to drown.

 

POEM

When we touch,
forests enter our bodies.

The dark wind shakes the branch.
The dark branch shakes the wind.

 

MY SUNSHINE

He sings you are my sunshine
and the skies are grey, she tries
to make him happy, things
just turn out that way.

She'll never know
how much he loves her
and yet he loves her so much
he might lay down his old guitar
and walk her home, musician
singing with the voice alone.

Oh love is sweet and love is all, it's
evening and the purple shadows fall
about the baby and the toddler
on the bed. It's true he loves her
but he should have told her,
he should have, should have said.

Foolish evening, boy with a foolish head.
He sighs like a flower above his instrument
and his sticky fingers stick. He fumbles
a simple chord progression,
then stares at the neck.
He never seems to learn his lesson.

Here comes the rain. Oh if she were only
sweet sixteen and running from the room again,
and if he were a blackbird
he would whistle and sing
and he'd something
something something something.

 

PACIFIC RAFT

We put the rivers underground
and sent them to the sea.
We gave the gondoliers
their liberty.

Water rising, water rising
Pacific raft will rescue me.

My mother’s name was Coral
My father’s name was Stone
I tried to learn the numbers
and call them both at home

The ice is melting in the north
It’s melting in my throat

Water rising, water rising
Everything afloat

Water rising, water rising
You have to look to see
Water rising, water rising
Pacific raft will rescue me.

We put the rivers underground
and sent them to the sea.
We lived our lives on reclaimed land
without a guarantee.

Water rising, water rising
You have to look to see
Pacific raft Pacific raft
Pacific raft will rescue me.

 

THE VOYAGE

1
All night water laps
the hedges. I hold you in the middle
of the air.

2
Don’t sleep
all night. It is pitch<
black, but since
there is a vista, let
your throat be
the lantern.

 

3
Since there is
a window, let us
open it.

 

4
Let us dress
for a voyage. Let me
go out, with
your voice, to call for you.

 

 

SONG

For the first time in a long time
there is sun making sunshine,
the heart sings which was once sighing,
for the first time in a long time.

Now the world is the world without trying:
the line releases the next line
and the next line, the next line –
for the first time, for the first time,

for the first time in a long time.

 

THE OCCUPATION, AGAINST TIME

Somewhere all the wrong reasons
Vanish, as they care to,
Among the remains of lips

And somewhere, at a great distance,
My hand opens, to display
My hand: her breath is

A soft paw touching me out
Of its own darkness, where I see
The barks of trees and her eyes

Shining from a hidden place,
As my bones grow away from me,
Her body being a close thing.

 

THE PROOF

She did not speak to me yesterday
All day there was silence
By this I was hurt
I walked down the street
Unable to think of anything
But her: that is how these things
Affect you
today she says
Good morning, kisses me
So I am sullen, I do not reply
I think I must love her

 

THE GARDEN GATE

Some days I exit sideways
Some days I exit straight
Some days you know I bide my time
By the garden gate

The blackbird likes my singing
he lingers in the song
he lingers in the sunset
to make the sunset long

The garden gate is rusting
the garden gate is old
the people passing through it
forget what they’ve been told

Well I meant to send you something
I meant to send it soon
I was distracted by the sun
or maybe by the moon

The garden gate is rusting
the garden gate is old
the people passing through it
cannot be consoled

Some days I exit sideways
Some days I exit straight
Some days you know I bide my time
By the garden gate

 

THE RIVER

The moon casts our shadows
into the water. They drift over pebbles,
watching us leave them.

 

BUDDHIST RAIN

The captain switches on the seatbelt sign:
I think that means we're flying.
The turbulence feels quite insane:
the cabin crew are crying.
And clouds are piling up again.
I'm going to find some Buddhist rain.

It's falling on Elizabeth
It's falling on Elaine
It's falling in the lover's heart
and other dark terrain
I’m walking to the temple
to find some Buddhist rain.

Be near me when my light is low
And all the wheels of Being slow
Be near me when my light is low

I closed up my umbrella
and stood there in the rain
I told her that I loved her
She told me much the same

And Buddhist rain is falling now
in Africa and Spain
It's falling in the silences
that reason can't explain

It fell on Alfred Tennyson
It fell on Kubla Khan
and Buddhist rain is falling now
on Leonard Norman Cohen.

Be near me when my light is low
And all the wheels of Being slow
Be near me when my light is low

I'm pouring out my life to you
I'm pouring out champagne
I'm pouring out my misery
in the Buddhist rain

I'm walking to the temple
I'm walking there again
I'm coming down by parachute
in the Buddhist rain

 

 

Poems from “Collected Poems” (2001) and “The Victims of Lightning” (2010), both published by Victoria University Press. Reprinted by kind permission of Bill Manhire and VUP.