One day soon we will be releasing the latest piece by Edward-Rhys Harry. It’s called Remember, and it’s a setting for unaccompanied SATB of the poem by Christina Rossetti of the same name.
One of the hardest things about producing this piece has been choosing what should go on the front cover. Very often, cover designs choose themselves. For example, if the Assistant Organist of St Asaph Cathedral, say, were to write a piece called Missa Sancti Asaph (and stranger things have happened), the cover design should probably feature St Asaph Cathedral. Why not? It’s doubly appropriate, and it’s a nice enough building, so on it goes.
The cover for Remember has been a bit of a puzzle, though. It’s a thought-provoking poem:
Remember me when I am gone away, Gone far away into the silent land; When you can no more hold me by the hand, Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay. Remember me when no more day by day You tell me of our future that you plann'd: Only remember me; you understand It will be late to counsel then or pray. Yet if you should forget me for a while And afterwards remember, do not grieve: For if the darkness and corruption leave A vestige of the thoughts that once I had, Better by far you should forget and smile Than that you should remember and be sad.
The poem is actually a love poem, but the dedication in the score is to the Child Bereavement Charity, and the piece was given its first performance at a charity concert for them in 2011. Read in that light, the poem takes on a slightly more disturbing flavour.
A few people on our Facebook page made suggestions about what the cover design could look like, some easier to capture than others. There are three drafts on the table at the moment, two of which are controversial.
This is the first idea I had for a cover design. (You can click on the image for a bigger version.) The empty swing, in the context of child bereavement, suggests a dead child, and the abandoned toy, face down in the grass, perhaps hints there was malice involved. It’s a sick image that feels like a kick in the gut, and it’s uncompromising in its meaning. The child is gone, and there’s no comfort to be had here.
The composer hates the picture. It doesn’t really suit the text, because there is a comforting tone in the poem, when the voice from beyond the grave counsels the parent to be happy, and not to grieve. If the tone of the poem were more like W. H. Auden’s Stop All The Clocks, where the whole poem is about the uncompromising despair of bereavement, this cover might be more suitable. As it is, this is an excellent and most appropriate cover, but for a slightly different piece.
The second design is similar in that it has an empty swing, but here the absence is underpinned by the presence of the child in the swing next door. He’s leaning over and reaching out, towards the place where perhaps his friend used to sit with him. Is he wondering why the friend has gone, or where? Or for how long? Or just yearning for bygone times? What does his young mind make of it? As he stares, our eye is drawn with his to the empty swing by the focus there, while the boy himself is blurred.
Again, there is a stark message here, but perhaps it’s a little different from the last one in that we can see the addressee of the poem. Does that take the onus of us, as observers, to feel the loss? Do we feel sympathetic for the boy, rather than bereaved by the loss of the child?
This is the preferred cover of the composer, which probably ought to count for something, but it didn’t go down universally well with the family of the boy modelling here, some of whom found themselves thinking ‘Well, if that’s him, who is he yearning for? Whose is the empty swing?’, and unfortunately, in his case, there is a very obvious candidate. I can’t myself look at the photo in the same way. When I look at it, I see the scene I saw when I was taking the photograph, on a nice, bright, sunny day in the park, with no negative connotations whatsoever. The same is true of the first one actually. And for most people looking at the design, if this is the one that makes the cut, the boy will be nicely and safely anonymous.
The third design is much gentler, and the only one I can’t take the credit for. The idea of a flower with a fallen petal is Becky Sleven’s. The loss of the petal leaves the flower visibly incomplete. The flower as a whole goes on living, but it will never be the same again, and presumably after a while the petal will be blown away in the wind, and will exist only in memories. This is the only design so far that no one hates.
Some other images have been suggested, and I’m grateful for them all. I’d like to try to get bubbles floating away on film. Other suggestions include a shepherd with sheep, and a cover with no picture at all.
The jury is still out. Please do let me know what you think below.