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Peggy, Penny, Suzie and Inglis 1980

I have dedicated my 13th opera "Lindisfarne" to my younger daughter Penny because she has been there and I do not think anyone can appreciate the importance of the place who has not been to see it.

Penny has sent us the following account of herself from Ireland:

"I have many memories of growing up in Mill Hill. It was a lovely location for a childhood and a wonderful family in which to be born. I still remember roaming the fields behind our house with my friends. We made secret pathways through the woods, invented elaborate games and climbed to the very top of the largest trees in the fields and hung off the precarious branches, no wonder I have developed a fear of heights!

"I remember my sister, always the older and wiser, teaching me about the flowers, trees and pond life and giving me good advice about friends and later relationships. Together we went on trips to Sue Jordan and Joan, Peggy’s sister, where we went on picnics and walking trips that made me feel big and terribly independent. Isn’t it incredible that when one thinks back over such memories it is always the same; the sun was always shining. We made frequent visits to my mother’s brother’s house Jack and Heather. I remember every house they lived in with great fondness with so many places to play. One day I believed I had found fairies in the garden, perhaps I had! Childhood is very exciting.

"I always had a passion for animals and would name every grasshopper in our garden in Cornwall which was quite a feat considering the size of the garden. My poor parents were burdened with not only two small children in the back of a car for a two day journey to Sennen Cove but the various hamsters of the moment who would be piled in with everything else. One day after we had stopped to find a bed for the night we noticed that the hamsters had escaped from the cage and must be running around in the car. I was most alarmed and jumped and screamed as I hurled everything around in a mad panic to find my hamsters. We found them. Some things don’t change. As I sit in my very pleasant conservatory in Dublin, Ireland, I am surrounded by my other family, a cockatoo, two chinchillas, the dog and cat.

"I came to Ireland after I finished my degree in Social Policy and Administration at York University. I had no intention to stay or settle down until one day I met a tall dark and handsome Irish man. Ireland is a very beautiful country. Where we live we are next to a beach looking towards the mountains, half an hour’s drive from Dublin city centre. Soon after I was married Philip and myself took a break from the suburban life and went to South America where we worked in an Agricultural College in the foothills of the Andes in Venezuela. The electric storms, blazing heat and monkeys in the trees were a contrast to life in Dublin and something we would never forget. We travelled widely and visited several shanty town projects in Venezuela and Chile. The poverty is ingrained on my mind and will remain a disturbing memory.

"I now work as a teacher in a college in an inner city area of Dublin. My main focus is a course I direct for women who want to return into education. It is an important stepping stone that builds confidence and allows women to make choices for themselves, whether that be work related or continuing on in education.

"Two years ago I took up a new challenge to become a helicopter pilot, something I have always wanted to do. When I rise up from the ground and take off with the grass shimmering underneath, it is like being transformed into another world, an amazing dream. I now have a pilot’s licence."

"The light of our lives is beautiful little girl, now five years old, called Catherine. As she plays her imaginary games and hunts for ladybirds one thinks full circle again to one’s own childhood. I hope she names all the grasshoppers and finds the fairies at the bottom of the garden, but preferably avoids swinging off the branches of the tallest trees."

Penny’s and Philip’s wedding took place in Ireland because there were more friends and relatives over there, at Kil O’the Grange Church, where she and Philip met.

She was marrying into a very musical family. Philip’s father, Eric Beck was the son of a professional musician and is a pianist, Eve’s family is full of singers, pianists and organists many of whom took part in the wedding celebrations. Eve herself runs a choir that meets in their house for rehearsal.

My own music was represented by Brian Davis, Penny’s godfather, who played my Variations on In Those Twelve Days at the concert afterwards. Philip is a lecturer on Computers at a College in Dublin. We have become very close to Philip’s family.

In 1923, the year when I left school, was published the first book on the Lindisfarne Gospels, with 3 coloured plates and a large number of modern reproductions. It may well have been this book that Annie Pearce asked for as a parting gift from the School on her retirement a few years after I had left. at any rate it was this hook that she lent to me a few years after her retirement and that formed the basis of my lifelong interest in Lindisfarne. When she died, A.P. left her sister with the request that I should ask for one of her books in remembrance of her, and although I felt very greedy it was this wonderful book that I requested, and so it came permanently into my library. When I came to write my opera Lindisfarne it formed the basis of all my research on the subject. A feature of the opera is that it rushes about in time regardless of the unity of time. The First Scene is in the 7th century when the Gospels were first written. Eadfrith, Aethelwald and Billfrith, who are believed to be the authors move about in the middle, while St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert stand like statues, so well remembered as to be practically still there, and only moving when consulted. Eadfrith, Aethelwald and Billfrith first discuss the subject of the book they are meaning to write. Then, having decided on the Gospels, "Matthew, Mark, and Luke and John", they get down to detail of pigments, "blue from lapis lazuli", "green from malachite", "red from the roasting of white lead" They bring vellum and compasses. By the end of Scene I they have started merrily on their project. The Second Scene is in the 9th century. The finished Book - now a treasured possession lies on a lectern. Eadfrith and Aethelwald, or their name sakes, are now joined by Hunred. Aldred also comes to join them but is at first dismayed by thinking they do not want him. Suddenly his mother Tilwin appears. She has come to warn them that the Vikings are on the way. With fire and plunder they pillage the coast up to Bamburgh Castle.

"The Vikings are coming,
and soon will be here.
Make no mistake
they’ll put you all to the slaughter
and rob you of all your holiest treasures
They’ll cut up this book,
Sew pages together to make a pretty jerkin for their ring-leader.
they’ve no respect for Holy Writ.
They’re pagans, savages,
rapists and murderers..
They mug old women in the streets...
Pack up and begone
while you can.
Catch the first tide,
or you will rue you did not ride."

They start to pack up as Tilwin becomes more reflective:

"Ah, poor St, Aidan
Poor Cuthbert too,
they thought to make this Holy Isle
a place remote from the wicked, vile
haunts of men,
they dreamt to see
a sanctuary
away from the mainland, by the sea.
A paradise they thought they’d bought.

They little thought
that one day
there would come
harm to their island home
from the very sea
they thought to be
their best protection from man’s cruelty."

She turns again to her quicker, more dramatic style.

But now the danger threatens from the sea.
You’re in the front line
of foul wind and brine;
your decent hermitage
is where the fiercest winds rage,
the winds of ferocity,
of terror and atrocity,
the tempest, of rapine and savagery.
With fire and plunder,
slaughter and pillage,
their flying longships
come fast from the sea."

But she returns to her more reflective style in the end

"Oh, Aidan, oh St. Cuthbert, Columba too
we need men like you
to make a stand against so cruel a foe,
for God, for Love, and Mercy,
for Peace and for Tranquillity."

I need hardly say that the part of Tilwin is written for a dramatic soprano.

After a short reference to St. Cuthbert, the monks go forth carrying the shine, Aldred taking charge of the Book. Tilwin looks after them sadly then follows.

To take the musical journey from the 7th century to the 9th was impossible because too little was known about the music of those two periods, but to move musically from the 9th century to the 20th presents no difficulty, except that it is an "embarras de richesse".

But I overcame this by leading through the Middle Ages to the 14th century when syncopation was first used and then skipping to the present day.

I wanted to introduce people of the early 20th century looking round Lindisfarne and being thoroughly misled by a guide such as we had in those days who really knew nothing about the subject he was pretending to inform on, making silly jokes at the expense of the past, in order to curry favour with his audience and put them in a good humour for the final stage when he hoped to reap his reward

Of course there may have been a later settlement of monks at Lindisfarne who were gluttonous and wine- bibbers but to imply that they did these things at the time of the Viking invasions in the 9th century is certainly very wide of the mark. So by and large the Guide gives the 20th century people a very wrong idea of what happened at Lindisfarne.

Scene 4. An Interlude follows, reversing the process from the syncopation shared by the 14th and 20th centuries alike back to the age of the Viking invasions and we see the distraught monks with their burdensome relics resting for a moment while they consider where they should go:

"To Melrose, to Wearmouth,
to Jarrow, to Chester-le-Street? where?"

But they realise that all the other monasteries will be in the same predicament as themselves. They will hardly be glad to see them added to their own troubles. No they must make up their minds to go further afield. Where then? To Ireland? To Iona? They are almost at the end of their tether. But they struggle on, confident that God. or the Spirit of St. Cuthbert will come to their rescue in the end

Unlike Act I, Act II keeps to the unity of time by remaining in the 9th century. We are on the West instead of the East side of England. The monks are attempting the journey to Ireland in a storm which does not bode well for them. We see them on the ship looking thoroughly unhappy.

For this purpose I borrowed words from Shakespeare’s Tempest for the mariners off-stage.

"Heigh, my hearty, cheerly,
Cheerly, my hearts," etc.

The monks are seen sitting in the boat, all facing left, looking thoroughly miserable. They feel they have decided on the wrong course and when Aldred loses grasp of the Book in a sudden squall, their bid for Ireland is entirely broken. Hunred jumps up and bids the mariners return to port. We see the ship turn round, so that the monks are now facing right. The storm subsides and the monks sing a prayer:

"Grant us the faith to do Thy will
now in this great emergency,
this time of trouble and terrible extremity."

But now the ship glides and the monks feel that they have at least done the right thing in giving up the attempt to go to Ireland.

Scene II is set on the mud flats in the estuary of the Solway Firth. The monks have not given up the idea of recovering their precious Book. Aldred is distraught with what has happened but Hunred has had a dream which has encouraged them to go and search the mud flats at low tide.

"In a dream I saw
St. Cuthbert’s ownself.
I knew it was St. Cuthbert
though I had never seen him in the flesh.
He came smiling
and stood over me.

"Be relieved from grief" he said "and weep no more.
Your bodies will soon he relieved from labour
for the Lord is a refuge of the poor
and a refuge of the afflicted,
a helper in great times of trouble and sorrow.

Go forth and search
when the tide is low,
for though the manuscript
has fallen from the ship
into the middle of the rolling waves.
perchance beyond the utmost you can hope,
you will by the mercy of God,
find it again"

And then I slept peacefully,
until the day was come.

Eadfrith and Aethelwald remark how in obedience to Hunred’s dream they had searched the mud flats for hours, and yet had had no success.

But suddenly Aldred, who was searching in a different place, shouts out: "What is this?"

The others rush to see what he has found

Aldred: "In the container as I placed it."

They rush to open it and are relieved to find that their valued MS is unharmed.

"Deo gracias," they sing. "Deo gloria!"

Tilwin arrives in time to join in their celebration. She has come to tell them that they can return to their old haunts, however devastated they will find them. They march off singing the song with which they enter in the last Act:

"Edwin and Oswald,
Oswyn and Oswy
three of them fell victim to the heathen or to treachery.
But though they killed Edwin and Oswald and Oswy,
at Heavenfield and Witwaed
we won final victory.

Though hostages are given to the Fiends
yet Christianity
has a way of winning in the end.

The last Act is a kind of Shavian epilogue. I wanted to bring all my characters together from their different centuries so that they could understand each other.

The Scene is the ruined monastery, as in Act I Scene 3. First the modern Tourists come on, led by the Deaconess who has taken. the place of the Guide. But as she is about to address her audience, the Monks are heard approaching from a distance singing as they had done at the end of Act II. The tourists freeze until they are noticed by the Monks. The Deaconess offers an explanation:

"Let me explain.
From a different century
these Monks have come,
and on this island,
where anything might happen,
the tides of time for once have been withdrawn.

A ripple on the seas of time
has caused the curtain to roll back
and you are here together,
both Monks who once inhabited this Island
and people come to see how it was then.

A ripple on the sands of time,
a tremor and a shaking of the curtain,
and you are privileged to see each other
In the stronghold of this island,
where anything may happen."

Billfrith is the first of the old characters to arrive and makes straight for his place of "anchorage". He is immediately tackled by one of the tourists who finds it disgusting and unnatural to attempt to stay in one place. But Billfrith has his answer for that. Better to stay in one place than to wander aimlessly and restlessly about the world, with no real purpose in life.

Eadwith, Aethelwald and Billfrith form themselves into a trio who call for St Cuthbert to appear.

"Come to us now as once you came
after your ninth year
alone upon the isle of Farne."

St. Cuthbert appears, looking like an old beggar,

"The wilderness!
The wilderness!
The birds...
The sun
The moon
The stars
The fresh spring water,
The dew, the rain, the wind
These were my riches,
these were wealth to me.

I thanked my God that I could see
how enviable my state was - free
free from all that clogs the soul.
And so I was alone with Thee.
What blessed company!
Free, free as the wind

But I came back when these recalled me,
to help even in their plight and their distress.
My vigil
enabled me to heal as
God’s channel.

What I had learnt from my long days with God
was balm
to them.
My testimony
was help to set them free."

The Tourists seem to be impressed.

"Living alone a man may see the Light
But we have almost forfeited the right.
To us, our social sanctity confessing,
Collectivism seems the only blessing.

The three Monks call for St. Aidan to appear.

"Come to us now as once you came
and trudged the roads, and paths and hills,
who crossed the fords and climbed the fells,
spreading the good news
afar throughout Northumbria."

St. Aidan appears as a harsh critic of modern times:

"Must I walk again?
But if I were to walk again
Whom should I meet in path or street?
You all rush by in car or train."

And again:

"You sit and watch a pictured world
as if it were real life unfurled
as if it were the Truth revealed."

And again:

"You even spoil the tasteliness of your food
by mixing with what is in itself quite good
and additives
and colourings to catch the eye
so even in what you eat you live a lie."

This provokes an eruption from the Tourists:

"How this preacher pranks and prates’
How this old chap fulminates
against the likes of me and you
But much of what he says is true."

A storm grows in the orchestra. Tilwin rushes off and soon comes back with the news: the Danes are here again - the Vikings. The Monks rush to pack up and leave. In the confusion the Book falls from the lectern where it has been placed.

The Tourists feel secure in their 20th century. "They cannot touch us. But the whole stage grows dark. There are screams off and fires are lit.

Gradually the storm peters out in the orchestra; the fires dwindle and the storm comes to an end


"They are more than ghosts from the past.
They are accusing voices within us."

Deaconess (picking up the Book):

They have left their Book.


"Their lives were full of danger in those days.
They lived in harsher times than ours,
and we should give them credit for their bravery.
They were not the fat monk idlers we supposed."

Deaconess (who has been examining the Book):

"I think this Book holds the clue
to many of our misunderstandings of Time.
In its beauty
and its mastery
it spans every century,
it reaches near to immortality
But though we value it more for its artistry
we forget that it was inspired
by artists who were genuinely fired
by their reading of the Holy Word.
Without this it could not be
The prize of every century."


"We need their inspiration
as they need our sophistication,
Times come together in Eternity
and love binds all in Truth and in Creation.

(They come forward to address the audience )

We need their simplicity
As they need our sophistication.
Times come together in eternity,
and Love binds all in Truth and in Creation."

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