Unfathomable depths, swishes and swooshes

London Explore Group performer Maryann Periera describes the challenging process of learning the new chorus 'Riversong' by Composer in Residence Litha Efthymiou:

It takes trust, an open mind and a certain kind of willingness to study a newly composed piece of music, especially when that new composition is by a composer unfamiliar to us. And what a leap of faith for the composer to trust a raw group of recruits such as ourselves, the London Explore Group!  It is a great step into the unknown for all parties concerned and very exciting – more so for us because we had participated in creating the lyrics last year.

So why now did I hate it so much? And why did I, like the proverbial river banks that burst, spill out my distress, discomfort and downright hatred of the piece the other week at the workshop? Accompanied by murmurings of assent and even applause from some in the group.

To quote workshop leader Rob, our Composer in Residence Litha Efthymiou is 'terrified' with this new composition of hers, titled ‘Riversong’. And why not? We were all troubled by it but when my verbal spill took place, what came surprisingly to light was my (then) dormant but deep appreciation of what is a truly masterful and impressive creation.

I envy Litha's terror; it is the terror of every artist who dares to walk the tightrope of genius, always wondering whether they will stand or fall? The decision being so much in the hands of those who receive it. Will they have ears to hear, eyes to see? Truly, I envy Litha; she has considered her subject carefully, searched her river soul and laid her creative guts on the line. And after my strange outburst, I realise that not only has Litha conquered her subject but that she has conquered her subject masterfully. And what a wonderful opportunity we are being given.

Like the river, Litha has composed music that tantalises my brain – there are long slow bars of not very melodic music. I complained bitterly to myself that there were no comfortable melodies that I could sink or swoon into, make me feel a little emotive about life, be it a tear of romantic reminiscence or moody miseries. ‘I am immutable’ says the river, ‘unfathomable, let your mind flow with me, unwind...’ And then at the end of the session, after the unforgettable outpouring, I was humming and singing a few bars of ‘Riversong’ as I made my way to the bus stop. I had surprised myself yet again with Litha's music.

The lyrics annoyed me a little – the flow of the tenses, from past to present to slightly past again was just not congruent with the steady, one directional flow of water. And then I remembered the tides, backwards and forwards – ebb and flow, changing yet unchanging. It was wonderful. Our lyrics worked – what joy! Our team of wonderful composers and musicians – whether by chance or design – had put the lyrics together and managed to capture this aspect of back and forth. Delicious stuff, the river flowing immutably onwards yet back and forth. How I love these mind-bending concepts.

I am not qualified enough to do justice to Litha's composition musically. I rely on Rob and Lucia (another workshop leader) to comment upon its structures and movements. They have shown a tremendous faith and encouraged us to trust that it will turn out well. At the other end of this confidence is me and my experience of it. It is unexpected, there are evocative shades of revolution, Russian or just plain rushing, change, ideas bubbling up to match lyrics that talk of building anew: bridges, buildings or relationships.

There are moments that suggest dappled sunlight and moments that do not move the heart in an obvious way but stir the soul from its unfathomable depths, swishes and swooshes. And just like the river, when I look and wonder, who and what are you?, I may as well ask who and what am I!? Litha's music evokes all kinds of tantalising ideas – ideas that are exactly the kinds of things I think about when I look at rivers.

I have to take time think, wrestle, enjoy, relax – many different things. My discomfort was that I could not settle into any foregone conclusion about the piece. It has completely taken me out of my so-called comfort zone and makes me want to learn more about the music (but this time with more respectful ears), and it makes me want to give it my best shot at performing it. Give it my all. That is what Litha has done and I can only admire and appreciate what she has produced. Like the river, Litha has taken me on a journey for the duration of the piece and like the river, her composition makes me want to learn it unforgettably.

See the world premiere of ‘Riversong’ at our London Opera Hour concert on 1 April – click here to book FREE tickets.

Photo: Litha Efthymiou rehearsing 'Riversong' at The Passage