6 April, 2020
The Forest Prayed is a truly delightful CD of Maggie Somerville’s settings for the poems of Mary Gilmore.
The music is totally appropriate and such pleasant listening one wonders why it hasn’t been done before, in the way Henry Lawson’s poems ‘walked off the pages into songs’.
Maggie Somerville has written tunes, which are so evocative of the bush melodies that you can almost smell the gum leaves burning beneath the billy tea.
The backings are varied but over all seem to include every instrument found in a bush band and more. These musicians play sensitive accompaniments to Gilmore’s words that are sung with great clarity enabling every word to be heard.
Dame Mary Gilmore led a distinguished and romantic life as a humanist, political activist and social reformer and supporter of other artists. She was an acclaimed writer in her own day and I well recall the portrait of her in the Fellowship of Australian Writers rooms where the Bush Music Club met. On her death, the Bush Music Club put out a special Singabout magazine with a pen sketch of Mary and an obituary by John Meredith. The most famous portrait of Gilmore was Dobell’s painting commissioned for her 90th birthday; it aroused controversy as it depicted an old woman with slim face and wispy white hair that Dobell painted so delicately but dressed in formal old fashioned lace and satin brocade quite different from the younger portrait once on the ten dollar note.
Dobell’s portrait has been included on the attractively presented CD cover and booklet. This booklet is very comprehensive with dates of publication of the poems. The historical context of the poems is significant to the varying sentiments expressed.
There are 16 tracks that cover Gilmore’s poems set to Somerville’s music. The topics include many Australian themes including the environment and a love of nature as well as a concern for the plight of the indigenous peoples, women’s experience and World war 11 fears with the threatened invasion of the Japanese forces, and tributes to contemporary poets, Henry Lawson and Shaw Neilson.
Maggie Somerville has taken on a well over due task and created beautiful and thoughtful songs that I hope many will learn to sing or they will continue to enjoy listening to the poems of Mary Gilmore. – DALE DENGATE