Monday 29 August 2022

There is silence in my heart tonight by Ali Burns

This is part of a series of reflections on current or future repertoire as I take on the role of Musical Director for the Madrid International Choir, the English speaking choir in Madrid.

What is this music?

There is silence in my heart tonight is a recent composition by Edinburgh based songwriter Ali Burns, and this is how she describes her work”:

“I’m still completely in love with the creative process of song-writing. The careful binding of text, melody and harmony constantly fascinates me and I’m drawn to elegantly sparse lyrics that leave the work with the listener. But I also write because I have to – it’s how I stay sane in this bonkers world and how I process the inner landscape of my life. “ *

This is a partner-style song: when we sing a round we all sing the same melody and text at different times, whereas in a partner song we sing different melodies and texts at the same time. The composer’s skill is in making the different independent parts fit together. There is scope for us to arrange the song as we wish, and space is given for improvising.

Why are we singing it?

It’s a beautiful piece of music. 

Ali Burns is constantly leading singing workshops with serious amateur singers like ourselves, and as we sing her song we are connecting with those singers, albeit anonymously and out of sight. As I said regarding Pages, it’s right that we should recognise the quality of living writers and composers and celebrate their achievements in the best possible way, which is to perform their work.

From a musical point of view the sense of peace is carefully crafted by having a descending bass line which moves in steps for almost a whole octave. There is a total absence of the tension and release which usually gives music its interest, and in this case the sound of our voices float seamlessly and peacefully, letting the repeat of “silence” assure us that “all is well tonight”. 

Is it relevant to us today?

We can see this song as a secular mirror image of Dona nobis pacem. The language is different, as is the formal structure, but the longing for peace and calm is present in both pieces.

Even in our privileged situation here in Madrid, we have experienced turmoil and loss in a way none of us would have predicted at the start of 2020. It’s a pleasure to take some time to get back to rehearsals, to re-connect with each other and to sing music which is simple, calm, peaceful and reassuring: 

“Silence will be cradled in my heart”.


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