Parlour Tricks


Musical Scale

The only song I can sing is Ten Green Bottles on the Wall.  I don’t feel cut out to understand high-tech, contemporary music that makes you sometimes jump out of your skin or rattles your teeth as if you had slipped under the wheels of a tram.

I didn’t expect to feel both encompassed and displaced – to such an extent – by Parlour Tricks, David Chisholm’s new work in progress.

I was suddenly ravished, as if the notes took me away to some genius loci I knew but had forgotten from long-ago. Was it the baroque instruments touching the notes with more tired gentleness, more restless passion than modern instruments? The sound slips you into that semi unconscious yet fully aware state that makes you hear more than listen. Elizabeth Campbell’s poetry also takes you down the music, down into Hades’ world of no return – unless it is suddenly Spring – such an exquisite reminder of the stormy fickleness of life’s joys and griefs. And the powerful, gentle Jessica Azsodi, with her sunny smile and desperate vibrato conjugated Spring and Mourning so well.

Petrol Station

The story’s resolute lack of narration whispers back its presence  – like a stranger in a petrol station, turns around to show the face of a true brother. Parlour Tricks plucks you out of its world to plunge you in your own memory of feeling until the music becomes your life and Persephone’s life writ in a strange baroque language of sound where the mythical past and the present meet as she goes down under.








A broken bus stop.

The soprano Hana Crisp, who sang Sea Song, woke up Ophelia and swam with her to the surface of feminine longing. In every woman a drowned Ophelia has given up, but Sea Song sings her back to consciousness. This music has all stories sown in its hem, in a great swish of sound it brings them forth to our sleeping hearts and awakes us where we were no longer breathing, no longer thinking, no longer feeling.

The Song of Prayer is about yellow dressed women (such a reminder of the yellow star) forced into prostitution, then forced straight into convents – both prisons. It visits their lost pain, treads back into their unseen suffering. It awakens a community of feeling with what has been done to others. Touching the past reels in the present in a new way. These women are not alone, we are gathering the flounces of their woe; we no longer drag them in the dust of our forgetting, but lift them into our experience and hearts. Medieval chimes have us step lightly, as we are drawn, deep within, to understand. Yet the harpsichord, the viola da gamba and baroque violin, joined by a clarinet tripling bass and contrabass clarinets, stitch our present into their mourning, into their yearning as David Chisholm’s music swells with compassion.

Final Notes

6 Responses to “Parlour Tricks”

  1. feelings Says:

    I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.

    • dwarfgoose Says:

      Thank you for your kind words. A few words can make such a big difference sometimes. I tried to look you up but everything was written in Greek, unfortunately for me. Catherine.

  2. Crritic Says:

    If I didn’t know you better Catherine, I’d be wondering if you were trying to bash me with *your* talent. Your writing strives… but for what? Each magnificent flourish, each oh-so-carefully chosen phrase seems to make your meaning more opaque. The ambiguity of “genius loci” (the ancient or contemporary meaning?) and ‘conjugation’… I imagine you might be using the algebraic — or, at a pinch, the grammatical — sense of the verb rather than the common-or-garden matrimonial sense… Your meaning, aptly, is aleatoric. Not random, but chancy. Like the chiaroscuro image of a candlestick that might be two witches facing one another, meaning here is an act of will. Right? An *exercise* of will.

    Rather like music, your writing invites overreading! (The turned back in the petrol station had me thinking of Euridice rather than Persephone… don’t look back!) And I sooooo want to believe that “sown in its hem” is deliberate… that the stories are seeded rather than merely sewn in.

    I love the birds on a wire stave (“Final Notes”) BTW. But it, on its own, might have been enough.


    • dwarfgoose Says:

      Thank you for so much, Chris, for reading my piece, even though it did not manage to reach you.
      I will certainly put your words in my pipe and smoke them carefully. I am grateful for your keen glance. As always, it is something that just is, that exists and that one must accept, because it is true and sincere and immensely competent.

      But what I had to say still stands at least in my own heart. For me genius loci is spirit of place, maybe a remote memory of somewhere in my genes or perhaps, of a past life of some description.

      I was probably doing an unconscious frenchism with ‘conjugation’ and will be more careful how I use the term. I simply meant it like verbs, because verbs are energies and Spring and Death are too, like Darkness and Light. They seem contradictions, but are not really. They contain each other, like a hidden music. There is also a possible ‘conjugation’ of meaning in this capture of Kore. Hades and Persephone are in sync in Persephone’s myth like tenses that fit better ‘ensemble’ than one would have imagined. Babies are often born when old people die or joy comes unexplainably after despair, as if one was renewed by a complete loss of hope – a sort of catharsis of pain.That is what I tried to say. But if you didn’t get it, or found it ridiculous, probably many other people would too, and of the better kind of readers.

      I don’t understand what you mean by algebraic or aleatoric, but I looked it up. (Strangely, ‘aléatoire’ in French is a very ordinary term. Just as ‘understatement’ in English, is quite recherché in French and is called litote.)

      It’s really clever of you to speak of Eurydice at the petrol station, since I have plunged you knee high in myth, that is my fault. But what I felt was the opposite: not the turning round of Orpheus with which he would lose Eurydice for the second time and forever, but a return. Lack of narration begat the story contained in the music. Just like Death and Spring, opposites attracted and created something new: Hope, I suppose.

      I felt renewed by that music. Maybe because things were faced squarely, despair was seen and not brushed under the carpet. Lost, forgotten, denied pain was understood, recognised, it sowed things up for me in a tremendous flower of sudden relief. It was like a hand carrying you out of the mist or a light sweeping darkness away. There was no drive in me writing this. It was more like a love letter to this new understanding the music brought me.

      As for sown in its hem, I suppose also, it flew to my mind because it was such a feminine piece of music about women. And hems mean a lot to me. I always think some women have beauty sown in their hem as they walk, even if they became old or disfigured, they would still carry it with them. Their beauty would still move as they moved. I have known and know women like that. As if beauty was more than physical, as if if was a secret sown in them somewhere. And that music carried so much meaning in the swish of its hem, like the clothes of a woman you love make a tiny sound that carries her whole to you, even from a dead past.

      So, no, I really wasn’t flexing my muscles to find meaning. I only tried to express what I felt. I wrote emotionally because for me music is emotional. I have no other means of understanding it because I am not very musical. So maybe ignorance, or missing the point, or clumsiness, yes. But using my will – no. A dog can look at a bishop and I felt free to say things as I meant them. And the photo ‘Last Notes’ alone would not have done that for me.

      Dear Chris, thank you for being a clean knife one can trust to operate without sentimentality but with so much honesty, whether you like things or do not.

  3. Crritic Says:

    A bit late to sms back, but yes… that was me! (Now, re-read the comment with *my* voice in your head.) CB

  4. A Says:

    This piece has given me a new perspective on Parlour Tricks. The writing is wonderful, it presents a uniquely creative approach to criticism that takes me, and also my experience of the music, to a new place. The writing is both intellectually rigorous yet heartfelt, and that mix is incredibly powerful. And this is not to mention the images, which add a whole other dimension. We need more writing of this calibre. Please Catherine, go right ahead and bash us with your talent.

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