Gillian Whitehead: Cicadas

Text: Rachel Bush

 If she were here she would say
the cicadas, the cicadas and rest
her arms on the frame with the window
folded and pushed aside and she would
listen, just that, doing nothing but noting,
while high tide on a summer night holds
her in its sea, how cicada cicada cicada out of
the ground after seven white years tight in the crush
of earth have crawled to the light, bust
out to beat and drum leg to leg,
to say themselves over and over.

There was just a woman and unnumbered innumerable insects
One night
In that short season when it must all be said,
or never, or never, or never.

“When I found Rachel Bush's substantial poem 'Cicadas' in her
recent collection 'Nice Pretty Things', published by VUW
Press, I decided that two stanzas from it were exactly what
I wanted for this piece for Helen and Pepe. I've always
loved the sounds of cicadas, redolent of Northland summers,
and it's one of the iconic sounds I most miss living in the
south. 'Cicadas' draws on various twentieth century harp
techniques, including those of Salzedo and the setting focuses
on the life cycle of the cicada and its mesmeric song.”

Gillian Whitehead grew up in Whangarei and, after spending
15 years as a free-lance composer in Europe and 15 years
teaching at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, now lives on
the Otago peninsula. She has written for diverse forces -
opera, orchestra, ensemble, choral vocal and solo. A number
of pieces involve improvisation, and recent works have
frequently involved taonga pūoro

‘Cicadas’ is printed here with permission from the writer.

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