Hands of red

Andrew Howes felt the earth singing when he went to Mount Grenfell. He also sensed the tribal ancestors that Ngyiampaa Elder Elaine Ohlsen describes when he saw the ancient art, hand stencils and hieroglyphics painted on the rock shelters. He describes the inspiration behind the creation of his Mount Grenfell Suite which features in the 2016 Moorambilla Gala Concert.

“I want the audience to hear this song from the earth’s perspective. It calls back to old times and connects the past and present through the land. It speaks of the land inviting you to be a part of its history.

Beneath the sky
Where ancient feet have stood
You’ll stand with me
Come find me there

At Mount Grenfell I felt the stretch of time, thousands of years passing in a flash! There is science showing that the rock art hand stencils have been layered over and over again across 40,000 years or more. We’re only seeing the forefront layer of repeated generations imprinting their mark.

Mt Grenfell-01024 April 22, 2016_

Place your hand upon the wall.
Touch my hand from long ago.
Through the ancient stone
Now I know that I am home.

We see rocks as solid, unmoving, eternal objects, but if you were to reduce 100,000 years into a minute, you would see the full truth: this, for all its dry and silent peace, is a place of intense natural violence.

Mt Grenfell-00974 April 22, 2016_

Rocks are the deep earth. They go on and down for thousands of kilometres, encompassing millennia. And yet they withstand rain and wind and the breaking of earth. If only we could witness that power!

Heavy, ancient stones.
Under earth, the land’s old bones,
Run through the undying land.
Hold my hand.

The musical structure of the Suite mirrors and reflects the earth’s own internal structure and life. While I was writing I thought hard about ways to draw different sound qualities from the MAXed OUT choir. But not canons! I wanted to avoid canons – they are too easy a solution. Michelle asked me to write something difficult! One of the ways I have done that is by creating some tricky part writing!

The feeling is very different across the two parts of the suite. There is a juxtaposition between the highly energetic and the absolutely serene. The first part ‘Hands of Red’ has a lot primal energy through it, a fast, rollicking beat and I have marked the tempo as ‘spirited’.

The second part ‘Mount Grenfell’, has a deep calm tone, and I have marked the tempo as ‘etherial, mysterical’. Even underneath the serenity of that piece is a constantly moving quintuplet pattern that propels the music forward.

Raise your head up to the sky.
Let the starlight touch your eyes.
Dig your feet in reddened sand.
Let the stars flow through your hand.

Now that we have the choir parts for MAXed OUT, and the incredible Song Company, the piece will be orchestrated for the Australian World Orchestra as chamber in residence, pianist Ben Burton and Taikoz Artistic Director Ian Cleworth.”

Andrew is about to commence a two-year Masters of Composition at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Follow Andrew Howes on his website. 

Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.


One thought on “Hands of red

  1. Pingback: Ears like mine heard sounds like these – Primary Music for All

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