Artist of the Week - Fay Hield

Wednesday 15 May 2019

Related artist: Fay Hield

When we go in the shape of a hare we say thryse over:

‘I shall go into a hare with sorrow sigh and meikle care and I shall go in the devil’s name aye while I come home again.’

Such were the words of Isobel Gowdie, a woman from Auldearn, Scotland in her confessions of witchcraft and consorting with the fairies in 1662.

Image: Jackie Morris

The idea of spell casting inspired me early on in this project. I was entranced by the thought that certain combinations of words, chanted in particular ways could bring about powerful changes. Whether that was brought on by the reciter’s belief and focus on the ‘problem’ or calling on an actual magic I was unsure, but I talked with Inge about the power of spells and the ability of music to come out of words rather than merely being composed to go with them. I asked around the group for spells and Jackie set me off with Isobel's hare spell.

There follows a convoluted plan which brought forth simplistic beauty...

Handwritten type and a painting of a hare
Image: Jackie Morris

In western music, pitches have letter names - middle c, for example. I was intrigued to explore this linking of sound to language. I wrote out Isobel’s spell, (in an Anglicised version as I was the one to be casting it) and highlighted all the letters that fall into the octave scale. These were then taken onto the stave and placed into two 4 bar phrases, following the two lines of the spell. I selected a time signature of 9/8, as 3 sets of three has such magical potential.

Sheet music

The first phrase notes fell easily onto the accented beats, the second part had more named notes, so involved a bit of jiggling to make sure they all fitted in, in interesting places. I then started to fill in the gaps, the passing notes, with new material. There is nothing special about how I chose those, I just kept what seemed to fit when I brought the spell into the sonic sphere and gave it voice. My task was to introduce elements to make it an acceptable piece of music rather than a disjointed, technical exercise. As I hummed through the emerging tune, some things felt exotic, inciting the thrill of the unusual and unexpected, and as the passing notes linked the disjointed notes together a kind of sense emerged, we had a musical understanding. This phase was far more simple than I anticipated. At times I had to check I wasn’t losing the original pitches by moulding them to fit the passing notes, but the spell notes held firm and kept their framework clearly. Though it’s an odd sort of tune, it holds as music to my ears - I’d be interested to hear what you think of it below...

As I sang through the words, the tune shaped the spell and phrases were lengthened, repeated and extended to fit into the new melody - the music had come out of the words, and the words were being shaped by the music. I also tweaked some of the heavily Scottish words to suit my Yorkshire tongue, though meikle seemed such a central part of the phrase I wanted to keep that. A new spell was being born, and one that felt to be at peace with itself, and with me as a singer.

On taking the spell to the group we sang and played through it and moving away from the notation, the rhythm of the words took over as I taught it to the others, trying to emphasise the shape of the unusual melody. The pitches stayed the same, the time signature settled to a 6/8 - retaining the sense of three, but not forcing itself into ‘thryse over’.

Three jumping hares
Image: Jackie Morris

Each time we play it, a new sound comes out - whether raucous and gritty, or plaintive and mellow - it was fascinating to see how the song settled when we played it at The Sage sharings at the end of April, and I'm really interested if anyone else wants to learn it and cast the spell around - do let me know if you do, I’m keen to hear its progress...

Watch the first ever performance of Hare Spell.


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