Heaven Beneath Our Feet
This collection of songs is based on the inspirational writing of Gerrard Winstanley (1606-1660), one of the earliest and most original social commentators to have committed his thoughts to paper.
Winstanley is known mainly as one of the founders of, and the chief spokesperson for, the political movement known as “The Diggers” who, in 1649, set up a farming commune on waste land at St. George’s Hill in Weybridge. His major contribution to the cause of land reform was publishing a series of pamphlets which, in direct, powerful and beautiful language, express the desire of the “poor and dispossessed of the land” to take control of their own destiny. It is this language and the sentiments expressed through it that forms the basis for “Heaven Beneath Our Feet”.
The songs are set to music derived from tune books published by John Playford in 1651. My intention was to find a style of musical expression that matched the uncompromising nature of Winstanley’s prose; Playford’s dance tunes, placed somewhere between folk and the chamber music of his time, with their unexpected turns of phrase and novel harmonic implications, proved an excellent starting point. Few melodies appear in their entirety. Rather, elements of the collection have been absorbed into the musical fabric.
In performance, the instrumental players should, whenever possible, stand (shoulder to shoulder) with the singers, not arranged in front of them as in more traditional choral presentation. The instrumental parts* for the sung sections are identical to the sung lines and the players support the singers in holding the pitch and keeping the rhythm.
The instrumental interludes at the beginnings and ends of (and sometimes during) the sung material are intended to give the listener a few moments to reflect on the text. For the same reason, in performance, I suggest a break of about a minute at the half way point in the piece between the 7th and 8th numbers.
The singers need not be trained vocalists or even readers. Less experienced performers can sing the melody line throughout; those who enjoy a challenge can tackle the two harmony parts. All three lines can be sung by both male and female voices in octaves, but the most satisfactory balance of parts is if all the male singers take the melody line, creating a sort of vocal sandwich with the tune at the top and bottom and the harmonies mainly in between, occasionally spilling out in either direction.
Additional elements of performance could be using implements to hit the ground or clapping to accompany the percussion parts. Dance or some form of choreography could also be employed to enhance the visual effect.