Learning Activity #2: Love is Old-Love is Young
Students explore the use of traditional and non-traditional composition strategies in conveying poetic thought.
Text asset: Robert Turner, A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets.
Text asset: My Love is Young by Earle Birney
Flash asset: Robert Turner, A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets score
Audio asset: Excerpts I and II from A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets.
I. Read and Predict
- Ask several readers to read the text asset: My Love is Young by Earle Birney aloud.
- Discuss the meaning of the poem, sharing the information in the description.
- Ask: What is the most important word in the poem? Solicit a number of responses.
- Predict: If you were to create music for this poem where would you use
- expressive warm, long legato melody
- lively, pizzicato jumpy motifs
- dramatic long double stops (2 sounds played together)
II. First Impressions
- Now listen to audio assets: Excerpts I and II from A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets a number of times identifying the 3 different musical textures described above.
- Listen again to the music, examining the first page of the score, flash asset: Robert Turner – A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets score, using the following prompt:
We have seen that Earle Birney, the poet, used traditional and non-traditional elements very deliberately in his poem. How did Robert Turner, the composer, use traditional and non-traditional elements in his music?
- (Students may notice that the music has a recognizable ABA form; it is quite tonal at the beginning and end; the notation, markings and Italian terminology are traditional. Non-traditionally, the music is "senza musica"- without barlines or metre- and is performed by an unconventional combination of viola with speaker.)
- Ask: Did listening to the music change the way you understood the poem? How?
- Reflect in discussion or writing: Why do you think both Birney and Turner chose a combination of traditional and non-traditional strategies to bring a poem about loving and getting old to life? Do you think the result is effective? Share responses.
Robert Turner (1920 - )
Robert Turner was born in Montréal and was a professor of composition at the University of Manitoba. His works have been performed by every major Canadian orchestra. In this composition for viola, reciter, and orchestra seven poems by Canadian poets are spoken rather than sung over the music. The poets include Barry McKinnon, Anne Marriott, George Johnston, Anne Wilkinson, Raymond Souster and Earle Birney, whose contribution is reproduced here, while the poems move thematically in a full circle from winter to summer. The final setting of "On the Rouge" by Raymond Souster leaves the listener full of warmth and nostalgia.
This poem by renowned Canadian poet Earle Birney is the sixth of seven poems used by Robert Turner in his composition for solo viola, orchestra and reciter, A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets. The poem is apparently an autobiographical reference to the poet's relationship with the much younger Wailan Low, a relationship that lasted for the last 23 years of Birney's life.
To the texting generation of the 21st century, Birney's text does not look startling, but the unpunctuated lines without upper-case letters were radical in the 1970s, and placed Birney in a tradition of experimental poets who pushed the boundary of what poetry could and couldn't be. At the same time here Birney deliberately aligns himself with some very old traditions, referring to his poems as "makings" (poets traditionally were known as makers), introducing the archaic word "clip" (to "embrace" in Elizabethan English), and ending with what is almost an Elizabethan rhyming couplet. Indeed the poem evokes love sonnets by Shakespeare or John Donne in a number of ways, while not using the sonnet form as such. In spite of the stark message, the ultimate tone of the poem is one of qualified affirmation.
my love is young & i am old
she'll need a new man soon
but still we wake to clip and talk
to laugh as one
to eat and walk
beneath our five-year* moon
good moon, good sun
that we do love
i pray the world believe me
& never tell me when it's time
that i'm to die
or she's to leave me
* In the Turner score, the moon is a "nineteen-year" moon.
Excerpt I from A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian Poets (0:01:59)
Turner’s setting of the poem “Love is Young” by Canadian poet Earle Birney is a duet for viola and speaker. In this excerpt notice Turner’s use of long unmetered legato melody, choppy pizzicato figures and dramatic double stops on the viola to underline and comment on the deeper emotional meaning of the poem.
Excerpt II from A Group of Seven: Poems of Love and Nature by Canadian poets (0:01:32)
Turner’s setting of the poem “Love is Young” by Canadian poet Earle birney is a duet for viola and speaker. In this excerpt notice Turner’s use of long unmetered legato melody on the viola to underline and comment on the deeper emotional meaning of the poem. The poem arrives, by a final twist, at a muted sense of loss which is exquisitely realised here by Turner’s unresolved ending.
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Credits and Copyright
- Text Asset: "My Love is Young" by Earle Birney
Copyright: Earle Birney
- Audio Asset: Excerpt I from A Group of Seven by Robert Turner
1991, Robert Turner
- Audio Asset: Excerpt II from A Group of Seven by Robert Turner
1991, Robert Turner
- Flash Asset: "My Love is Young" in Robert Turner's Score
1991, unpublished MS in the CMC collection