Here’s Natalie Merchant explaining her decision to compose music for other poets’ work and how the process affected her own relationship with poetry. [2:05]
Transcript of Natalie Merchant
What I wanted to do with this project that I've been working on for the last five years was take existing text and put it to music. A lot of the poets that I chose were British Victorians, early twentieth-century American, some mid twentieth century, only two living poets, and that's something that they're encouraging is for kids to get a historical perspective on poetry and poets. And I wanted to make a really vibrant living anthology of poetry because I never really considered myself a poet but I thought of myself as a lyricist but it's basically pretty much the same thing. I write words to be accompanied by music but I definitely write verses that stand alone as poetry. Gavin Bryars, contemporary British composer– he's a friend of mine - the Royal Shakespeare Company was going to do the complete works of Shakespeare. I had begun doing some poetry but mostly children's poetry, lullabies and doing research mostly on children's poetry, and he asked me to put a sonnet to music and I put the 73rd to music. I have to admit never read the sonnets. At least I had read them in high school but not all of them, and I sat and read them all and I was struck by how this man who lived in the sixteenth century and I had so much in common about the way we looked at our experience of life, love, loss, yearning, disillusionment. So many of the constant themes of life and just the human experience have not changed all these hundreds of years, and there was one line in the sonnet, "bare ruined choirs /where late the sweet birds sang/in me thou seest the twilight of such a day." And when I put it to music it elevated it to me because it's difficult for me to recite poetry so it was, "Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou seest the twilight of such a day." It was almost like my understanding of all the poetry became deeper when I put it to music because I gave it an emotional quality that resonated in me and it was like a reflection of what the poetry made me feel and made it really personal.