Ebb Tide

Ebb Tide

23rd March 2014
In memory of my Uncle Roy, whom I never knew

What is it?

Ebb Tide is a setting for high voice (tenor or soprano), two flutes, oboe and strings of a poem by my cousin Julia Allard. It's a beautifully visual piece of music, which probably captures better than any of my other compositions the sense of the sea, seabirds, fishing boats and a small coastal fishing community. It's quite easy to sing and the orchestral parts are suitable for an advanced high school orchestra.


Explanatory notes:

  • “Towl rooze” is a Cornish expression meaning “cast the net” or “throw the net”.
  • The name Hayle derives from the Cornish word “Heyl”, meaning “estuary”. The River Hayle is a small river in west Cornwall.
  • Carn Naun is a headland on the north coast of Cornwall, roughly midway between the town of St Ives and the village of Zennor, to the west.
  • Pedn-mên-du is the headland that forms the western boundary of Sennen Cove, effectively the last significant headland before one reaches Land's End.
  • The Longships is the name given to a group of rocky islets situated approximately 2 km west of Land's End. The islets are marked by the Longships Lighthouse, the current structure being first lit in December 1873.

My nets lie spread along the quay,
I'll cry "Towl Rooze!" no more.
My crab pots, dry and empty now
Stand stacked along the shore:
And one lone star stands watchman
As the fleet sails with the tide;
While I set sail on other seas,
My Captain by my side.

Sail softly on to Westward, sail softly, gently on.
Sail softly on to Westward, sail softly, gently home.

She lies there on the harbour sands,
My boat, the 'Alice Lee':
A faithful friend for sixty years,
Both wife and son to me.
Yet now I rest aboard a sloop,
Sails shimmering with soft light,
Bow set towards a harbour fair,
Safe anchor in the night.

Sail softly on to Westward, sail softly, gently on.
Sail softly on to Westward, sail softly, gently home.

Sigh farewell to the River Hayle,
Carn Naun and Pedn-mên-du;
To Land's End's crags and Longship's light
That always served me true.
Sail swiftly on the Spirit's wind
Towards the setting sun:
And may there be calm seas for me
Until my journey's done.

Sail softly on to Westward, sail softly, gently on.
Sail softly on to Westward, sail softly, gently home.


In this video I have a cello playing the vocal solo, at tenor pitch. If anyone were to perform this and record the performance, I'd be happy include it here if they provide me with the details.


St Ives

St Ives
Photograph by Julia Allard

I am Cornish and proud of it. I grew up with the sea nine miles to the northwest and seven miles to the southeast. Though born in Camborne my mother spent her childhood in St Ives. My father was from Penzance, with relatives in Newlyn and Marazion. So I know the sea. I know its rhythms and its moods. I know the sound of a sloop moored against a jetty, a foghorn in the distance or the cries of kittiwakes as they glide over sea cliffs.

The music of Ebb Tide is profoundly influenced by the rhythms of the sea itself, by the lurching sensation of being on board a boat with a hull length of around twenty feet on a relatively calm sea with a slight chop and by the characteristic calls of seagulls. I know well the stretch of coastline described in the poem, the sight of crab pots stacked by an old fisherman’s shack at Cape Cornwall and the sea to the west of Land’s End. So it required very little effort on my part to translate these impressions into a world of music.

I met Julia Allard for the first time early in 2014, having been told by my birth mother (I was adopted) that she is one of my first cousins. She and I soon discovered that we had a great deal in common, not the least of which is a peculiarly Cornish sense of humour.

Julia sent to me a couple of her poems, probably with no particular expectation as to what I would do with it. I looked at the first of them, Ebb Tide. It seemed in a way symbolic of a successful family reunion that my music and Julia's poetry should somehow come together. So I composed the setting as you now hear it. Julia told me that it is very much an expression of my Celtic nature.

The dedication in the score of Ebb Tide reads “In memory of my Uncle Roy, whom I never knew”. Roy was Julia’s father and a brother of my birth mother. He died in an industral accident in the 1950s.


Photograph by Julia Allard

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