Kearney's 'major work'. 'Good Morning Good
People' is a unique work, sometimes described as a
musical narrative or a folk-oratorio on the life
of St. Francis Of Assisi.
'Good Morning Good People!', an original work by Australian composer, Peter Kearney, is a cycle of seventeen songs with musical and narrative links. It tells in a deep yet entertaining way the life of St Francis of Assisi.
After introductory music and 'The Welcome Song', we hear of the lively youth, his ideals, his imprisonment following capture in a local war. 'The Changes Song' tells of depression following his release, his solitary searching for meaning. Then, the challenge and discovery of God through an encounter with a leper in 'The Leper's Song'.
His embracing of the leper leads on to the adoption of a radically simple lifestyle, symbolised in his betrothal to the 'Lady Poverty'. He discovers his mission to bring news of God's Kingdom to the people. This is announced with energy and joy in the song 'Good Morning Good People!'. Others are inspired to join him in his way of life. The first half closes with 'The Mountain Song'. Francis and his brothers are lifted up in their newfound love of God.
An important theme of the second half is the tension Francis feels between 'Mountain' (the joys of solitude and contemplation) and 'Valley' (active involvement in ordinary life). Unable to decide what is his way, Francis trusts the decision to the prayers and discernment of Clare. The issue and the special relationship between them is explored in a song that Clare sings to Francis.
Directed to the Valley, Francis sings farewell to Sister Bird ('bird of my soul') and goes down to the troubled world of the Valley People, entering into dialogue with them in 'The Circle Song'. He comes up against desperate, hard-headed, hard-hearted forces in 'The Wolf of Gubbio' and 'The Shadow song'. Troubles follow from the rapid growth of the Order.
Eventually, 'wounded and weary' he follows the path of suffering to the mountain of 'La Verna' where the experience manifested in the stigmata takes place. The account of his final months is interwoven with the 'Canticle of the Sun' and a reprise of 'Good Morning Good People!'
HISTORY OF A LONG PROJECT -GOOD MORNING GOOD
The greeting of St. Francis: "buono giorno buono gente!" inspired the title song. Later came the idea of writing more songs to tell the whole story. I didn't start with a whole conception. The image of an archaeological excavation seems more appropriate; the shape of the whole only emerged as I dug here and there on different sides of a large buried object. The story of Francis was already known, but I had to discover my own approach to this story, my own selection of events, personalities, words and symbols. From the start, my approach to Francis was personal and reflective, but expressed in universal terms which would, hopefully, make it accessible and relevant to others.
When I first discovered Francis and became so entranced by him, the initial appeal was partly the romance and exhilarating freedom of his life. These aspects found expression in the earliest songs, 'Good Morning Good People!' and 'Francis and the Lady Poverty'. Later I tuned in to some of the difficult changes Francis went through. Though he was a very different personality to me I found connections and parallels that led me to continue this large scale work.
The scale of the project led to a change in my approach to songwriting. The individual songs for GMGP were written slowly. My usual 'one-off' songs are usually conceived and created in a short burst of energy. But with the GMGP songs, I would often come up with a fragment of a song that had promise but which would have to be left aside for weeks or months … or years … till I could take it further. Patience was needed and new skills. I found the emerging songs were longer and more complex than usual and I soon realised my 'Francis' piece wasn't going to be a catchy, fun creation like 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' but rather, a slowly unfolding, deeply reflective and serious work.
Meanwhile my life moved into the 'Valley' through marriage, parenting and full-time work in a school for maladjusted children from 1975-1979. During this period, I worked on little else, creatively, except 'Good Morning Good People!'. Among the songs to come out of this period were 'Sister Bird', 'The Minstrels of God’ and 'Changes'.
The nature of the 'drama' underlying GMGP is rather symbolic and abstract. I passed over opportunities for more nitty-gritty, flesh and blood drama eg. the conflict between Francis and his father, the camaraderie and conflict within the Franciscan Order and many colourful episodes in Francis’ life. Instead I looked for crucial encounters and underlying patterns. The interplay and interdependence of opposites is important: light and dark, beauty and ugliness, success and failure, mountain and valley, cave and town-square, animus and anima, death and resurrection. There is a strong sense of the cyclical, seasonal nature of life - his life and our life.
Beyond symbolism, Francis is Francis- an historical figure, a great Catholic-Christian saint. In writing GMGP, I had to grapple with his 12th Century spirituality. Often I felt uncomfortable with the language and imagery used by his biographers and even by Francis himself. Sometimes instead, I used more universal language and symbols but at other stages I knew I had to stay with the self-understanding of Francis himself. At the heart of all is the focus of his being on the figure of Christ. The culmination of his journey is the Stigmata. During one Lenten season I grappled with all of this and emerged with the song 'La Verna'.
In 1979, I travelled home to Australia with my wife Madge and two children and we stayed for a year at Fr. Ted Kennedy's place in Burrawang on the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. During this period, I was influenced by the theology evolving from Ted's experiences in the poor inner-Sydney parish of Redfern where he was deeply involved with Aboriginal people, many alcoholic and destined for short lives. For a period Ted had opened the Parish House to be a refuge for these people. I was led to reflect on the essential turning point in the life of Francis- his embrace of the Leper. During the year at Burrawang I wrote `The Leper's Song', 'The Wolf of Gubbio' and 'The Mountain Song'. I also expended much effort, trying to make GMGP into a play with dialogue and stage directions as well as songs. But that was a false direction; eventually I realised that I was getting out my depth. Anyway, I was going to finish up with a mammoth five hour performance!
Back in England, in Kettering 1980-1982, I developed vocal and instrumental arrangements for some songs. I came to realise that the 16 songs already written made, in themselves, an almost complete shape. The underlying sequence started to become clear to me and the interweaving of recurring musical motifs started to give the work a feeling of wholeness and unity.
EARLY PERFORMANCE - JANUARY 1982
The deadline focused my efforts and over an intense period of 6-8 weeks I put together a workable sequence and script. Friends were enlisted as solo vocalists. Local musicians- a new-age folk band called Dibjak and the Ise Recorder Consort agreed to take part in the performance. Hand written or typed music and sequence-scripts were prepared for all involved. There were separate rehearsals for choir, Dibjak, Recorder Consort and soloists. Rehearsals were made difficult by the coldest English winter on record with temperatures dropping to minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit.
One last role had to be filled, that of the Narrator. We thought of Madge's brother John- he would be perfect with his rich voice and soft Irish brogue. The only problem was he was living in Germany! But we persuaded him to come and reckoned we could cover costs by taking a collection at the end of the performance. So John came with just a couple of days to prepare his part.
Two full rehearsals were arranged for the Friday and Saturday. But blizzards on the Friday made travel impossible. The various sections of the performance group didn't meet until the Saturday, the day before the performance!
The performance was very simple (had to be!). Choir of twenty-five. Ten musicians. Narrator reading at lectern in centre stage. Solo vocalists stepping forward from choir to sing their parts. About eighty people ventured out in freezing conditions to hear us. The performance went well. Audience attention was deep and feedback was enthusiastic. Primitive audio and video recordings made at the time were enough to remind me in years to follow that GMGP had once 'worked' in reality, not just in my mind.
TWELVE YEARS ON
In the meantime, in October 1988, at the invitation of Fr. Cyril Hally a scratch performance of GMGP took place at St. Columban's College, North Turramurra with Claire Parkhill and myself singing the solo parts accompanied by a tiny choir and band consisting of guitar, recorder, organ and percussion. Even in such a threadbare production, the sequence still proved its capacity to hold and move people.
From the time of moving back to Australia, it was to be twelve years before GMGP was realised in its full form. Over that period I did further work on the project - revising the narrative script, developing fuller vocal and instrumental arrangements. I also wrote two new songs: 'Clare's Song' and "Make Me an Instrument" a setting of the Peace Prayer.
It became obvious that to mount a full scale performance I would have to seek financial assistance. Otherwise I would never find the time, space and resources to complete a useable score and to gather the people needed. So in 1992, I put together a 'begging kit' - a tape, script and letter explaining the reasons for my appeal. I ‘launched’ the kit during a small concert at St. Joseph's House of Spirituality, Baulkham Hills. Several of the Religious there: Josephine Mitchell, Susan Connelly, Bernadette Douglas, Carole Gibbons, Kerry Keenan (all RSJ sisters) and Cathy O'Keeffe PBVM formed a committee to help with the fund-raising. In Newcastle NSW, Dorothy Woodward (a Lochinvar RSJ) formed another committee with Leo and Michelle Drinkwater, Carole Barnett and Louise Roach.
In response to the appeal, Religious Orders were generous, and out of the blue I received contributions from several individuals. A successful application to the Mercy Foundation, North Sydney resulted in a grant of $5000. I will always be grateful for the help provided by those many organisations and individuals. The result of the fund-raising was that after many years of travelling, giving over 100 concerts a year to support the family, 1994 became a blessed year, a creative sabbatical, mostly free for me to work on a full choral and orchestral score. Invaluable ideas and help were received in this time from Louise Roach (choral score) and Christine Tilley (musical direction).
The GMGP fund also allowed me to purchase some essential equipment for developing arrangements and producing professional quality music manuscript.
From these performances a good quality digital recording was made which eventually became the ‘Good Morning Good People’ double CD.
In 2005, the Mittagong cast (which grew to 100 in 1995) was invited to perform GMGP at the National Folk Festival, Canberra, April 17, 1995. In November there were three further presentations including one at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta.
Thanks to the inspiration and commitment of Dorothy Woodward, there was also a Hunter production in 1995 with a different cast supporting me in the singing and playing. Two performances under the musical direction of Craig Wattam at the Mission Theatre, Newcastle, March 15 and 17, 1995 were very well received.
ON THE SHELF AGAIN
IRELAND & U.K. 2004-5 and 2007-8
This proved to be so. During our four years in the Northern Hemisphere, nearly fifty presentations of ‘Good Morning Good People’ were well received. Irish venues included Franciscan Friary Churches in Dublin, Galway, Killarney, Wexford, Athlone and Clonmel. Shauna Boyle (singer) and Roma Dix (flute) visited Ireland from Australia and performed GMGP concerts with me while they were there. Several performances in Scotland including Franciscan Churches in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
In September 2009, before returning to Australia, I was joined by flautist Roma Dix for a series of concerts around England. Franciscan venues included Woodford Green (London), Chilworth (Surrey), Canterbury (Franciscan International Study Centre), Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford (Greyfriars Parish) and Preston.
By this time, through much practice I had reached the stage where I could perform the narration and songs ‘by heart’ as well as accompany on guitar.
Madge and I returned to live in Australia in November 2008. In January 2009 I mailed out to many Parishes, Retreat Houses and Tertiary Institutes to offer the possibility of performing Good Morning Good People. The response was pleasing. To date, about forty GMGP concerts have been planned for 2009, including week-long seasons in Melbourne (July) and Brisbane (September).
The story of ‘Good Morning Good People’ continues to unfold.
Pax et Bonum
"Cleverly written and produced, each turning point in the life of St. Francis of Assisi is masterfully executed. Claire Parkhill singing 'Lady Poverty' and David Shapiro's flawless storyteller narration are sustaining features in a production which has no weak links." (Highland Post)
"The whole audience was gripped from the first notes and obviously enjoyed every moment, with their spontaneous standing at the conclusion proof positive that here is a notable new work." (Southern Highland News)
"Good Morning Good People! is a work which grapples with issues and areas of experience which are relevant to the lives of people in Australia today. For example, in 'The Leper's song' we see reflected our own uneasy encounter with apparent ugliness and real poverty in the 'Third World' and our own Aboriginal population. Withdrawal/involvement (Sister Bird) and our reactions to violence and death ('The Wolf of Gubbio') are other examples of the deep themes which give 'Good Morning Good People!' such a rich potential for musical and dramatic representation. While many musical dramas deriving from folk/popular culture are superficial, 'Good Morning Good People.!' is different. It is a deeply serious work with great power to reach ordinary people." (Elizabeth Burke, Entracte Theatre)
"I thought I'd let you know how much I enjoyed GMGP. I found it to be a particularly apt metaphor for my own 'inner journey', especially now while I'm doing some intensive inner work as part of a counselling course I am doing. The whole mid-life thing of having to give up, in a sense, the unrealised dreams of youth and seek out new ways of being; shedding the trappings of the outer life and walking off naked into the forest of the unconscious; kissing the 'lepers' that I find lurking in my shadow and learning to love them too; getting in touch with the feminine and learning to trust my intuition; experiencing the 'mountain or valley' tension of wanting to withdraw, but knowing that, to make this journey, I have to be totally immersed in my life and the lives of others; learning to live with ambiguity and rejection because I'm changing in a way that many who've known me for some time just can't understand. There is probably alot more subtlety that I haven't even begun to tap yet but even at this fairly 'coarse' level of understanding, your work has been a real vehicle of self discovery for me, so I'd like to thank you for that." (Noel K., Brisbane, QLD, July 1995)
"Anne Gregory lent us your music and we love it so much that we haven't even returned it yet... 'Good Morning Good People!' opened a new door to me. I had never heard of St. Francis of Assisi before and I wasn't too keen on reading history books. You have presented the story in such a way that it makes the history of this incredible man really come alive. I was actually the first in our family to sit down and really listen to the story of St. Francis and while I listened I was so moved I actually wept. After listening non-stop the whole way through both tapes, I raced to Mum and insisted that she listen. I also warned her that she would cry too, but I knew she's love it and sure enough she did. After hearing the musical it has given me an interest in the life of St. Francis and so it has encouraged me to look up encyclopaedias on his life. Every song that you composed for the story is constantly in my heart and I often sing them to myself. I love all the songs but I have many special favourites including 'La Verna', 'Make me An Instrument' 'Canticle of The Sun' and many more. We all thoroughly enjoy GMGP and we constantly play the tapes- so often we are in fear of wearing them out. Even my six year old brother is hooked! He sings the songs in the bath at night- some nights he gets so loud that we worry about our neighbours!" (Skye T., 17yrs, Townsville, QLD, Feb 1997)
"I don't often write to people spontaneously. On Saturday evening I attended a performance of 'Good Morning Good People!' Over the years I have become a little familiar with the odd oratorio. I have listened to a little bit of Heddle Nash and the odd bit of Peter Dawson, Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker, John Shirley Quirk et al and some of the less or more unheard people. The more established Messiah, Elijah, Judas Maccabeus, Christ on The Mount Of Olives and perhaps The Dream Of Gerontius stand out among others. Today they are all joined by new people and a new oratorio. What you put on, on Saturday evening was nothing less than superb." (Maurie O'S.)
"Good Morning Good People tells the story of Francis in an authentic and inspiring manner, and for me it was a spiritual experience. Peter Kearney has immersed himself in the life of Francis and captured the essence of Franciscan spirituality. His lyrics reflect his depth of understanding and spiritual insight." (Pina SFO)
"I value the way it cuts through all the sentimentality about Francis that seems to have accumulated over the centuries. It is like seeing through to the person, Francis, with all his disturbing, challenging and vulnerable faces. There is so much here that is refreshing and inspiring."(Joan Saboisky)
"It was well worth the drive from Armidale to see GMGP. You all did a wonderful performance, it must have been a great community building experience. It was unusual having the mood of the story coming through the instruments and voices rather than the kind of over-stimulating entertainments of today. I really remember the eerie sounds of the recorders speaking of Francis' experience in the cave. I found the whole performance more engaging because more of my senses were involved in taking it in, rather than the usual emphasis on the visual." (Kate B.)
"I'm not what you'd call a religious person ( my last contact with lives of the saints was 35 years ago in Primary School) but I saw your entire show and found it very moving, as well as superbly cast and excellently staged." (Simon Kravis, Program Co-ordinator, National Folk Festival, Canberra)