Mayflower Choral Commission

Date published: 16 September 2020
Mayflower Ship

David Fawcett – Cantata: A sure refuge

Composer David Fawcett has written ‘A Sure Refuge’, a major new 50 minute cantata reflecting on the Pilgrims’ story and its resonance today. David, a former student at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Gainsborough and Head Chorister and Organ Scholar at All Saints’ Parish Church, is also a choral director and professional musician. His work will be performed in the town next year.

This piece of work was commissioned by West Lindsey District Council supported by funding from Arts Council England.

David talks about his work on ‘A Sure Refuge’ below:

Having spent most of my formative years in Gainsborough, I was fascinated to learn more about the town’s role in the history of the pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower, and I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the Mayflower400 commemorations by writing a major new choral work to be performed in the town.

My first challenge in creating this 50-minute work was to devise a structure, by assembling texts which could be set to music. I turned to two main sources – William Bradford’s contemporary account of the story of the Separatists who sought refuge from persecution first in Holland and then in New England, and the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament.

It was clear from Bradford that the Psalms played a central role in the expression of the Separatists’ faith and life, and I knew the Psalms well (from my time as a chorister at Gainsborough Parish Church) as a rich collection of prayers, teaching and commentary on the human condition. I selected text from many Psalms, to illustrate different aspects of the Separatists’ beliefs, life and history – including their life of prayer, how they were persecuted, their experience as refugees, the storms they endured at sea, their sense of deliverance – to create a structure of choral movements, adding drama to the interspersed recitative narratives which drew on Bradford’s writing.

I was keen that my cantata should not simply relate a historical event, but should tell a story with significance for our own time. Examples of persecution, displacement, flight, alienation and refuge are never far from our daily news, and my work seeks to relate the Separatists’ experience, and our response to it, to what is happening all over the world today, including on our own shores.

The variety of the text selected from the Psalms’ has allowed me to create piece of musical contrasts between the various choral movements – the calm meditation of Song of prayerfulness, the sense of violent pursuit in the Song of persecution, the unsettled wandering through unfamiliar places in the Song of alienation, the violent storm of the Song of perseverance, and so on. In telling the story, therefore, I hope I have created a work which has musical direction and integrity in itself – making its own journey through faith and adversity to deliverance and thanksgiving.

Although the first performance of the work has had to be delayed because of COVID-19 restrictions, by the wonders of technology it is possible to sample movements ‘performed’ digitally by synthesised orchestra and singers. Visit to listen to samples, and to read more about my cantata.

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