"haunting... emotional" (BBC Radio)

When Boston-based singer and composer Emily Lau embarked on her honeymoon cruise in January 2012, she had no idea that voyage would change her life forever. But just a few days after setting sail on the Costa Concordia, the ship ventured into shallow water off the coast of Italy and smashed into the rocks. After the captain abandoned ship and the lifeboats left the young couple behind to fend for themselves, they found a discarded rope and rappelled down the hull of the sinking ship, desperately hoping for rescue. For the next three hours, they would cling to that rope, wondered whether anyone would come for them at all.

This album of original compositions -- written by Lau in the year following the disaster -- provides the listener with a window into the couple's terrifying and surreal ordeal, each piece illuminating a different dimension of the disaster. Lau draws from her experience as an active touring classical musician to craft the haunting melodies and enlists a fantastic cast of collaborators to construct the vivid soundscape. Virtuosic vocal performances are supported by lush violin and harp accompaniment, while a mournful wind section of bassoons & bass dulcians recreates the slow relentless movement of the sea.

Grounded in medieval polyphony and colored with modern chromatic sonority, Lau develops a unique musical language and paints a series of vignettes, alternately depicting the seascape in turmoil and the hope of the survivors. With texts taken from a variety of eastern and western faith traditions, as well as the work of contemporary poets, Lau asks the listener to accompany her on a journey in search of truth and beauty in the aftermath of a tragedy.



Music of Emily Lau
Performed by Emily Lau, The Broken Consort, and friends

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Shipwreck Music (2012)

1. Ayúdame
2. I Wander, I Wonder
3. Fantasy of the Drowned Violin (Before)
4. Fantasy of the Drowned Violin (After)
5. Mediterraneo
6. Los Bilbilicos


A Mass (2012)

7. Kyrie 
8. Universal Prayer
9. I Believe
10. Sanctus
11. Agnus Dei

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Notes:

Ayúdame

Voice: Camila Parias (solo), Clare McNamara, and Emily Lau (The Broken Consort)
Bassoon: Elizabeth Hardy

Ayúdame is a piece written mostly as a love song to my dear friend and frequent collaborator Camila. Proud anger, pain, silence, and the difficulty of seeking help are the usual themes of some close friendships. In the aftermath of a life-changing disaster, these themes descend upon us with unprecidented intensity. Pablo Neruda's words could not have been more appropriate for the very difficult time that our friendship went through after the shipwreck, as I struggled to rebuild the intimacy of my dearest relationships.

Poem: El pozo, Pablo Neruda

A veces te hundes, caes 
en tu agujero de silencio, 
en tu abismo de cólera orgullosa, 
y apenas puedes 
volver, aún con jirones 
de lo que hallaste 
en la profundidad de tu existencia. 

Amor mío, qué encuentras en tu pozo cerrado? 
Algas, ciénagas, rocas? 
Qué ves con ojos ciegos, 
rencorosa y herida? 

Mi vida, no hallarás 
en el pozo en que caes 
lo que yo guardo para ti en la altura: 
un ramo de jazmines con rocío 
un beso más profundo que tu abismo. 

No me temas, no caigas 
en tu rencor de nuevo. 
Sacude la palabra mía que vino a herirte 
y déjala que vuele por la ventana abierta. 
Ella volverá a herirme 
sin que tú la dirijas 
puesto que fue cargada con un instante duro 
y ese instante será desarmado en mi pecho. 


Sonríeme radiosa 
si mi boca te hiere. 
No soy un pastor dulce 
como en los cuentos de hadas, 
sino un buen leñador que comparte contigo 
tierra, viento y espinas de los montes. 


Ámame, tú, sonríeme, 
ayúdame a ser bueno. 
No te hieras en mí, que será inútil, 
no me hieras a mí porque te hieres. 


The well 

At times you sink, you fall 
into your hole of silence, 
into your abyss of proud anger, 
and you can scarcely 
return, still bearing remnants 
of what you found 
in the depth of your existence.

My love, what do you find 
in your closed well? 
Seaweed, swamps, rocks? 
What do you see with blind eyes, 
bitter and wounded?

Darling, you will not find 
in the well into which you fall 
what I keep for you on the heights: 
a bouquet of dewy jasmines, 
a kiss deeper than your abyss.

Do not fear me, do not fall 
into your rancor again. 
Shake off my word that came to wound you 
and let it fly through the open window. 
It will return to wound me 
without your guiding it 
since it was laden with a harsh instant 
and that instant will be disarmed in my breast.

Smile at me radiant 
if my mouth wounds you. 
I am not a gentle shepherd 
like the ones in fairy tales, 
but a good woodsman who shares with you 
earth, wind, and mountain thorns.

Love me, you, smile at me, 
help me to be good. 
Do not wound yourself in me, for it will be useless, 
do not wound me because you wound yourself.

(All rights reserved by the Pablo Neruda Foundation)

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I Wander, I Wonder

Harp: Jessica Schaeffer
Voice: Emily Lau

One of the major themes of my PTSD was the temporary transformation of my personality from someone who was completely trusting and generally full of goodwill, to a much more suspicious and questioning person. I spent many-an-afternoon wandering around Boston, having these voices talking to me relentlessly. I came up with the words and tune of I wander, and I picked up the phone and invited my dear friend Jessica Schaeffer from CA to create this song with me. If you listen very carefully, you might realize that the harp ostinato in the first part is the opening motif and its retrograde of 13th century Latin hymn "Dies Ire" usually used as the sequence during the Requiem Mass in the Romantic Catholic Church. 

First line of text of Dies Ire:
"Dies Ire! Dies Illa….." 
(Day of wrath! that day…..)


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Fantasy of the Drowned Violin

Violin: James Dargan

As a musician, I believe that musical instruments have souls. Maybe not souls as we usually know it, but a soul nonetheless. An unique quality, an unique angle, an unique history, and of course, an unique willingness and ability to make certain kinds of music. 

Benji and I ventured into the Viennese ballroom to listen to classical music a couple of nights before the shipwreck. There was this quirky trio (violin, piano, and bass) who were performing some cheesy Viennese dances and broadway tunes. We had some wine and generally had a good time.

Two days after the sappy music and sweet wine, the Hungarian violinist's body was the first one to be discovered on board. He was believed to have saved the lives of several people before he went back to his cabin to retrieve his violin. He never came back.

I wanted to write him a song, but I wrote his violin a song instead. He (she?) must really have wanted to live a bit longer and make more music before forever soaking in the Mediterranean sea. 

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Mediterraneo

Voice: Glenn Billingsley
Bass Dulcian: Daniel Stillman, Elizabeth Hardy
Bassoon: Elizabeth Hardy
Recorder: Daniel Stillman

One of the first people whom I wanted to write music for was indeed Captain Schettino himself. Contrary to popular belief, I don't hate him. I think forgiveness is a lot easier than hatred. I heard that he suffered a complete mental breakdown. Now his wavering craziness is just a symptom of that. His life is practically over.

After many months of mulling over various possibilities, I ended up composing a piece of music in memory and support of all people who has made mistakes in our lives. The text was lifted from the poem Mediterraneo by famous Italian poet Eugenio Montale. The bass dulcians creates a sense of slow movement of the sea, and sound of the bassoon symbolizes the guilt and pain in his heart. The song is sung by a special man, bass-baritone Glenn Billingsley, whose singing inspired joy and hope in my life in the past three years. 


Excerpts from Eugenio Montale's Mediterraneo

Dissipa tu se lo vuoi
questa debole vita che si lagna,
come la spugna il frego
effimero di una lavagna.

M'attendo di ritornare nel tuo circolo,
s'adempia lo sbandato mio passare.

Disperse this frail, complaining life,
if so you wish; wipe the slate clean.

I hope to rest inside your circle once again;
my aimless wanderings are done.

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Los Bilbilicos 


Voice: Jessica Petrus, Emily Lau, Clare McNamara (The Broken Consort)

Sitting on the hull of the ship, we awaited rescue. It was noisy and chaotic at first, but it all soon faded into a strange silence. Cold, hunger, fear.... it was overwhelming. Strangely, I was able to step out of myself a few times and observe myself experiencing these emotions. It was peaceful. Every time I think back to that surreal moment, this beautiful Spanish/Sephardic tune comes swirling in my mind.

Los bilbilicos catan
con sospiros de amor 
Mi neshama mi ventura
Estan en tu poder

La rosa enflorece
La rosa no florece en el mes de enero
Mi neshama s'escurese.
sufriendo del amor

Mas presto ven palomba
Mas presto ven con mi
Mas presto ven querida,
corre y salve me!

The nightingales sing
with sighs of love
My soul and my fate
are in your power

The rose does not bloom in the month of January
My soul and fate 
suffer from love's pain

Come more quickly, dove
More quickly come with me
More quickly come, beloved
Run and save me

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A Mass

I started writing this mass during my graduate school days while taking a composition class. I wrote three movements, Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus to complement late medieval composer Johannes Ciconia's Gloria and Credo. The five movements together complete the mass ordinary from the typical Catholic liturgy.

Since this recording is a personal expression instead of a graduate school project or an entry to a competition, I am taking some liberty regarding my treatment of "the mass". By chance and serendipity, I have been affiliated with religious entities my entire life, particularly the Christian faith. (Kindergarten: Protestant; elementary school: Roman Catholic; High School: Protestant; job during college: Episcopalian and Jewish; job after college: Anglo Catholic and now, all sorts of denominations), although neither one of my parents are religious! I have come to enjoy and admire the musical and artistic tradition of the Christian church. It is indeed an inseparable part of my personal and musical identity. 

After the shipwreck, I revised the original scores and replaced Ciconia's movements with my own: I believe, and the Universal Prayer. I believe is self-explanatory. It is written like a Gregorian chant, as a proclamation of things and I now know I believe and am brave enough to admit.

I found the text of the Universal Prayer from an ancient Sanskrit source. Its non-dogmatic uplifting quality echoes with my personal philosophy. I must admit that the temptation was to listen to recordings with this particular mantra, but I wanted to create something that transcend the boundaries of the text and the music that generally comes with it. I have decided to write an American Revolution style (think Billings) harmony to go with it. Oh, and my love of linear, medieval style writing. Suddenly a variety of elements were fused together and a new piece was created.

My mom, who didn't know anything about the language or background of this piece, said to me "oh! It sounds like something I'd do yoga to." 

Yes mom. You got it.

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Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei performed by Emily Lau (voice) and James Dargan (violin)

Universal Prayer performed by Clare McNamara, James Dargan, and Emily Lau (voice)

I Believe co-written and performed by Jessica Schaeffer (harp), James Dargan (violin), and Emily Lau (voice)


Kyrie

Kyrie eleison
Christe eleison
Kyrie eleison

Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy


Universal Prayer

सर्वेषां स्वस्ति भवतु । सर्वेषां शान्तिर्भवतु ।
सर्वेषां पूर्नं भवतु । सर्वेषां मड्गलं भवतु ॥
सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः। सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः।
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु। मा कश्चित् दुःख भाग्भवेत्॥

May good befall all,
May there be peace for all
May all be fit for perfection,
May all experience that which is auspicious.
Om, May all be happy. May all be healthy.
May we all experience what is good and let no one suffer. 


I Believe (Credo)

I believe in the warmth of sunshine
I believe in the cooling rain
I believe in the dance of the whirlwinds
I believe in the beauty of the world

I believe in returning to the simple
I believe in peace
I believe that we are brothers and sisters
I believe in the goodwill of friends

I believe in asking questions
I believe in the journey
I believe that sometimes bad things happen to good people
And most of all,
I believe that there are more shades than two

I believe that the currency of love is time
I believe that you can find joy in patience
I believe that we can share ourselves
from the outmost to the inmost parts

I believe that a soul is not an object
it might be a journey
traveling
traveling through

I believe that people who hate puppies are monsters
I believe in the wagging of a tail
I believe that though there are many languages 
the universal one is love


Sanctus

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.


Agnus Dei

Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takest the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takest the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takest the sins of the world, grant us thy peace.


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Singers: Glenn Billingsley, James Dargan, Emily Lau, Camila Parias, Jessica Petrus, Clare McNamara Harp: Jessica Schaeffer 
Violin: James Dargan 
Bass Dulcian: Daniel Stillman, Elizabeth Hardy
Recorder: Daniel Stillman

Co-writing credit: Jessica Schaeffer and James Dargan (I believe & I Wander, I Wonder)
Recording engineer: Matt Beaudoin 
Recording studio: QDivision Studio
Sanskrit coach: Rob Dobson
Graphic Designer: Sarah Jensen
Producer: Emily Lau

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