While most people love the feel of opening up a brand new book or magazine, or being the first to see a photograph "hot off the camera", what I love most about the NLA's collections are the "pre-owned" items that we've acquired. If only they could speak, imagine the stories they could tell about where they have been, the hands they have passed through, the impact they've had on thoughts and lives. In fact, sometimes it's the little bits and pieces that might be written in, or accompany an item that add unexpected colour and context. Recently we were fortunate to receive a donation of an original handwritten piece of music titled "Grey Foreshore", composed by Miriam Hyde and with a dedication "To Florence and Lynda Simpson" at the top of the score.
While this was lovely personal touch, you might wonder who Florence and Lynda were, why Miriam dedicated this piece to them, and what it was about. Well, a charming letter that was included with the donated music reveals all! This was a real treasure, as the letter was from Miriam Hyde herself. In addition to describing how busy she had been with some family matters she thanked Florence and Lynda for their Christmas card and explained that the beach scene on the card had inspired her to write this piece of music which she was sending to them. Miriam then goes on to describe how different sections of the music are intended to evoke various aspects of the scene on the card. She says in part: "I was much taken with the atmosphere of that charming sea-scape on your card...... I have at last managed to complete 'Grey Foreshore' and I offer it to you both with my love. Like a dressmaker who has completed a garment, I enclose the 'scraps' in case it is of any interest to you to see a few of the processes that preceded the finished article. It is a modest little piece, unlikely I think to interest any publisher. The sea is subdued under a cloudy sky. The first change to 4 flats might suggest the warmer tones of golden sand and brown earth at the cliff’s base. From the ‘mf’‘ on page 2 there is a bigger amplitude ; one's thoughts go out to the ocean's depth and the romance of a passing ship (though there is not one in the picture!). The new figure in 4ths, page 3, is associated in my mind with the gentle pattern of waves in that quiet inlet in the foreground. As I have conveyed in the manuscript, the closing section brings to us the lonely call of birds ; and in the closing bars we combine a reminiscence of the opening harmony with a pattern of parallel 4ths. The card is still standing on my desk and I thank you both for the thoughts it has brought me."
Miriam's rather self-deprecating comment that she doesn't think it will be of interest to any music publisher proved to be quite wrong, as it has been published, and you can even hear a little audio sample from a CD titled The Ring of New Bells, played by John Martin. Makes me want to buy this CD to hear the piece in full (how I wish I could play the piano myself!) and imagine the grey skies, the golden sands, the pull of the ocean and the crying of seabirds as Miriam intended. And just to bring the story full circle, the Library also holds a lovely thoughtful portrait of Miriam Hyde painted by Clif Peir in 1957, just a year after she composed Grey Foreshore.