The Kist Bride (Abbotsford) – An uncanny new Border ballad

‘The Kist Bride’ is a song commissioned for Borders Heritage Festival/Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Composer: Suzanne Parry John. Lyricist: Jules Horne.

 At Sir Walter Scott’s house in the Borders, Abbotsford, there’s an oak chest (kist) in the hall. The story is that a young bride was shut in there on her wedding night, and tragically found several years later.

We wanted to give this unfortunate girl a voice. The lyrics tell of her clambering inside the kist, the excitement and hopes of the wedding, and her growing despair as realisation of her plight dawns.

I couldn’t bear to leave the bride like this, and wrote a coda in which she rails at Scott for putting her inside such a disempowering story. However, Suzanne, with her operatic instincts, felt it best to end when the breath runs out. In performance, it was a heart-stopping moment, beautifully and harrowingly poised by Hannah Rarity and the SCO musicians. I imagine the bride still there, poised forever between life and death.

I have also performed this with cello at Stowed Out Festival, as a spoken word piece with music and atmospheric wood-knocking.

/Jules Horne

You can listen to this beautiful piece here, Below are the complete lyrics with coda:

SONG CYCLE

ABBOTSFORD – THE KIST BRIDE

1.

Ninety-seven… Ninety-eight… Ninety-nine… One hundred!

Coming, ready or not!

 

Quick! Hide!

I’ll clamber inside

This old oak kist

I’m lost.

A corridor

I’ve never seen before.

But they’ll come and find me.

 

Can hardly lift the lid

That thud

Will give the game away.

Will I be missed

Inside the kist?

 

The wedding’s much too loud

Pipers and canapes and crowds

Of relatives.

I’ll get a row

For this.

I’ll crush my dress.

‘What a mess’, she’ll say

(my mother)

‘At your age,

Clambering in kists.’

I don’t care.

It’s my day.

My wedding day.

Come and find me.

 

2.

Fifty-three… fifty-four… fifty-five…

I’ve never felt so alive

My heart magnified

My love magnified

Everything magnified

Inside the kist.

 

Tonight we’ll coorie

Like this in the dark

Say: hello, you.

Close.

New.

Come and find me.

 

3.

Thirty-one… thirty-two…

Where are you?

There’s not much air

In here.

The oak’s thick

The lid’s stuck

I’ll get a row.

Should I shout now?

Come and find me.

 

4.

Ten

Is this the end?

It can’t be.

Not me.

I’m a bride.

Everything ahead.

Loving, living

Making children.

Stopping them from clambering.

 

It can’t end like this

Without a fight

Come and find me!

Come and find me!

Find me!

Find me!

 

[However many repetitions needed to take the music [interlude?] from loud/desperate knocking to silence. It should end with ‘Find… (unfinished line’). Then a still mood:]

 

5.

Never felt so alone

Heart magnified

Dread magnified

Here and now and heat and dust is all there is

Me and the kist and my fingers.

Six

Breath

Five

Less

Four

Breath

Three

Less

Two

 

[Dramatic stillness. Death implied. Then pickup:]

 

6.

Sir Walter, I’ve a bone to pick with you.

Leaving me for dead in an airless kist.

A skeleton bride with moths in her mou

And eyeballs eaten by rats.

Well, I’ve news for you

I escaped

Kicked the lid

Clambered out

With a shout

I’m a bride

I’m alive

Story maker

Story faker

Wait till I find you.

I’ve a bone to pick

A punch to land

An arse to kick

And

My own mou

To set right

The story of my wedding night.

 

Jules Horne

21/06/2017

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