• Giles Swayne
  • The song of the Tortoise (1992)

  • Novello & Co Ltd (World)

Commissioned by the Bournmouth Sinfonietta

  • 1(pic).1.1+bcl+asx.1(cbn)/1110/perc/hp/str(
  • SATB, children’s choir
  • narrator
  • 35 min
  • Giles Swayne
  • English

Programme Note

The Song of the Tortoise was written between March and August 1992. The text is mine, but is based on a story written by my wife, which in turn I based on Ghanian folk tale. Like most African stories, it has a moral purpose; in this case, to illustrate the Twi proverb "Trouble doesn't look for man - it's man who looks for trouble". The meaning of which, simply, is that man's strength - his energy and intelligence - is also his weakness, since it makes him arrogant - or, as they say in these parts, "to know". Since it is these very qualities which now endanger our poor old earth, the proverb seems rather apt.

A Green lecture however is not my aim. The Song of the Tortoise is a story set to music, but it is subtitled 'A Cautionary Tale'. Logoligi is an unsavoury character who bangs, boozes and beats his wife. If he lived in Britain he would probably vote National Front, push firebombs through brown-skinned people's letterboxes and relish a bittabovver at football matches. Perchance, I exaggerate. At any rate, for whatever reason, Logoligi has a low self-esteem and even lower reputation. Fate presents him with a chance to make good, and he is so excited that he fails to notice that he is being tested, and is consequently found wanting. At the same time, the authorities who condemn him to death, do so quite unjustly, and on the basis of prejudice and malice; they too are tested and found wanting. The only winner is the tortoise which, needless to say, is not how it would be in real-life but this is 'A Cautionary Tale' after all.

The Song of the Tortoise was commissioned by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. It lasts around 35 minutes, and is scored for narrator, choir, children's voice, recorders, a small group of child percussion players, orchestra and (near the end) the audience, who will join in with the words "This is the song of the tortoise taught us…."

© Giles Swayne
Accra, Ghana,
October 1992