The Divine Paradox (of Human Beings in Paradise ) by Andy Sheppard

Divine Paradox By Andy SheppardPhoto by Sara Da Costa

A composition for massed community choirs, saxophone, percussion/electronics and double bass by the composer/saxophonist Andy Sheppard in conjunction with Gathering Voices, Gurt Lush and St Joseph’s Primary School with guest soloists.

The piece is in seven parts and reflects upon the human condition and potentially devastating effects human society is having on planet Earth. The libretto draws on various observations and speeches made by Frank Lloyd Wright, Martin Luther King and Vandana Shiva with quotes from the books of Genesis and Revelations, T S Elliot’s ‘The Wasteland’ and John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. There are also words and ideas developed in workshops with the pupils of local schools.

Divine Paradox is a vibrant thought-provoking voyage through melody, groove and improvisation; both disturbing and uplifting, pessimistic and optimistic – a beautiful musical journey for ears, hearts and minds….

The performance will take place on the 13th of October at St George’s Bristol one of the country’s leading concert halls. It boasts a superb acoustic and unique atmosphere.

The Divine Paradox is funded by Bristol 2015.

Book your tickets HERE                                            images-1images

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 Interview with Andy Sheppard about his Bristol Green Capital 2015 commission in partnership with Gathering Voices.


Q: What was the main source of inspiration and core ideas behind the making of The Divine Paradox?

AS: I started to write this piece specifically for a large community choir, I guess the title Divine Paradox (of Human Beings in Paradise) gives a good indication of the content of the libretto. I was interested initially in just writing music but then I realized I had to write words, people need words to sing. But then the words became very important in this piece, especially because of the connection with Bristol Green Capital… I felt it was an opportunity for me to make an observation on my understanding of the state of the “Arc” that we are all floating in or sinking in…

Q: Any reason why you’ve chosen to write a choir piece in particular for this project?

AS: I had several ideas that I put forward, as projects to do with Bristol Green Capital but the one that seem to get everyone excited about, was this idea of a large massed community choir. I have a track record for doing this kind of work, I created a piece before called Glossolalia also for massed choir which was performed nationally and internationally, so I kind of have experience and it seems to be a great way to get so many people involved, you don’t have to play an instrument you just have to bring along your voice… There is a big tradition of choirs in Bristol and I managed to hook up with Gathering Voices who have the resources and the structure to make this kind of project work.

Q: Tell us a bit more about the structure of the piece and especially the choice of titles.

AS: The piece is composed for massed choir, percussion & electronics (various samples of speeches and several other things…) double bass and of course saxophone.

It’s in seven parts and it starts with Genesis, Adam and Eve – which I’ve called A&E, accident and emergency… So we start in Paradise and I’ve used the story about Adam and Even getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden and then each piece is an observation of what has happened since then. The social system that we as Human Beings have created in order to live on this Planet, which is so unique and maybe out of step with nature. This same system that we are all governed by now, particularly in the West, is causing a lot of problems… It is a kind of naïve commentary but nevertheless there are a lot of truths.

The second part is called March of the Mud Men, which is about the relentless march… The Industrial Revolution, the march of Progress… The so called Progress…

Then we sweep into the Stock Exchange, for the third piece called International Mothers, which doesn’t need much qualifying, it’s a very often used American slang (laughter), a direct reference to the IMF and the banks…The whole system and what it’s doing to the world. The world economy, globalization, etc etc… How this reflects on the environment, which is of course what this piece is all about. It’s about how do we address these issues and start building a future, rather than building a future of doom … building a future of optimism …  So we had the March of the Mud Men and the International Mothers and of course the obvious consequences of what we as Human Beings are doing to the Planet is in the next piece which is called Death of a Butterfly, which gives an example… The words include many of the names of recently extinct butterflies and about to be extinct species of butterflies. It talks about the effects of what we do and its impact on other life forms. It is a very poignant moment in the piece – butterflies have a beautiful life (doesn’t start off too great but…) when they get to fly… So many other animals and flora are being strangled by Human activity …this piece is highlighting how sad that is.

But I think we have a choice and a voice, the next piece is called Dream Cycles, which will feature a very special surprise entry from a wonderful singer. It is talking about having a Dream of what we can do to turn things around and it’s the obvious reference to recycling and having a dream of change and what we can do to set a better future for all of us.

Then we go to Revelation (part 6), which is another Biblical episode of apocalyptic proportions, a very difficult piece to sing I gather, and it does go completely into an area of darkness, highlighting how we are getting ourselves into serious trouble as Human Beings, if we don’t take some steps to achieve a change of direction. Reflecting about what we are doing to this planet and the paradox of us being in Paradise and screwing it all up…potentially.

At the end we need optimism, we need a future…The last piece is really uplifting I got kids from a local school to write words for it… because it’s their future!


Q: You’ve mentioned earlier there was spoken word in the form of sampled speeches and electronic elements, for which you have invited the Italian musician Michele Rabbia.

The piece is punctuated by episodes of electronica and percussion, saxophone and also excerpts from speeches by Frank Lloyd Wright, M.L King and Vendana Shiva these are all relevant commentaries… Frank Loyd Right was an incredible visionary… He always spoke about the Nature of things, the educational system, which needs to get back to nurturing people in their relationship with Nature and its fundamental values… What is it that we are? And what we think we are? Until we finally start thinking about Nature, we are really driving down a dead end…His views are really interesting and it’s great to have these speeches as part of the piece. The percussionist Michele Rabbia uses laptops and samples so he will fly in several elements at appropriate moments as written in the score. Martin Luther King is talking about The Dream, I am just using the analogy of “I have a dream”, and how we can change the course of things, and stop this kind of crazy runway activity… The train is kind of running away…the bomb is ticking…But we can put the breaks on, we can turn things around… It’s good to have a dream.

Also Shiva talking about what else is happening in the world with GMO crops and seed patenting, and it’s all about how things are really getting out of hand. I think it’s a comment on global businesses and the global drive for profit, it’s not an evangelical crusade here but if you want to write a piece that is commissioned by Bristol Green Capital then really… I want it to be fun, I want it to be beautiful, to be exciting and fulfilling but I also want it to be thought provoking.

Q: What are the next steps for the Divine Paradox and what does it mean to you to be part of Bristol Green Capital?

AS: This is a mega work and I think the choirs are now starting to rehearse the music, I have to prepare the percussionist and my parts and we will gradually over time marry all these things together through rehearsals. I am envisaging a stellar performance that people will come away from having been poked and uplifted – both the audience and the choir! I want this piece to continue to be performed again and again, to be a legacy of the issues we are talking about here…What better thing to illustrate the need of healing than music? Music is the greatest healing power. The drawing together of so many people in one piece – it is all part of the process. We know what the world needs.

I think everyone, within their field, can do things to make society better. My job – I’m a musician – and I think culture is an intrinsic part of any process of conscience revolution. It is such an important part of what it is to be Human and when culture is flourishing, there’s communication, there’s aspiration, there’s hope… It is not just about “making a buck” is about sharing experiences… It is about the Joy of Human Beings in Paradise, It’s not about the Paradox of Human Beings in Paradise…So you know… everyone in whatever you do…You can all turn something that you do into a positive. It’s great that Bristol is the Green Capital – I think everywhere should be a Green Capital…



Andy Sheppard and Hannah Klewin (Gathering Voices) at St Joseph’s Primary School developing the libretto for Part 7 with the pupils.