So, I was researching the Therigatha on Pinterest the other day, as one does, and came across this odd pin. It was for a page on a New Zealand online store for an album entitled Ronald Corp: Songs of the Elder Sisters. From the description:
Following on from his critically-acclaimed recording “Dhammapada”, Ronald Corp has again collaborated with writer Francis Booth for his SETTINGS OF BUDDHIST TEXTS, this time taken from the Therigatha. These words, written around 2,500 years ago, are not only some of the earliest extant poems by women, but also the only canonical work in any religion written entirely by women. The original authors were Buddhist nuns, and the texts have been newly translated by Booth for this recording. Corp’s settings are beautiful and spiritual, capturing the essence of this Eastern religion’s words in his own Western musical voice. As a Church of England priest, Corp’s choice of text is interesting, powerful and important – a simple gesture of alliance in a World torn by division.
This is beautiful music that will enchant and calm the soul.
Release date 2013
Yes, there has been an album of Therigatha poems set to music floating around the interwebs for the last seven years. And shock uppon shock, they are actually translations. No, like Translation translations! Like, actually follow the Pali real translation translations. Sad that we have to qualify that, but here we are.
[And for the record, that appears to be Mr. Francis Booth.]
Turns out that the translation itself dates from 2011. So why haven’t we heard about it? Well, it was only self published. And it’s only made it to #30,503 on Amazon’s list of Inspirational & Religious Poetry Books (unlike another “translation” which has made it all the way to #140)
His selections from the Therigatha are also published in the book Dhammapada, Songs of the Elder Sisters and Sakuntala: translations from Pali and Sanskrit
from the interview:
You are also a translator. Songs of the Elder Sisters was a translation from Pali. Can you say a little about this book? Where were you when you translated it? How did it come about?
My first translations were done as libretti (see In the Grove) for a classical composer friend, Ronald Corp OBE . We started with Dhammapada, my translations of the Buddha’s words, which Ron set as an acapella choral work. Then I discovered these beautiful but unknown poems in Pali by nuns who followed the Buddha 500 years ago The poems are very personal and moving; about the experience of being a mature woman in society; Ron’s music is beautiful too.
From the liner notes:
I’m guessing the two translations he is referring to are those by CAF Rhys DAvids and KR Norman. But it’s odd that he doesn’t recognize the Davids translation as being in verse. I mean, if those aren’t in verse, I don’t know what are.
Quite generously, the text (lyrics?) can be downloaded for free.
The texts are strongly meditative, evoking the calm and poise of those who wrote them. Corp has expertly matched this in music, and by craving for variety, greater characterisation and even drama one is no doubt missing the point. This is music that will work well late at night with the lights down. The five performers certainly seem convinced by it. (Gramophone)
Sela’s song from Ronald Corp settings of Buddhist texts “Songs of the Elder Sisters” (Stone Records 5060192780369) featuring Samuel Evans (baritone), Sarah Castle (mezzo-soprano), Jill Carter (alto flute), Sarah Thurlow (clarinet) & Rachel Bolt (viola). The words are taken from the Therigatha (writings by Buddhist nuns from c. 6th century BCE), translated by Francis Booth.
Songs on YouTube with lyrics
- Vasitthi’s Song from Songs of the Elder Sisters
- Vimala’s Song from Songs of the Elder Sisters
- Sela’s Song from Songs of the Elder Sisters
On the composer’s website: ronaldcorp.co.uk/songs-of-the-elder-sisters/
Then, apparently, someone thought, “Why stop with singing them? Let’s dance to them as well!”
‘Songs of the Elder Sisters’ are a collection of meditative poems written in the wisdom of old age, by the nuns who lived and travelled with the Buddha 2,500 years ago and are the earliest known female canonical writings. The ballet follows the story of an older nun, Ambapali, and her three protégées Sela, Khema and Uppalavana. Ambapali passes on her knowledge to the younger nuns before they embark on a pilgrimage. They are able to use the wisdom they’ve learnt from Ambapali to ward off Mara the Tempter whom they encounter on their journey. The poems have been translated by Francis Booth from the Buddhist Pali canon, and set by Ronald Corp for singers, flute, viola and clarinet.
Choreography: Paul Chantry Lighting design: Owain Davies
Chantry Dance Company perform in Ronald Corp’s and Francis Booth’s ‘Songs of the Elder Sisters’ at The Village Underground, January 2013.
Choreography: Paul Chantry
Composer: Ronald Corp OBE
Translator: Francis Booth
Ambapali - Gail Gordon
Sela - Emma Cole
Khema - Chandelle Allen
Uppalavana - Rae Piper
Seems that the Dhammapada was where the translator got his start, as so many do.
I do also want to mention, for those not familiar with Sinhala Buddhist culture, that the idea that these verses are “songs” is quite odd. In Sri Lanka, at least, there is a very clear delineation between Pali verses (gatha), poetry that is recited (kavi) and songs (geetha). So the idea that these are songs, as sung on the recordings here, is quite strange to me.
[BTW, if you are a pinner interested in the Therigatha, Therigatha.org’s page is made for you.]
Oh, and if any of you have known about all this for the last seven years and have been keeping it to yourself… Why?