Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Composer
The sound of the suburbs
It’s the sounds I remember best.
The raggedy flower girls shouting, ‘Bunch o’ Posies, luv?’ Hawkers barking, street dogs growling, furnaces’ sizzling, scalding breath – whoosh, the heat a warning shot straight from hell. Smoke from chimneys fizzing, hissing, blackening my clean young lungs.
A bustling station, people shouting, always shouting. Whistles at different pitches. The conductor’s shrill and urgent, the train, mournful somehow, strikes a chord and resonates deeply.
Croydon. The suburbs. Factory sounds, metallic, modern. The voices of the other urban refugees, ‘Hey Coaley, did ya’ miss the boat back home, brown boy?’
People tussle my frizzy hair. I’m a novelty, an exotic creature. At their touch a sound poem forms in my mind… I make a leap, away from my basic but cosy home out into a wide-open space, far away, a horizon without end – America!
I think of Hiawatha’s Wedding. I hear a harp, the sound of a hollowed-out canoe gliding through clear cold water. The double bass, the tentative tread of silent feet, tiptoeing round the campfire in the dead of night.
I take solace in spirituals like Deep River, its melancholy strain flows naturally. I’m in my small drawing room now, sat at the piano in the half-light just before dusk falls. The notes come easily, it’s an old song, but now it’s my song. I dip my pen in ink, scratch out the score on the lined sheet in front of me, the black notes transform the page into something new, something to cherish, something I hope will last.