The Story of the Snow Goose

Music by Camel, based on The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico.

The Great Marsh starts with bird sounds and softly the music sets in. In the background there is the repeating sound of female vocals and occasionally there is the highlighting of a guitar. Then the pressure goes up, the drums enter and it becomes a coherent setting for the story to take place.

…the ocean cut through the sodden land that seems to rise and fall and breathe with the recurrence of the the daily tides. It is desolate, utterly lonely, and made lonelier by the calls and cries of the wildfowl that make their homes in the marshlands and saltings …

Part 1
Rhayader is the introduction of the main character. His introduction is rather sensitive with the sound of a flute, but soon gets a firm grounding with the drums and keyboard, while the tambourine gives it a light and dancing touch. And it ends again with the sensitive flute in a repeating rhythm.

…his heart was filled with pity and understanding. He mastered his handicap, but he could not master the rebuffs he suffered, due to his appearance. The thing that drove him into seclusion was his failure to find anywhere a return of the warmth that flowed from him…

But then, with the start of Rhayader goes to town, there is a remarkable change. The drums make a determined statement and the guitar comes in very strong.

…he was twenty-seven when he came to the Great Marsh. He had travelled much and fought valiantly before he made the decision to withdraw from a world in which he could not take part as other men. For all the artist’s sensitivity and woman’s tenderness locked in his barrel breast, he was very much a man…

This is made very clear by the drums, keyboard and guitars, while they express the powerful spirit of Rhayader. Then the music changes again and while still holding this power, it starts to move. It sounds like a strong and determined walk as he goes to town. But in that movement he looses his power bit by bit, and takes him out of his centre.

And so he returns to his sanctuary, which he build for the birds but which he needs himself just as much. The story describes that he has a safe place for all hunted creatures.

… this made Rhayader happy, because he knew that implanted somewhere in their beings was the germ knowledge, of his existence and his safe haven, that this knowledge had become a part of them and, with the coming of the grey skies and the winds from the north, would send them unerringly back to him…

Sanctuary is a very balanced guitar piece, the plucking of the strings that give a basic ground and the space to express the guitar.

So in this self created sanctuary, where he can embody his spirit by developing his skills of painting and managing his boat, he, one day gets a visitor, and Fritha enters.

… desperately frightened of the ugly man she had come to see, for legend had already begun to gather about Rhayader, and the native wild-fowlers hated him for interfering with their sport. But greater than her fear was the need of that which she bore. For locked in her child’s heart was the knowledge, picked up somewhere in the swamp-land, that this ogre who lived in the lighthouse had magic that could heal injured things. She had never seen Rhayader before and was close to fleeing in panic at the dark apparition that appeared at the studio door…

This is expressed by the music which gives the feeling of something that will disappear with the slightest movement.

And then there is another change as The Snow Goose starts and the guitar is showing it’s most amazing moves.

…he told her the most wonderful story. The bird was a young one, no more than a year old. She was born in a northern land far, far across the seas, a land belonging to England. Flying to the south to escape the snow and ice and bitter cold, a great storm had seized her and whirled and buffeted her about. It was a truly terrible storm, stronger than her great wings, stronger than anything. For days and nights it held her in its grip and there was nothing she could do but fly before it. When finally it had blown itself out and her sure instincts took her south again, she was over a different land and surrounded by strange birds that she had never seen before. At last, exhausted by her ordeal, she had sunk to rest in a friendly green marsh, only to be met by the blast from the hunter’s gun. A bitter reception for a visiting princess, concluded Rhayader. We will call her La Princesse Perdue, the lost princess…

Part 2
This is the part that bears the essence of the story, but it is the part that is least played in live concerts. There are probably several reasons for that, like the use of wind instruments (Friendship) the non lyric-vocals (Migration) and the use of female voices (Preparation), which are not the regular ingredients of a rock band. And also does this part not so much have the brilliant and active guitar performances that are present in part one (Rhayader goes to town and The Snow Goose) and in part three (Dunkirk and La Princesse Perdue).

This part is much more like the Adagio in a classical symphony. It is more contemplative, the phase of reception instead of action. Part one and three are the active parts, part one in the way of a creative self-expression and part three expressing developed talents for the sake of a bigger whole.

But here, in part two, there is the need of another person, the other who reflects, but who also makes aware of the connection with the world again.

With Friendship there is a feeling of getting to know each other, which is reflected by the wind instruments that show the exchange of energy.

…they sailed together in his speedy boat, that he handled so skillfully. They caught wildfowl for the ever-increasing colony, and build new pens and enclosure for them. From him she learned the lore of every wild bird, from gull to gyrfalcon, that flew the marshes. She cooked for him sometimes, and even learned to mix his paints…

Then Migration very much gives the feeling of nature runs its course. The non lyric vocals make it sound rather unaware and just following the natural instinctive circle of life.

With Rhayader alone there is the feeling of accepting and sadness with the soft keyboard and sensitive guitar expressing his loneliness.

…and Rhayader was heartbroken. All things seemed to have ended for him. He painted furiously through the winter and the next summer, and never once saw the child…

Here arises the awareness for Rhayader in Flight of the Snow Goose and the reconnection with his soul is expressed by the sound of water and female vocals in Preparation.

But at the same time this moment brings fear for Fritha, because she does not understand the power yet.

… and Fritha was suddenly conscious of the fact that she was frightened, and the things that frightened her were in Rhayader’s eyes – the longing and the loneliness and the deep, welling, unspoken things that lay in and behind them as he turned them upon her. His last words were repeating themselves in her head as though he had said them again: this is her home now – of her own free will. The delicate tendrils of her instincts reached to him and carried to her the message of the unspoken things between them. The woman in her bade her take flight from something that she was not yet capable of understanding…

Part 3
Part three starts with action again, but the difference with part one is that the action is conscious now. It is the action that is the result of the realisation of having a free will. A will to choose which direction to move the power. Not to let it be a destructive or dominating force, but to use it in a serving way. This awareness came over him while he watched the snow goose return.

And so he decides to act and use his developed sailing skills to save as many men as he can in the battle at Dunkirk. It came upon him in excitement, but as he sees the fear in Fritha’s eyes, he explains it to her so she can understand his desire to fulfil his mission.

…they are lost and stormdriven and harried, like the Princesse Perdue you found and brought to me out of the marches many years ago, and we healed her. They need help, my dear, as our wild creatures have needed help, and that is why I must go. It is something that I can do. Yes, I can. For once – for once I can be a man and play my part…

This is beautiful expressed in Dunkirk, which starts off as a very determined active ongoing movement, which gives the feeling of something inevitable to happen. And now the strong spirit of Rhayader is capable of acting but also reacting within the same movement. During the battle he can stay in his own power, and at the same time do what is needed. And it only increases the power. This is brilliantly shown by the guitar and drums near the end.

He can immediately react upon what happens and save many lives. And with the snow goose flying above his boat it becomes an impressive story, to be told by many.

But Rhayader will never return, as he dies in the battle.

…when we turned our attention to the derelict again, the boat was gone. Sunk. Concussion, you know. Chap with her. He must have been lashed to her. The bird had gone up and was circling. Three times, like a plane saluting. Dashed queer feeling. Then she flew off to the west…

In Epitaph the feeling returns as in ‘Preparation’ but now as a memory for the heroic act of Rhayader. Who just followed his strong drive to act in the knowledge of a world beyond his individual being.

In the meantime Fritha is waiting, roaming through the lighthouse. This is translated with a silent piano tune Fritha alone.

… she found the picture that Rhayader had painted of her from memory so many years ago, when she was still a child, and had stood, windblown and timid, at his threshold, hugging and injured bird to her. The picture and the things she saw in it, stirred her as nothing ever had before, for much of Rhayader’s soul had gone into it…

But deep within, she knows that she will never see him again, and becomes aware of her love for him as she watches the snow goose fly.

…the sight, the sound, and the solitude surrounding broke the dam within her and released the surging, overwhelming truth of her love, let it well forth in tears. Wild spirit called to wild spirit, and she seemed to be flying with the great bird, soaring with it in the evening sky and hearkening to Rhayader’s message. Sky and earth were trembling with it and filled her beyond the bearing of it…

La Princesse Perdue which, after a while, reminds of ‘The Snow Goose’, is a very melancholic goodbye on the guitar and a coming together of two souls.

…watching it, Fritha saw no longer the snow goose but the soul of Rhayader taking farewell of her before departing for ever…

Finally the lighthouse is blown away by accident and the sea has taken over again, shown at the end in The Great Marsh.

…the sea had moved in through the breached walls and covered it over. Nothing was left to break the utter desolation. No marsh fowl had dared to return. Only the frightless gulls wheeled and soared and mewed their plaint over the place where it had been…

[youtube=]On this Youtube video, with excerpts of the Snow Goose, it is just so very amazing to watch Camel play.

You can see, hear and feel the soul of the story in the first piece The Snow Goose, then the transition to the classical wind instruments that perform Friendship, and finally the expression of Rhayaders powerful spirit that gets off centre in Rhayader goes to town.

Well anyway, that is how I perceive the music and the story…


1 comment

  1. There is a brilliant serialisation of The Snow Goose which pops up from time to time on BBC Radio 4Xtra (Freeview Channel 708).

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