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Chants (2023)

for solo soprano, clarinet | 00:14:30

by Melissa Dunphy | text by Rosaleen Norton

Commissioned by Whistling Hens with the sponsorship of Wesley Green. "Thank you, Wes, for your belief in Whistling Hens' mission, your dedication to new music, and your support of women composers. Thank you for championing this commission."

Rosaleen "Roie" Norton (1917-1979) was an artist, poet, and Witch who lived in Sydney, Australia. Known as "the Witch of Kings Cross," in the 1950s, she was persecuted by the tabloid press, the police, and the courts for her beliefs and sexual practices; an affair with composer and conductor Eugene Goossens led to a major scandal and the effective end of his career in 1956. Many of Norton's works appear in the book The Art of Rosaleen Norton (1952) and Thorn in the Flesh: A Grim-memoir (2009). For more information about Norton, including interviews of those who knew her, see Sonia Bible's documentary The Witch of Kings Cross (2021).

Rosaleen Norton's poetry is used with permission of her surviving relative Philip Burgess, from the estate of Rosaleen Norton's loved niece, Cecily Burgess. By his request, a portion of the commission fee was donated to UN Women USA, a non-profit organization that supports UN women's programs.

A Chant
By Rosaleen Norton

In the spiral horns of the Ram;
In the deep scent of Midnight;
In the secret Colour above and below the spectrum;
Is Life.

In the wild laughter of Chaos;
In the curving wings of infinite space;
In the coiled springs of violence;
In the lust of the goat;
In the ringing invisible aether;
In moonlit houses and nightlit streets;
In the majesty of great animals;
In the Powers of the Air;
In earth and sky and fire and water;
In the bright fangs of lightning;
In the seed of secrets, the still core of Silence;
Is Life.

Life spins in the dream of a planet;
Life leaps in the lithe precision of Felinity;
Life flames in the thousandth Name;
Life dances this thing that is I.
I live in the green blood of the Forest;
I live in the white fire of Power;
I live in the scarlet blossom of Magic;
I live in Infinity.

Swoon-Number, Sung by Don Qui Bray
By Rosaleen Norton

You’re the vamp in my Vampire,
You’re the Belle in Belfreee.
Your hellseye gleams haunt my hemlock dreams
You’re just the garrgoil for me, for me,
Come Vampire-pie an’ vamp me,
O Ghoulbelle,
Yes, Ghoulie, come an’ eat meeeee.

Crystalline sparkles
By Rosaleen Norton

Crystalline sparkles of rain drifting, drifting,
Icy notes of kimonoed music floating, floating –
The room, empty, but for meaningless objects,
Becomes transfused with light.

Grey shadows beckon me to follow
through the silvery pane
Shrouded with shimmering rain.

Through the window I wander
Into the wet shrubbery
Where grow the sparkling roses,
White, crimson, and gold,
Shimmering, tinkling, beckoning,
Whispering of spheres undreamt of
But by those who know
The tenderness of rose petals falling,
Falling, falling, to lie,
Decay, and die,
All through rapturous autumn
and winter gales.

Downstream she floats
By Rosaleen Norton

Downstream she floats, her hair enmeshed in seaweed and ferns –
The sound of the black steed growing steadily softer as, into the darkness, departs the one, forever.

Seaweed, green and brown, flowers white and pink,
Court to mind the rapture of kiss-enchanted caresses,
Golden, honeyed words drift to her through the moon-silvered blackness,
The room, lit by passing lights, the enraptured garden, whispering of bells and willows,
The room, a cocoon enmeshed by the city’s garish splendours.
Ecstasy of hours—time woven with eternity’s tapestry—
That conjure moon-enmeshed, rain-enmeshed music
Darkness enmeshed, notes, drifting, whirling, swirling.

Now she floats, droplets of the icy, tinkling stream murmuring,
Kissing her eyelids, falling through her hair.

Artwork by Rosaleen Norton.


  • 26 Oct, 2023: Whistling Hens at The College Music Society Sixty-Sixth National Conference, Miami Marriott Dadeland, Miami, FL
  • 26 Oct, 2023: Whistling Hens at Mirabelle Senior Living Community, Miami, FL