Helen Obravey was a visionary musician and philosopher, or as she liked to describe herself, a ‘secular priestess’, who was born 1856 and died 1923.
Undoubtedly her most famous work to this date is ‘When the Birds Return’, a beautiful choral piece, originally accompanied by piano. It was commissioned by the Council of Logistics as the Buentoilliçan Anthem, in the first year after the revolution. According to Obravey it describes the feelings she had as the Gablelarks finally returned to their roosts, after they had fled the noise of fighting during the civil war.
Yet Obravey was a national icon well into monarchic times, first rising to fame with ‘Under the Bakery’s Eaves, Love Softly Grows’. This extract from an article in the Gentleman’s Herald gives us some insight into how the song was received:
‘All this week the most fantastic spectacles have been occurring on the streets of this great City. I hear the same beautiful song over and again, played by street buskers and hummed by washer women. It floats through school windows, it fills the air like a beautiful scent, I have never been so happy in all my life. Grown men weep openly in the streets, crying babies stop and gurgle, enthralled. The sourest of old couples are once again lost in each other’s eyes. Truly, Miss Obravey is an angel in disguise.’
As well as her immense musical contributions, Obravey wrote a number of columns in many different newspapers under various pseudonyms. In these she posited various political and philosophical theories, many of which were in opposition to each other. More than once she captivated the nation’s attention by staging a heated argument across the papers in this way. When interviewed about this, shortly before her death, she said that it was her personal interpretation of dialectal immaterialism.
Her most famous article, the one which has shaped the way in which Buentoillitants today celebrate her legacy, was an interview with herself. A pseudonym, Katie Jynn, asked Obravey how she would like people to remember her, when she was gone? ‘I would like them to sit out in the streets for a day, warmed by huge bonfires. I would like them to share home-made food, to laugh, and to play my music throughout,’ was the reply. She was found dead by her own hand, the day after the article was published.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Saint Isiir’s Left Hand