The Lost Words: A Spell Book

8:00 pm October 1st, 2022 at Pacific Spirit United Church

Welcome to a very special concert in which Elektra, actor Laara Sadiq, six players and ten composers made magic – strong magic created first in a bestselling, illustrated book called The Lost Words: A Spell Book by author Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris. I discovered the book about three years ago at the home of Elaine Stevens, and was immediately struck by its beauty. As I began to read, I learned that it was a whimsical and evocative response to the fact that, in 2007, the Oxford Junior Dictionary, widely used by 6-8 year olds in England, had replaced 40 words about the natural world with words about the digital one. “Adder” and “willow” had given way to “cut-and-paste” and “voice mail”. It wasn’t the dictionary’s fault. They were reflecting, through their standard selection process, a loss of contact with nature in children’s lives. Written in hope, Robert’s “spells” are meant to conjure back twenty of the lost creatures and plants, and Jackie’s stunning paintings hold the reader spellbound.

Each of the 20 words Robert and Jackie selected is represented in the book with three beautiful watercolour paintings by Jackie Morris, the latter two of which we showed in the concert. First comes a sparse page over which letters are scattered. They appear random until one sees that some are a different colour. These letters spell the lost word. This illustration shows us the absence of the thing. The absence of acorn or lark or weasel or the other 17 lost words. In our musical version, each spell started with the second painting – a lovingly-detailed one of the lost plant, bird, or animal in rich colours, during which Laara Sadiq read us Robert’s spell and we discovered which word we were hoping to bring back to life. As we sang each new composition, the third illustration, a glorious 2-page spread, showed us the lost thing fully restored in its natural environment.

We are indebted to Robert and Jackie, who responded positively to my enthusiasm back in 2019 for turning their book into a choral work, and to literary agent Penelope Killick in London for her strong cooperation over more than three years. Once we had their support, I chose my ten Canadian composers – five women and five men – all people I felt had a sense of play as well as solid choral craft. My sincere thanks to Carmen Braden, Alex Eddington, Katerina Gimon, Nicholas Ryan Kelly, Ramona Luengen, Don Macdonald, Monica Pearce, Marie-Claire Saindon, Rodney Sharman, and Stephen Smith for catching the energy of this project and putting so much care into their new works. The concert program pdf linked below gives their bios and a short explanation of what attracted them to their “spells”. To the Elektra board, thank you for your faith in this huge project. To the Elektra singers, I am grateful for your outstanding skill and commitment as we held onto the dream of this project across more than two years of a global pandemic. Finally, our sincere thanks to the 20 individuals who stepped forward to sponsor a spell to make this project a reality.

The Lost Words Program

The Lost Words: a Spell Book written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris.
Text © Robert Macfarlane 2017
Illustrations © Jackie Morris 2017


Performance Pieces:

  1. Lost Words: A Spell Book, The Canadian Work Carmen BradenAlex EddingtonNicholas Ryan KellyKaterina GimonRamona LuengenDon MacdonaldMonica PearceMarie-Claire SaindonRodney SharmanStephen Smith

Canadian Work Legend Canadian Work