Last month we reviewed Mirla’s Solitaire, a caring granddaughter’s reflection on a story of life and love, replete with a storybook ending. Tony Dupé‘s audio-biography of his great aunt shares the dedication of a descendant, but this is where the similarities end. Margaret Hammett’s life was wrenching, lonely, and nearly forgotten, the stuff of Grimms’ fairy tales.
We recommend clicking through to the release page to read the full story, but the abridged version is this: an orphaned, unmarried young mother, newly pregnant for the second time, dumped in a monastery, her first baby presumed dead, her second dying; this “bad girl” sequestered from the other sisters for the entirety of her lonely life. The only record of her existence: that she was twice ill in the 1960s. Dupé, who visited her as a child, insists that Margaret Hammett Lived.
Even without the music, we admire the resurrection of a life. Dupé meticulously collected sounds, recording in his great aunt’s hometown and on the organ of the Abbotsford Convent. The album begins with strings and soft choir, a reminder of the goodness that is supposed to inhabit an abbey. A rumble of thunder provides foreshadowing, only slightly offset by bells and breath. Spiritual enemies without mingle with those already within. In “I prayed,” a squawking bird protests its treatment while the Hours tick on. If Margaret, this caged bird, is singing, it’s only because it is required. On the willows there, we hung up our lyres.
“I had a friend” breaks voices into electronic treatments, mulching their impact, as if their sounds are more important than their meaning. It’s one thing to be servant to God, another to have one’s voice silenced by Man. The album struggles with the dichotomy, often dipping into melancholic beauty, mingling admiration and sorrow, applying dignity to the erased, coloring in the edges.
The organ is meant to speak of lofty things, but here it often sounds dour, imposed. Still, Margaret Hammett Lived is less a depressing album than a loving suite. Dupé strips the church of its earthly power and finds its spiritual center, the great unknown into which supplicants plunge. Remove the rules, the regulations, the judgments, and God still loves, still has mercy. This album is itself a small mercy and a great gift. The sad irony is that it takes the trappings of the church ~ the choir, the organ, the bells ~ and wraps around Margaret’s story like the comfort never afforded her in real life. (Richard Allen)
Margaret Hammett Lived is part of Lost Tribe Sound’s Salt & Gravity Series.