Roger Marsh Composer


Dum  is the dream of a human fly caught up in a complex web and determined to improve the situation. He adopts a number of attitudes, one of which must surely secure release; the pomposity of Emerson, the escapism of Brook, the defeatism and aggression of Christina Rossetti’s recluse, and so on. If none of this is quite clear, neither is the constant presence of the Lord’s prayer, filtering through the haze, first in Greek, then in Italian, and finally in English as the nightmare/comedy reaches its horrifying point: ‘and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them……’.  (Programme note)

The piece was composed originally for Steve Stanton as part of an ambitious piece for orchestra (Dum’s Dream 1972), which incorporated this vocal percussive fantasy, performed inside a bizarre 6ft ‘cage’ of metal objects.  The orchestral piece was something of a flop; far too ambitious for me at that time. But the solo part received a couple of further performances, with the elaborate ‘cage’, including a memorable performance on the Royal Northern College of Music opera stage, attended by about 20 people!  Even so, the percussive nature of the piece, mad and interesting as it was, theatrically obscured the carefully composed vocal part far too much.  In my mind it should have been a voice part accompanied by a percussive ‘free jazz’ like that of Tony Oxley or Han Bennink.  In practice it was chaotic.

When I moved to San Diego in 1976, I revised the piece so that I could perform it myself, without the cage which had begun its process of disintegration in the UK.  I retained some percussive elements, but clarified the sections of the piece through a staging in which the performer delivers their confusing monologue/recitation from a lectern, punctuating the text with hammer blows like an angry and dangerous auctioneer; for the fifth section the performer leaves the lectern to stand fully exposed before the audience before finally retreating to a chair where a bucket of metal objects awaits, to be hurled into a second, empty metal bucket on the floor, again punctuating the text with angry explosions of sound.

I performed the piece many times from 1977 onwards, usually topless, although not in my last performance which was in a freezing church in York in February 2019.  Many others have performed the piece, but most notably:

Alan Belk (Vocem) whose father helped him build an excellent and very robust ‘lectern’.  Alan performed the piece many times from 1980 onwards in concerts with Vocem and Singcircle.  He once memorably performed it during the break at a band concert in the pub ‘Band on the Wall’ in Manchester.

John Potter (Electric Phoenix/ Hilliard Ensemble), who also built a superior lectern for the piece and performed it many times.  Most notably in a BBC Radio 3 lunchtime invitation concert, where the performance caused concern amongst unprepared studio managers who thought some kind of protest had broken out in the concert hall.  Because this performance was for radio, I wrote a separate part for radio announcer (the inimitable Peter Barker) who described the scene, section by section, in his best BBC voice, whispering at times like an opera commentator, to explain the movements and summarise the upcoming texts. I loved this version of the piece, but it was necessarily a one off. Dum  is really not a radio piece!  John also once performed it to field of cows……

Anna Myatt who performed the piece several times around the UK in the late 80s with her ensemble ‘Midland Music Theatre’.


Ron Silver (New College, Florida) who has performed the piece many times in recent years and there is a video here.

Other performances that I know about have been given by Oogoo Maia and Richard Coyle.




Words and Music 3: Dum (blog article on cmrc York)

In this article I discuss background and influences, the derivation and use of chosen texts and some of the reactions to the piece.


Listen to one of my performances of Dum