Week 180: “Bright Shadows” by Alexander Campkin


Ten years ago, in my first year as a teacher, a group of 4th grade students and I invented “shadow tag”.

Okay, maybe we didn’t invent it. I’m sure many other people have come up with the same idea, but we felt like we invented it, and the feeling of spontaneous creation made it all the more fun.

The rules were simple: step on someone’s shadow, and they’re ‘it’.

After several minutes of stomping and giggling we paused to come up with some more rules. No tag backs. No standing right up against the wall to make your shadow disappear. No hiding your shadow in the shade of the big tree for more than ten seconds. Then someone suggested that tag backs were okay, if you could make your shadow tag someone else’s shadow.

Shadow tag became our go-to game for the rest of the year. To someone unfamiliar with the rules, it must have looked pretty ridiculous from a distance; a group of people running near each other, but never coming into direct contact, and occasionally ducking for no apparent reason. And, of course, laughing hysterically the whole time.

I hadn’t thought about shadow tag for years, until hearing Alexander Campkin’s “Bright Shadows”, a haunting piece of choral perfection commissioned and recorded by the Cambridge-based choir Concanenda.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The way the vocals enter by overlapping each other on the word ‘bright’, each voice one tone higher than the last. It makes me think of lights being turned on, one by one, in different corners of a room, throwing shadows in all directions.

2. The floaty line about eternity and time at 1.20. This is a quote from another piece by Campkin, “I Saw Eternity”, and it reminded me that ten years seems like yesterday and forever ago all at once.

3. The way the word “shadows” lands on a nice major chord at 2.57, an unexpected break in the song’s persistent dissonance.

Recommended listening activity:

Exploring your bedroom ceiling with a flashlight.

Buy it here.