Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue)

ABERFAN WALES 1966

Elegy for the death of a generation of children in Aberfan, Wales.  At the crossroads of contemporary world music, experimental media and the reverberating power of trauma.

On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, a man-made mountain of coal waste collapsed on a primary school and nearby houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

My composition Aberfan contains fragments of  a folk song my Mom wrote at the time, and  hymns — one the children would have sung at morning assembly that day and another sung at the mass funeral less than one week later.  Music will be presented with black & white photographs  — taken by Life photojournalist IC Rapoport, who went to Aberfan to “photograph the psychic mess” and and BBC Wales archive footage from the rescue effort.  MUSIC SAMPLES  of work in progress

Aberfan (First Hymn – Rock Sequence) a demo sample of voice and pianos:  

“Their daily rendition [in morning assembly, 9am] of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ – a hymn written a few miles away in the bucolic tranquility of the Usk Valley – was postponed that day.  They would sing it before they went home when the head teacher planned to wish her pupils a safe and enjoyable holiday.” (Aberfan:  A Mistake that Cost a Village its Children by Ceri Jackson, BBC News, October 21, 2016)  The catastrophic collapse occurred about 9:15am.

Aerial view, October 21, 1966, courtesy of AGU Blogosphere

Aberfan is an expression of the collective unconscious of our time.  A psychological and spiritual rendering as much as a musical one, it is an excavation into my own soul.  Propelling itself through me, Aberfan is the story of power and destruction wrought over all the world in the willful, negligent and unconscious devastation upon what is most vulnerable in ourselves and in others, and the practice of transforming what cannot be fathomed through my music.  

I am seeking support to fund the recording and presentation of this project.  

DONATE

COLLABORATORS:

Michael Farquharson  Studio Producer / Engineer, Mix One Studios, Boston, MA

Ian Smith-Heisters  Media Design, Berkeley, CA

Denise Wallace-Spriggs  Art Direction, Boston, MA

PHOTOGRAPHS

PRESS

RADIO INTERVIEW   “I see [Aberfan] as the epitome of the folk process, because folk music, in all its definitions, is about stories.” (Nick Noble, WICN)

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.  All donations will be acknowledged on my website and project page unless requested kept private.

If sending a check, please make payable to NYFA & mail to:  Vault of the Valley Music, 27 Abbott Street, Greenfield, MA, 01301.

(Photo top of page by IC Rapoport 1966)

Aberfan is funded in part by Puffin Foundation, Thendara Foundation, Puffin Foundation West, Deupree Family Foundation and M. S. Worthington Foundation.

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“…Continuing the dialogue between art and the lives of ordinary people.”

thendara foundation

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deupreefamilyfoundation

Lifeline

At my Gramma’s in Lynchburg, Virginia

Sometimes it helps to read things I’ve written in the past. To be reminded of what is vital, what I may have forgotten, what is integral to where I’m going.

To be a creative artist was born in me — a most slender thread connected to the core of the earth, through my very being and up beyond into the skies — a seriousness of such resiliency it could never be broken and would take all of life to realize.

Whether music, paint or word, whatever the form, if it takes you by surprise, propels itself through you — it is your art, a conscious spiritual calling, and your task to bring into the world.

In the arc of my own creative life, my earliest poems and lyrics came from this unconscious place, without thought — vaguely familial, words hacked out of walls or erupting through an external image — phrases which I instinctively pieced together.  I had grown up surrounded by music, yet my first experience of the truly deep, creative source within myself arrived in dreams and the silence of written words and images.

So it was, through prose poems and lyrics of my first three recordings: When I left loss  became the title of my first album (1999), a singular phrase that arose as I lay still; the dream of a two-story house, pressing unnaturally down upon me, its cover photo.  Another dream, a man kneeling at my feet says Love Flows Like the Blood of a River — words of such import,  I knew they would  be the title for a song one day.  So, too, the title of my second album (2003).

Free-writing, without editing, upon a randomly chosen word or image, provided more material.  Full stories articulated on the plumb line of an external image — a woman wearing a turban on a bus became “Eileen” ; another woman, leaning forward, clutching her purse, the central character in “There is a Silence / Rolling of Time”.

During this period I also began to study voice for the first time — what had been, over years, petrified and buried.

“Talon of the Blackwater and Graces” , title track to my third album (2009), was presaged in a dream I had of black water gushing from a neighboring backyard (a woman’s shelter for those transitioning out of abusive situations) into ours — dark, lyrical material surging out over just a few days.  The title itself came from a prose poem I had written years before.  Was this the image of a disaster erupting from my own unconscious recollections as a child?

It was only during the process of recording Talon of the Blackwater that my poetry, subsumed in lyric, and my voice, fully became part of my music.  I was, in fact, a songwriter and arranger, yet when I first heard the songs on the working demo, I believed someone else must have written them.

Starting in 2008, to my surprise, I began writing pieces for solo piano.  Included in these was the instrumental development of “Aberfan”, a folk song that my mother had written in 1966 following the Aberfan landslide disaster.   My first arrangement of her song was recorded on my second album.  Over the years it has become a full length, modern composition.

Let me tell you the story of Aberfan, which takes me to today.

“I believe that virtually everything that is within a person is revealed in both their speaking or singing voice and their music.  And your music is very paradoxical, as I experience it both intuitively and analytically.  It’s very simple, really almost so simple that I could believe that you had never taken lessons and yet there’s an intelligence about it that’s informed from an interior place which creates true originality and I’m using that word in its true meaning, “emerging from the origin, the source” as opposed to merely being novel or different.  This duality of a simplicity and a uniqueness is very refreshing.”  Joseph Marcello, The Recorder, speaking in an interview with Laura about her work

“Dreamy, visionary, cutting edge.”  Holly Hopple, Herndon Festival

“Siersema brings the power of her crystalline voice and compositional skills to bear on her third release…understated accompaniments are at times brilliant…Siersema takes the traditional spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’ and makes it her own with a ghostly arrangement reminiscent of Daniel Lanois’s work…the excellent 14-minute ‘Along the Fenway’ features cellist Eugene Friesen and is strikingly beautiful.” Progression, The Quarterly Journal of Progressive Music

“We LOVE your music.” Kelley & Cyrus, Yurt Radio, Hampshire College

“While the voice gives Talon of the Blackwater its beauty, her writing is what gives it depth.”  Donnie Moorhouse, The Republican

“Laura’s poems lend a riveting, personal touch to the record, and at times cut so deep the hair on the listener’s skin goes on end.”  Josh Shear, Reminder Publications

“Enthralling and complex music with world-class musicians.”  Sheryl Hunter, Greenfield Recorder

“Her voice beckons mercilessly to the physical world like the bodiless spirit that haunts the mansion on a faraway hill.  Wanderers beware…”  Independent Songwriter Magazine Pick of the Month

“…they should make movies out of music like this.”  Holbrook, Jamaica Plain Arts News

“Experimental, serene and surreal…” Sarah Craig, Caffe Lena

“Siersema has power in her words…Some of the songs begin with her reading poetry, and let me tell you, I could sit enraptured listening to a full album of her simply doing this…it sets up the tunes in a fashion that I’ve never quite experienced before. ”  Mish Mash Indie Music Reviews

“The major labels are always looking for artists who fit in neat categories, to simplify their marketing efforts.  Artists know this, and try to make music that will fit.  But some artists are driven to make music that falls between the cracks, that fits no musical genre very well at all.  Sometimes, there are traces of various musical genres, but combined in unexpected ways.  And sometimes there is no genre that can describe the music fairly.  Always, these artists show a fierce originality.  Some of the best music I have ever heard also defies categorization.  Just as the English language is neither French nor German, but is derived from both, this music is a new language, one that speaks eloquently.”  (Oliver di Place blog on Laura’s work)

“Folk fans should take note, as well as those that like classical music, and Tori Amos.”   Suzie Siegel, Tampa Tribune

“She sings like an angel.”  Gary Lee, Mt. Wachusett Folk Cafe

“A touch Celtic, a touch New Age, she is uncategorizable, a passion rare in folk music today.”  John Henry, WCUW, Worcester

“Laura is an acoustic craftsman, a wordsmith…with the soul and lyrics of a true poet…” Indie-Music Reviews

“STUNNING!!!”  David Weide, KUNV, Las Vegas

A few can carry us beyond….by indenting our souls, effecting change in the soul whereby the mood is retained and perhaps never lost…your music has the power to do just this! You have given a ‘storehouse’ for our spirit’s garden. Places in greatest need of nourishment are thereby fulfilled.”  Vincent Tripi, haiku poet

WIDE VIEW OF ABERFAN DISASTER

Aberfan, 1966

Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue) is an elegy not only for the people of a village who suffered the loss of a generation and the wounded soul of the Welsh who saw their beautiful country destroyed when the coal mines came to the valleys, but for our world, besieged by unbridled industry pillaging the land and its people, exploiting riches for a few.  Aberfan is our entire structure under collapse, the condemnation of a corrupted capitalism imposed upon the world, the catastrophe, the truth of our entrapment in a world run on power, violence and commodity, reducing to rubble all that is sacred.  

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

Photo courtesy of Alan George

(Originally posted October 2016)

In This Desperate Time of Upheaval / Aberfan

We are living now the upheaval — the turning outside what was in, what has long been buried — and must live now to extricate ourselves from what would obliterate good, what is bright and free.

Underbelly, the black water out my dream now burst upon the land, no sorcerer could have done without people. We are in the confines of a trained evil.

Photo courtesy of Alan George, Aberfan, 1966

On October 21st, in the small mining village of Aberfan, a man-made mountain of coal waste collapsed on a primary school and nearby houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

“The modern world, as Kafka predicted…”

“….has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true.  And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying, and control of traditional sources of information.  We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty…”  The World As It Is:  Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress

Resonating with my own large and looming project Aberfan.  An insistence we not forget.  

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

“Aberfan” One woman’s elegy for a Welsh village’s young disaster victims

Over one year ago, Richie Davis wrote this powerful story for the Greenfield Recorder, our local paper.  Our interview together was the first I had spoken publicly about the composition that had been underway for years.

Aberfan – One Woman’s elegy for a Welsh village’s young disaster victims

Aberfan – One Woman’s elegy for a Welsh village’s young disaster victims (page 2)

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

Photo courtesy of AGU Blogosphere, Aberfan 1966

(Originally posted April 2016)

Tragedy at Aberfan

“Tragedy is not deep and sharp if it can be shared with friends.”  Varlam Shalamov, The Kolyma Tales 

On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

How do you personally account for a violation of this kind except through one’s own soul? 

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

(Originally posted June 2018.)

TRIBUTES PAID TO ABERFAN POLICE OFFICER CHARLES NUNN

Tributes Paid to Aberfan Police Officer Charles Nunn (BBC News, December 31, 2019)

Aberfan

“Mr. Nunn described in detail his experience of the 15 days he spent in Bethania Chapel [above] in an article to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2016.”

I am deeply saddened.  For all the questions he answered, all the memories he shared, for all he endured and so willingly relayed to me, Charles remains a dear Welsh friend, a living link to Aberfan.

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

Photo reportdigital.co.uk, Bethania Chapel, Aberfan, 1966

(Originally posted January 2020)

Art is Radical: “Aberfan”

Memorial Garden, Aberfan

If truly creative, art is radical.

Art upends institutions and challenges us to examine the very fabric of our being, our society.  We are loosened to re-member ourselves and our reason for living.

What greater purpose beyond the tactics of greed, what measurement of a timeless nature, what pattern of the gods.

“Rain/Rubble”, demo excerpt of pianos from Aberfan.  Life forever altered.  Rain and rubble forever bound.

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

(Originally posted February 2017.)

Thoughts on Composing “Aberfan”

Art that is simply willed is not art.” (Thomas Merton)

Several concepts were embedded in the process of composing Aberfan.  These became emotional and compositional imperatives, apparent only as I went along: chaos, the spiraling of events, silence after trauma, the absolute necessity that what wrenches, what pulls at the heart and hurts, be contained in the tension between how things were and how things could have been.

MUSIC SAMPLES  of work in progress

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

(Originally posted June 2015)

“Aberfan”: Rain – Rubble, Altered Interlude, Final Hymn (Altered)

Photo IC Rapoport, Aberfan, 1966

A demo sample of piano parts from Aberfan — survivors resuming the impossibility of survival, forever altered in the aftermath.

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

(Originally posted June 2016)