Month: July 2016

Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue)

Elegy for Aberfan. Contemporary world music. Composer Laura Siersema.

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 and nearby houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

The National Coal Board was found to be entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster. Reading about this tragedy in the newspaper at the time had such a profound effect on my Mom that she wrote a folk song. Memory of this song, deeply embedded, has compelled me to create Aberfan.  Fragments of her lyrics and melody have become a part of my composition.

Through composed in a rotating pattern of musical sections, “Rain”, “Interlude”, “Rock” and “Hymn”, Aberfan is at times full of unsettling, discordant sound as if being subsumed in an avalanche of slag and at other times nearly silent.  A tender voice juxtaposed with disjointed piano rhythms.  Sounds of steel shovels, picks and hatchets erupt unpredictably through languid chords of a funereal hymn.

Music of Aberfan will be presented online with contemporaneous moving and still imagery — a confined, immersive space unfolding with historical text, archival footage and black and white photographs.

“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 time, 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.  

In the greed of our global imperial, capitalist systems, we are destroying ourselves, the Earth and every living thing.

I am seeking support for the experimental media design of an online presentation, combining the music of Aberfan with contemporaneous still and moving imagery.


COLLABORATOR:  Michael Farquharson  Studio Producer / Engineer, Boston, MA



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: 

New York Foundation for the Arts
c/o Fiscal Sponsorship
29 West 38th Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10018

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

Screenshot 2016-07-22 at 5.51.53 PM

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

thendara foundation



The Cricket Foundation

Puffin Foundation Awards Aberfan

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“The Puffin Foundation Ltd. seeks to open the doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists and art organizations who are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy. (more…)