This is Ronnie Davis, the first boy photographed by IC Rapoport in the aftermath of the tragedy. He lost his older brother in the landslide. His house, close to the school, was destroyed. Out walking his dog, he looked about the ruins of his house.
“Altered Rain” is a demo excerpt of piano parts from my new composition Aberfan. Conceived to represent the thousands of people coming down the hillside following the mass funeral on a “windswept, grey” Thursday less than one week after the disaster, this musical section turns “Rain Sequence” — which occurs at the beginning of the composition, before the landslide –upside down.
From one of our email exchanges, his words: “The team in the mortuary were composed entirely of Regional Crime Squad Officers drawn from all over Wales….We were tasked to set up a mortuary, and identify the 144 victims of the disaster. I was designated the Senior Identification Officer and worked with my team in the mortuary at Bethania Chapel in Moy Road, Aberfan for 15 days until the last body, and body piece, was identified.
Aberfan was a small village. No police station, no town hall, no gymnasium which was why we had to use the totally inadequate facilities of the Sunday school room at the rear of the chapel for receiving, washing the bodies etc. and the body of the chapel itself to place the bodies for viewing. Once a body had been identified and the cause of death recorded by a pathologist, without exception asphyxiation and multiple crush injuries, Death Certificates needed to be issued.
It now sounds very incongruous and bizarre but they were issued from a local land mark, the village fish and chip shop.
In my handwriting, a notice was placed on the door of the chapel directing families to that location.”
I am deeply grateful for all that he has passed on to me.
A few days ago, Sophie-Ann Williams of North Wales contacted me. She was hoping to find out more about her Grandfather, the late Reverend Colin Peter Bessant, who helped to dig those days of the Aberfan Disaster. She sent along this photo of him which had been cut out of Life magazine. Paula Bessant Williams, Sophie’s mother, said “My Dad never spoke about it without getting really upset. Just said it was the greed of man…”
If anyone has any information about him, please leave a reply at the bottom of this post and I will pass it along to Sophie-Ann and Paula.
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.
A Tribunal investigating the 1966 events found that the National Coal Board was entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster, though they were never prosecuted.
“The story of the Aberfan disaster is seared into the memories of a generation of people in South Wales, and it remains a tragedy of huge proportions.”
I first wrote to Dave in May 2013 after reading his post, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, which was so helpful in picturing and understanding how this catastrophy occurred, what led up to it and what followed, all vital to the composition.
Dave Petley is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
In 1966, my Mom wrote a song when she heard and read about the landslide in the news. My father wrote down Mom’s lyrics on a sheet of his graph paper in November 1966. The small letters above the last chorus and verse are the chords.
In the midst of the deepest revision of Aberfan, my own modern composition, I realized this question: how do you have words for such tragedy? Should I use any lyrics at all? If I did (for there are memories, and attempts to tell the story), the words themselves must be like the event, scattered, broken phrases, yet of a whole.
Here are the words that I kept, spliced together for my own piece, cut out from Mom’s lyric.
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 144 people — 116 children and 28 adults.
Posted originally at Mass Cultural Council’s blog ArtSake, a place to dig into the creative, innovative work of Massachusetts artists. Periodically, they pose questions to artists about issues they face in their work and lives. This month, they asked practitioners in a variety of disciplines, Have you had any important mentors? Who have they been, and how did they affect you?
Laura Siersema, composer One day after a session with Maggie, walking down Trowbridge Street in Cambridge, I felt something I had never experienced before in my life. As if slightly elevated above the sidewalk, I was enveloped, cushioned in timelessness. I believed it was the Feminine. Maggie was a Jungian psychoanalyst and we had just begun our long journey together, which would last over years, until her death. Guide through the chronicle and cipher of my dreams, attentive to events whose plumb lines captured our attention in the daylight, Maggie traveled with me on an inner way towards my own creative center: where physical, psychological and musical sensations are one. Where, in fact, I co-create with God. To passage between waking and sleep — courier of images and sounds occasionally glimpsed or heard — where beauty is both dark and light, and the evidence of trauma transformed. What access to rage and powerlessness, survival and resurrection, became the necessity of excavating and composing Aberfan, my work about the 1966 coal mining disaster in Wales – the crushing, dismembering experience of a man-made landslide upon a schoolhouse. I can only assume a sympathetic understanding in my soul.
Laura Siersema is a composer, pianist, vocalist, and poet. Learn more about her ambitious Aberfan, which is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.
I love these guys! Billy Klock on drums and Wim Auer on fretless bass. Listening to this for the first time in a number of years. Our first live performance of this song, deeply revised from its first version on my third album, Talon of the Blackwater!