aberfan disaster

“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.

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)

A Beautifully Written Story and Music from “Aberfan”

South Wales Police Museum

(Originally posted on the 50th anniversary, October 21, 2016.

Aberfan: The mistake that cost a village its children

By Ceri Jackson, BBC News

Here are a few short samples from our first studio sessions for Aberfan.

First, “Rain Sequence”, the layering of pianos at the beginning of the piece.  

Second, “First Hymn”, a demo excerpt of “All Things Bright and Beautiful”.  The children were to sing it on the day of the disaster before they went home. 

“Rock Sequence”, the catastrophic collapse.  

Last, an excerpt of “Altered Rain”, the impossibility and hope of life forever altered as people descend back into the village following the mass funeral. 

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

ABERFAN 54TH ANNIVERSARY 10.21.20 “How with this rage…”

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea… —Shakespeare, Sonnet 65

“Rain Sequence”, pianos, Aberfan — it has started to rain, the composition begins.  In this demo sample, as single pianos enter one after the other, you listen to the gradual dissolution of harmony.

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.

Getty images, Aberfan, October 21, 1966

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 as I researched for my composition, Aberfan, for all he endured and so willingly relayed to me, Charles remains a living link to Aberfan.

Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue) 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.

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

Two Hymns: Aberfan Funeral 27th. October 1966.

“What hymns were played during the funeral services following the Aberfan disaster of October 21, 1966?”  I posted this question at Old Merthyr Tydfil Forum when searching for more information about what happened at Aberfan.  Questions essential to my composition, Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue).

Here is one of the first responses that I received:

“My name is Jeff Adams. I used to live in Aberfan (left in 1966 to join the Royal Navy). I used to attend both Pantglas schools and used to, as a boy, play on those tips!  You are lucky. I have been reading as much as I can get my hands on over the past few months regarding the disaster.  Although the local mines had safety inspector engineers the tips did not…unbelievable.

The service itself lasted just 15 minutes (perhaps to spare more grief among the families?).  The first hymn on the sheet was:

‘Loving Shepherd of thy sheep,
Keep thy lambs in safety keep;
Nothing can thy power withstand,
None can pluck them from thy hand.’

The Salvation Army played the music.  It continued:
‘…Loving Saviour thou didst give,
Thine own life that we might live…’

The Bishop of Llandaff read from the Bible. (Among others) The Lord’s prayer was said.  Second hymn was, ‘Jesu Lover of My Soul,’ to the tune of ‘Aberystwyth,’ composed by Joseph Parry (19th. century Merthyr composer) :

…’That of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of thee;
Spring through up within my heart-
Rise to all eternity.’

5000 silent people on a Welsh hillside, the bitter cold unnoticed.  Fifteen mintues later it was all over.

Taken from the book Aberfan : The Story of a Disaster by Tony Austin Pages 143-144. I suggest you get it from your local library-you’ll be upset throughout it and angry at the National Coal Board for its outright arrogance.”

Of these two hymns, I chose to arrange “Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep” for Aberfan, calling this section of the music “Final Hymn”.

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 AP Archives Aberfan, October 1966

Aberfan and “The Crown”: All Things Bright and Beautiful

Yesterday, a friend mentioned she’d  been watching “The Crown” (Netflix) and its recent episode about the Aberfan Disaster.  I hadn’t seen it.

Upon reading one of the stories written about this particular episode (“The Crown” Recap:  All Things Bright and Beautiful), I felt I should share Ceri Jackson’s beautiful 50th anniversary story from a few years ago, which speaks to this hymn, addressing what may be a misconception :

“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 Childrenby Ceri Jackson, BBC News, October 21, 2016)

Until seeing Ceri’s article I had the same misconception:  Several years ago, when I first began to reach out for specific information related to the Aberfan disaster for my own composition, I posted my question about hymns sung at the funeral service at Old Merthyr Tydfil Forum.  Several responses came in, one of which was:  Finally, you may wish to know that during morning assembly (9am.-9-15am) the children sang:  ‘All things bright and beautiful, the lord God loves them all.’

In composing Aberfan, it has been imperative that the facts of that day be honored, that in creating the sequence of musical events, I know what the actual events were. My arrangement of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (called “First Hymn”) is placed in the music right after “Interlude” in which the children are walking to school, only to be interrupted by the catastrophic collapse, “Rock Sequence”.

Given that “All Things Bright and Beautiful” was typically sung during morning assembly, I felt it was fitting for it to remain in the composition.  Here is a demo sample:  Excerpt from Aberfan, “First Hymn”

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.

Photo courtesy of South Wales Police Museum.  Aberfan, 1966

SUNDAY 21st.OCTOBER 2018

52nd anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster

Detective Sargeant Charles Nunn, Welsh Regional Crime Squad, 1966, wrote in a story for The Police Review in 1987.  TheDisasterOfAberfan_CharlesNunn_ThePoliceReview_

Charles Nunn story

I would like to repost the story Charles wrote and other details he has so generously shared with me.  Charles first contacted me several years ago, offering his help in response to my inquiry at Old Merthyr Tydfil Forum.  I was doing research for my composition, Aberfan.

Taken from one of our email exchanges, he wrote:

“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.”

My composition 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.

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?  What I believe, what I know to be true, is expressed in my music.

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.

Photograph IC Rapoport, Aberfan, 1966

Rev. Colin Peter Bessant at Aberfan Disaster


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.

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.