Coal mining disaster

Aberfan, a Parable

11_10-Aberfan-2 AGU Blogosphere
Aberfan, Wales, Coal Refuse Collapse Kills 144, 116 Children, 1966

What was the salvation and economic lifeblood of this small village, with its promise to the miners of being able to provide for their families, became the death of a generation and ongoing trauma for those who survived.  Were it not for short sighted environmental, governmental and economic practices that served only to protect the system and those who gained by it, this tragedy would never have happened.

What will be the legacy of fracking?  What will we be mourning the loss of in 50 years?  What unintended consequences befall us or our children?  What will be destroyed forever?  Our groundwater?  Who will be held responsible?  The miners of Aberfan did not pile coal waste high above the village so their children would be buried one day.  Our systems have not changed, only the people and machinery have — corporate dominance assures ‘progress and safety’ while exploiting humankind and the earth as commodities.  The visceral, powerful message in the music of Aberfan is the felt knowledge of this human condition, resonating over time.

Unless we reclaim our history we are doomed.  It is precisely this loss of memory that enables these systems to dupe each coming generation into believing that prosperity is possible.

Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue) is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts, a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  Make your statement by helping this project be recorded.  Make your tax deductible donation towards its recording here.

West Virginia Collapse

West Virginia, Coal Refuse Collapse, 2012 

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

An extended excerpt of piano parts from Aberfan — survivors resuming the impossibility and hope of life forever altered in the aftermath.

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts.  Please make a donation towards its recording here.

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

p00ksv3k640360 ICR sent, but not hisOver 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)

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts.  Make a tax deductible donation  here to support the recording of this full length composition.

Photo from Getty Images by Jim Gray

A tragedy remembered: Aberfan, the village that lives in the shadow of the past

IMG_8629IMG_8631I was struck by this 2006 headline in an online British newspaper, The Independent.  In an article by Barrie Clement, the lingering severity of grief and vivid traumatic memories of the disaster in 1966 are spoken.

Here are a few photos of the Garden of Remembrance which stands on the site of Pantglas School, which was built between 1901 and 1922 and nearly destroyed in the landslide.  Photos were taken by Java Kitrick in a recent visit to Wales.  As President of Puffin Foundation West, she recently awarded a grant to Aberfan. 


Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts.  Make a tax deductible donation  here to support the recording of this full length composition.

“Aberfan” (Rain Sequence with first collapse, excerpt)

Rain Sequence — an intuitive formula of prime numbers, of fate and its irrevocable movement — increasing failure, descent and dissolution —

The disaster itself occurred on 21st October 1966 at about 9:15 am.  The day was calm and sunny at 7:30 am, when the team of men responsible for the dumping of mine waste on Tip 7 arrived for work.  At the top they found the tip had subsided by about three metres.  (The Landslide Blog)

Here is a demo sample of 7 pianos:

To contribute to the recording of Aberfan, please go to

Photo IC Rapoport, 1966

“Aberfan” 9/8 bar – Trauma – 2nd Altered Interlude

9/8 bar – Trauma – 2nd Altered Interlude

“The dreadful calamity of the Aberfan landslide disaster remains perhaps the most poignant and memorable disaster in the UK since the Second World War.  The combination of a failure of responsibility by the relevant authorities, the dreadful events in the moment of the landslide, the heroic but mostly futile rescue attempts, and the appalling behaviour of some parties in the aftermath of the disaster created an extraordinary mix…”  AGU Blogosphere

Large art projects like this cannot be done without your contributions.  To ensure that Aberfan is recorded, make your tax deductible donation here:

(Pantglas Junior School, Aberfan, 1966.  Photo courtesy of AGU Blogosphere)

Dad’s lyric sheet for “In a Town Called Aberfan”

Dad's writingAberfan

It’s very difficult to speak about Aberfan.

Mom wrote “In a Town Called Aberfan” 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.  “Copy by EWS”

I share this because I want you to know, beyond anniversaries, beyond boundaries of country, there is a memorial here, too, in my composition,  Aberfanunderway and surfacing over years.

In the midst of its deepest revision 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 chose to use in my own piece, cut out from Mom’s lyric.  The only word I changed is “town” to “village”.

In the small Welsh village of Aberfan

for days the rain did fall down on the heart–

Little children of Aberfan in their school that day

the big, coal mountain–

They worked with their picks all through the day

dug with their shovels and hands

kept  on  digging  kept  on  digging  kept  on  digging–

Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue) is 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 continue to create this recording.

We began recording in the studio in September.

“Landslides in Art” Part 22

11_05-Aberfan_Tip_Disaster_5 AGU Blogosphere

Dave Petley has included a beautifully written post about Aberfan in his series “Landslides in Art” on AGU Blogosphere, The Landslide Blog.

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.

Please donate to help make the recording of Aberfan possible: