Coal mining disaster

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

21ST.OCTOBER 2020: Aberfan 54th Anniversary — Ronnie Davis

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Photo by IC Rapoport, Aberfan, 1966

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.

“Altered Rain” (Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue)

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.

21ST.OCTOBER 2020: Remember ABERFAN — Jeff Edwards

(Originally posted October 2016)

I came across this yesterday and was astounded by Jeff’s straightforward honesty.  Surviving an event impossible for any of us to imagine, unless one were there, with great dignity.

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.

21st.October 2020: Aberfan 54th Anniversary — Meet Detective Sargeant Charles Nunn

Charles Nunn story

(Originally posted November 2015.)

Over a year ago, Charles Nunn contacted me, offering help for my project, Aberfan.

Here is the story he wrote in 1987.  TheDisasterOfAberfan_CharlesNunn_ThePoliceReview_

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.

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 54th Anniversary 10.21.20: “Landslides in Art” Part 22

11_05-Aberfan_Tip_Disaster_5 AGU Blogosphere

Dave Petley has included a beautifully written post about Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue) in his series “Landslides in Art” on AGU Blogosphere, The Landslide Blog.

“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.

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: First Hymn (“All Things Bright and Beautiful”)

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.

The “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.

Here is a demo sample of voice and piano parts  from Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue).  ‘First Hymn — Rock Sequence’:  

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

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.

 

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

MONDAY 21st.OCTOBER 2019.

As the day of the 53rd anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster nears, I am reposting this story by Ceri Jackson, BBC News, written for the 50th anniversary of the Disaster.

Aberfan: The mistake that cost a village its children

Photo from AP Archives , the graves of Aberfan, October 27, 1966.

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.

“America: The Farewell Tour” and Aberfan

I must share this.  Interview with Chris Hedges on his latest book America:  The Farewell Tour.

“This moment in history marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races…Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering , exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress.”

As an artist, I work on the inside.  Yet everything I experience — and compelled to compose — is mirrored on the outside.  This book describes us in the context of history and fault, a world whose series of oppression and slaughter, greed and inequality, change only in details of the time.  My composition Aberfan, which I continue to hold, is microcosm for the macrocosm of our drawing extinction.

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.