original music

Women’s Music and Spirituality

Today I came across this email exchange I’d had back in 2003 with journalist Suzie Siegel.  She’d reviewed my first album, When I Left Loss.  In fact, hers was the first review of my music ever done!

“I was invited to present my work for a Spirituality Seminar in the MSW program @ Syracuse University last year. Ever since then I have wondered about this connection between my work and the ways in which other women experience and explore their own paths–for my work is one version of what it is to individuate–and based on the way my heart was racing that day, I thought I had come upon something very important.”

Suzie wrote back:  “Although I was never in the entertainment area of journalism, I often reviewed CDs by women because the work simply wasn’t getting done. Music by men dominates even progressive radio stations, such as WMNF in Tampa. I think women need to hear the stories and voices of other women. Otherwise, we’re always seeing ourselves as reflected by men.”

How good it is to be reminded of something you already knew.

Graphic Design Helene Zuckerbrod

Graphic Design Helene Zuckerbrod

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.

“Aberfan” (Laura Siersema Trio, 2010)

To help make sure Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue) can be recorded, make online contributions at:  http://tinyurl.com/FundAberfanhttp://tinyurl.com/FundAberfan

Some history in the process of composing Aberfan — here’s a video excerpt from one of our first rehearsals of “Aberfan”, the second arrangement I’d ever done of my Mom’s song.  I kept most of her lyrics and melody, but played quite a bit with the music, adding the instrumental interlude that you’ll hear, with Wim Auer on fretless bass and Billy Klock on drums.  This was the intermediate phase in the evolution of this song, while it was yet a folk song.  We used to practice at Wim’s house in Brattleboro on Tuesday nights.  I love these guys, I loved playing with them and the way they inspired the music!  (Full song at bottom of post.)

Aberfan (written by Dinny Coates Siersema, 1966)

In the small Welsh town of Aberfan
for days the rain did fall
down on the heart of Aberfan
the mountain began to crawl

The little children of Aberfan
were in their school that day
when the big coal mountain above them high
began to rumble and sway

Oh the big black mountain of rock and slag
began to tumble down
it buried the children in the ground
in a town called Aberfan.

They worked with their picks all through the day
dug with their shovels and hands
kept on digging all through the night
in a town called Aberfan

They dug two trenches for their graves
placed green bracken ’round
the dead they numbered eighty and one
and they laid them in the ground

Oh the big black mountain of rock and slag
began to tumble down
no children are playing there.
it buried the children in the ground
in a town called Aberfan.

“Aberfan” on WMCB, Greenfield, 107.9FM

Before we said anything, host Jackie Rose played this excerpt:

Please listen in May 29th, 6-7PM to “Northern Star Radio” streaming online at WMCB.net or over-the-air at 107.9FM.

Airs again Sunday, May 31st, 5-6PM and again next week, Friday, June 5th, 6-7PM and Sunday, June 7th, 5-6PM.

About the music sample:  “All Things Bright and Beautiful” was sung at morning assembly that day.  The catastrophic collapse occurred about 9:15am.

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

Thoughts on composing “Aberfan”

Everything about Aberfan has been compelled.  From the first arrangement of my mother’s song in 2002 to the full length modern piece it is now.

And through it, the compression of a lifetime into one composition.  Right now, 43 minutes long.  Every time it is played it will be different.

An evolution of my love of language, born out of an inability to speak, into that realm where vibrations themselves undulate and words are the same as waves in music.

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.  We went into the studio to begin recording this past month for the first time.  All donations help ensure we can create this recording.