144 people — including 116 children — were killed when 150,000 tons of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a school and houses in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales on October 21, 1966.
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.
Sophie-Ann Williams of North Wales provided the photo below of her Grandfather, the late Reverend Colin Peter Bessant. He was helping to dig out after the Aberfan Disaster. 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…”
“…and yet…the innocent are those who get punished most zealously of all. And what would one then have to say about our so evident torturers: Why does not fate punish them? Why do they prosper?
And the only solution to this would be that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but …in the development of the soul. From that point of view our torturers have been punished most horribly of all: they are turning into swine, they are departing downward from humanity…”
“The Ascent” from The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Sometimes it helps to read things I’ve written in the past. To be reminded of what is vital, what I may have forgotten, what is integral to where I’m going.
To be a creative artist was born in me — a most slender thread connected to the core of the earth, through my very being and up beyond into the skies — a seriousness of such resiliency it could never be broken and would take all of life to realize.
Whether music, paint or word, whatever the form, if it takes you by surprise, propels itself through you — it is your art, a conscious spiritual calling, and your task to bring into the world.
In the arc of my own creative life, my earliest poems and lyrics came from this unconscious place, without thought — vaguely familial, words hacked out of walls or erupting through an external image — phrases which I instinctively pieced together. I had grown up surrounded by music, yet my first experience of the truly deep, creative source within myself arrived in dreams and the silence of written words and images.
So it was, through prose poems and lyrics of my first three recordings: When I left loss became the title of my first album (1999), a singular phrase that arose as I lay still; the dream of a two-story house, pressing unnaturally down upon me, its cover photo. Another dream, a man kneeling at my feet says Love Flows Like the Blood of a River — words of such import, I knew they would be the title for a song one day. So, too, the title of my second album (2003).
Free-writing, without editing, upon a randomly chosen word or image, provided more material. Full stories articulated on the plumb line of an external image — a woman wearing a turban on a bus became “Eileen” ; another woman, leaning forward, clutching her purse, the central character in “There is a Silence / Rolling of Time”.
During this period I also began to study voice for the first time — what had been, over years, petrified and buried.
“Talon of the Blackwater and Graces” , title track to my third album (2009), was presaged in a dream I had of black water gushing from a neighboring backyard (a woman’s shelter for those transitioning out of abusive situations) into ours — dark, lyrical material surging out over just a few days. The title itself came from a prose poem I had written years before. Was this the image of a disaster erupting from my own unconscious recollections as a child?
It was only during the process of recording Talon of the Blackwaterthat my poetry, subsumed in lyric, and my voice, fully became part of my music. I was, in fact, a songwriter and arranger, yet when I first heard the songs on the working demo, I believed someone else must have written them.
Starting in 2008, to my surprise, I began writing pieces for solo piano. Included in these was the instrumental development of “Aberfan”, a folk song that my mother had written in 1966 following the Aberfan landslide disaster. My first arrangement of her song was recorded on my second album. Over the years it has become a full length, modern composition.
“I believe that virtually everything that is within a person is revealed in both their speaking or singing voice and their music. And your music is very paradoxical, as I experience it both intuitively and analytically. It’s very simple, really almost so simple that I could believe that you had never taken lessons and yet there’s an intelligence about it that’s informed from an interior place which creates true originality and I’m using that word in its true meaning, “emerging from the origin, the source” as opposed to merely being novel or different. This duality of a simplicity and a uniqueness is very refreshing.” Joseph Marcello, The Recorder, speaking in an interview with Laura about her work
“Dreamy, visionary, cutting edge.” Holly Hopple, Herndon Festival
“Siersema brings the power of her crystalline voice and compositional skills to bear on her third release…understated accompaniments are at times brilliant…Siersema takes the traditional spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’ and makes it her own with a ghostly arrangement reminiscent of Daniel Lanois’s work…the excellent 14-minute ‘Along the Fenway’ features cellist Eugene Friesen and is strikingly beautiful.”Progression, The Quarterly Journal of Progressive Music
“We LOVE your music.” Kelley & Cyrus, Yurt Radio, Hampshire College
“Experimental, serene and surreal…” Sarah Craig, Caffe Lena
“Siersema has power in her words…Some of the songs begin with her reading poetry, and let me tell you, I could sit enraptured listening to a full album of her simply doing this…it sets up the tunes in a fashion that I’ve never quite experienced before. ” Mish Mash Indie Music Reviews
“The major labels are always looking for artists who fit in neat categories, to simplify their marketing efforts. Artists know this, and try to make music that will fit. But some artists are driven to make music that falls between the cracks, that fits no musical genre very well at all. Sometimes, there are traces of various musical genres, but combined in unexpected ways. And sometimes there is no genre that can describe the music fairly. Always, these artists show a fierce originality. Some of the best music I have ever heard also defies categorization. Just as the English language is neither French nor German, but is derived from both, this music is a new language, one that speaks eloquently.” (Oliver di Place blog on Laura’s work)
“She sings like an angel.” Gary Lee, Mt. Wachusett Folk Cafe
“A touch Celtic, a touch New Age, she is uncategorizable, a passion rare in folk music today.” John Henry, WCUW, Worcester
“Laura is an acoustic craftsman, a wordsmith…with the soul and lyrics of a true poet…” Indie-Music Reviews
“STUNNING!!!” David Weide, KUNV, Las Vegas
“A few can carry us beyond….by indenting our souls, effecting change in the soul whereby the mood is retained and perhaps never lost…your music has the power to do just this! You have given a ‘storehouse’ for our spirit’s garden. Places in greatest need of nourishment are thereby fulfilled.” Vincent Tripi, haiku poet
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 Children, by 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: ‘Allthingsbright 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