women’s music

Lifeline

At my Gramma’s in Lynchburg, Virginia

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 Blackwater that 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.

Let me tell you the story of Aberfan, which takes me to today.

“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

“While the voice gives Talon of the Blackwater its beauty, her writing is what gives it depth.”  Donnie Moorhouse, The Republican

“Laura’s poems lend a riveting, personal touch to the record, and at times cut so deep the hair on the listener’s skin goes on end.”  Josh Shear, Reminder Publications

“Enthralling and complex music with world-class musicians.”  Sheryl Hunter, Greenfield Recorder

“Her voice beckons mercilessly to the physical world like the bodiless spirit that haunts the mansion on a faraway hill.  Wanderers beware…”  Independent Songwriter Magazine Pick of the Month

“…they should make movies out of music like this.”  Holbrook, Jamaica Plain Arts News

“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)

“Folk fans should take note, as well as those that like classical music, and Tori Amos.”   Suzie Siegel, Tampa Tribune

“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

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)

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.

Aberfan 54th Anniversary 10.21.20

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 144 people — 116 children and 28 adults.

144 musical beats of “Interlude” mark the walk to school on the morning of the Disaster. From Laura Siersema’s Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue).

Posted originally at Mass Cultural Council’s blog ArtSake, a place to dig into the creative, innovative work of Massachusetts artists.  Periodically, they pose questions to artists about issues they face in their work and lives. This month, they asked practitioners in a variety of disciplines, Have you had any important mentors? Who have they been, and how did they affect you?

Laura Siersemacomposer
One day after a session with Maggie, walking down Trowbridge Street in Cambridge, I felt something I had never experienced before in my life. As if slightly elevated above the sidewalk, I was enveloped, cushioned in timelessness. I believed it was the Feminine. Maggie was a Jungian psychoanalyst and we had just begun our long journey together, which would last over years, until her death. Guide through the chronicle and cipher of my dreams, attentive to events whose plumb lines captured our attention in the daylight, Maggie traveled with me on an inner way towards my own creative center: where physical, psychological and musical sensations are one. Where, in fact, I co-create with God. To passage between waking and sleep — courier of images and sounds occasionally glimpsed or heard — where beauty is both dark and light, and the evidence of trauma transformed. What access to rage and powerlessness, survival and resurrection, became the necessity of excavating and composing Aberfan, my work about the 1966 coal mining disaster in Wales – the crushing, dismembering experience of a man-made landslide upon a schoolhouse. I can only assume a sympathetic understanding in my soul.

Laura Siersema is a composer, pianist, vocalist, and poet. Learn more about her ambitious Aberfan, which is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.

Laura Siersema Trio: “Who Will Pass This On”

I love these guys!  Billy Klock on drums and Wim Auer on fretless bass.  Listening to this for the first time in a number of years.  Our first live performance of this song, deeply revised from its first version on my third album, Talon of the Blackwater!

Climate Emergency: “Who Will Pass This On”

Applause to Greta Thunberg Bristol climate strike: ‘The world is on fire’

Laura Siersema Trio performing “Who Will Pass This On” live in 2012, using the same words:  “You gotta get up — the world’s on fire.” I’m on the piano with Billy Klock on drums, and Wim Auer, fretless bass.

 

WHO WILL PASS THIS ON

You and I are not unscathed
we seek the bones of our own making
whisper in the smell of autumn
who will pass this on–

We are one
from the beginning
deeper than oceans
wider than sky
trembling like the sun–
you gotta get up–

Blazing in their holy places
listen, the voices warning:

You gotta get up
the world’s on fire–
you gotta get up
the world’s on fire–

We are one from the beginning
deeper than oceans
wider than sky–

I had always dreamed–

You and I are not unscathed
we seek the bones of our own making
whisper in the smell of autumn
who will pass this on–

original version (so totally different) Talon of the Blackwater (2009)
c 2012 Laura Siersema

Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue)

Entering now the fourth year of its journey into the world, here marks a summary of my composition project, Aberfan, for those new to this blog or to the tragic event itself.

South Wales Police Museum6 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.  

My mother wrote a folk song in the wake of the disaster, that I heard as a child.  Using excerpts of melody and lyric from her song, as well as portions of hymns — one the children would have sung at morning assembly on the day of the disaster and another sung at the mass funeral less than one week later — Aberfan splices 31 musical Sequences of Rain, Sunrise, Interlude, Hymn, Rock, Rubble and Field with their Alterations.  Piano parts are specific; percussion, and to some extent, voice, are improvisatory.  Steel shovels, picks and hatchets, spades, breaking glass, bare hands — these are the tools of rescue.

Envisioned at the crossroads of modern music, experimental media, environmental crime and the psychology of trauma, Aberfan will be presented alongside black and white photographs taken by Life photojournalist IC Rapoport, who went to Aberfan to photograph the “psychic mess”.

Investigating how art, together with technology, can be used for experiential transformation, Aberfan addresses the visceral, personal experiences of the disaster, while recognizing its universal relevance as an almost-forgotten humanitarian crime against a future generation.  Merging the music of Aberfan and photos of this particular disaster’s aftermath lays bare the great cost of ignoring the habituated, presumptive violence in our human systems.  

This is my tie to Wales.  An interior carnage.

Is art radical?

Initially, I wrote 7 musical Sequences and experimented with them.  Each was altered, cut up, broken, repeated in different octaves, turned upside down and backwards, then reassembled.  For example, the Rain Sequence is developed out of a two bar phrase using an intuitive formula of increasing prime numbers, to presage the inexorable movement of the spoil heap.  Over a week of heavy rainfall prior to the tragedy becomes the gradual dissolution of recognizable harmony, even as the number of pianos increases and one habituates to the erosion of sound.

Specific choices respect the physical event:  7 (pianos, Sequences) refers to the number of the coal waste tip that collapsed; each Interlude contains 144 beats, one for each person killed. Through-composed, the music spirals — as did the actual collapse — periodically and unpredictably interrupted by Trauma, amalgamated portions of the Rock Sequence.

During final revisions I had a miraculous dream I was certain pertained to Aberfan:  the presentation would be as a film that could roll forward and backward, through and beyond.  One could participate, could follow, could see the moment of death entering, when the soul was coming through, opening into eternity.  

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.

What happens to trauma over time?

Aberfan is participatory.  An immersive space will be created using projection of imagery and semi-transparent scrims, capturing the landscape and people, the tactility of coal, ingrained in their faces. The viewer will move through the space, at times full of unsettling, discordant movement as if being subsumed in an avalanche of slag and at other times nearly silent, inducing pause. One can walk inside, behind and around the moving images, inside of the presentation.

A psychological and spiritual rendering as much as a musical one, Aberfan is an excavation into my own soul, propelling itself through me — the story of power and destruction wrought over all the world in the willful, negligent and unconscious devastation upon those most vulnerable and the call to transform, through my music, the inscrutable events.

What is the value of connecting to your soul?

This is another beginning that I write to you, another revolution around the greatest wound in the psyche of humanity — the loss and attempted destruction of soul.  Aberfan, itself a disruption of artistic practice, is a transformational (creative) experience that can happen to anyone, this

visitation by a child.  Through the sounds and images of Aberfan, where the boundary between what is divine and what is human is fluid, where time is anytime, and geographical distances absent, notating what I have seen and heard and felt is to resurrect, is to record for anyone else access to what has long been buried.

We are living now the upheaval — the turning outside what was in, what has long been buried — and must live now to extricate ourselves from what would obliterate good, what is bright and free.  The underbelly, black water out my dream now burst upon the land, no sorcerer could have done without people. We are in the confines of a trained evil.

Aberfan is an elegy not only for the people of Aberfan who suffered the loss of a generation and the wounded soul of the Welsh who saw their beautiful country destroyed when the coal mines came to the valleys, but for our world, besieged by unbridled industry pillaging the land and exploiting its riches for the few.  In this desperate time, it is urgent we activate moral and creative counterweights to intellectual arguments for climate change:   awaken the spirit of shared humanity and responsibility that lives in each of us.

Aberfan confronts and aims to disrupt our complacency, inciting change in the only way possible, speaking directly to what is at the heart of our survival as fully actualized beings on a thriving planet — the need to reconnect with our innermost being, where one lives in balance and reverence for the natural world.

In bearing witness to the specific atrocity of Aberfan, we recover connection to the past and expose our present challenge.  In sensing what is greater than ourselves, we re-envision a sustainable and just future.

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 South Wales Police Museum

Support “Aberfan” With Your Gift

Thank you to those who have already made a donation!  In the past week, $170 has come in!  Your contribution will enable us to return to the studio to record Aberfan. 

Click HERE to give. 

We need $700 more to reach the halfway point!

Please give what you can and tell othersAll gifts are 100% tax deductible.  

Photo:  Mix One Studios, Boston

All Music on Sale! 20% Off

20% off all CDs and MP3 downloads at Vault of the Valley Music.  Now through New Year’s Eve.

CDs regularly $16, now $12.80 (plus shipping).  MP3 downloads regularly $9.99, now $7.99

Click HERE to see CDs and how you can purchase / download them.

Here is a sample from my second album, Love Flows Like the Blood of a River

 

20% Off Sale!

20% off all CDs and MP3 downloads at Vault of the Valley Music.  Now through New Year’s Eve.

CDs regularly $16, now $12.80 (plus shipping).  MP3 downloads regularly $9.99, now $7.99 

 

Laura Siersema Trio Live @ 1794 Meetinghouse available for download only 

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