At approximately 9:15am on October 21, 1966, in the small Welsh mining village of Aberfan, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed. One thousand tons of black slag came down towards the village, demolishing first a farm, then eighteen houses and Pantglas Junior School. 116 children and 28 adults were killed. Remembering the Aberfan Disaster
My mother wrote a folk song, “In a Town Called Aberfan”, in the wake of the tragedy, that I used to hear when I was a child. I have been compelled for years to work on an adaptation of my own. Using excerpts of melody and lyric from my mother’s song, as well as portions of hymns sung early on the morning of the disaster and at the mass funeral the following Thursday, Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue), splices 31 musical Sequences of Rain, Sunrise, Rubble, Rock, Interlude, Trauma, Silence and a Field, with their Alterations.
We are in need of funds to create a studio recording and develop a design for the visual element.
Music will be presented with black and white photographs, such as the one at the top of the page, taken in November and December of 1966 by IC Rapoport.
Aberfan is participatory. Ian Heisters will create an immersive space 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 performance. In the agonizing fusion of images and sounds, the audience experiences a part of history that left victims to the ravages of negligence, arrogance and greed.
By addressing the visceral, personal experiences of the disaster, Aberfan investigates how art, together with technology, can be used for experiential healing, while implying the disaster’s universal relevance as an almost-forgotten humanitarian crime.
Denise Wallace-Spriggs, lecturer at Boston University School of Theatre, will consult on art direction.
A demo sample of the piano parts from my new composition Aberfan:
(Pantglas Junior School, Aberfan, Photo courtesy of AGU Blogosphere)
“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 from which there is much to learn. There are some positive legacies of the disaster, most notably the dramatic improvements to the management of mine wastes, but there is still much to do to ensure that these lessons are learnt internationally.” (Dave Petley, Dean of Research and Global Engagement, AGU Blogosphere, “Remembering the Aberfan disaster 45 years ago today”).
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.
A psychological and spiritual rendering as much as a musical one, Aberfan was an excavation into my own soul. As Alice Miller discovered the trauma of her own childhood through spontaneous painting and wrote about in her many books, this is the story of power and destruction wrought over all the world in the willful, negligent and unconscious devastation upon children and the call to transform, through my music, the inscrutable events.
Here is “Aberfan”, the first arrangement I ever did of my mother’s song, from Love Flows Like the Blood of a River (2003) , my second CD release.
“Aberfan” by Audrey Coates Siersema; arranged by Laura Siersema
What happens to trauma over time?
Can I turn this music round in my hand? Can anyone be transformed in the hearing?
Constructed from a deeply personal, related place, may Aberfan sound the immutable tragedy.
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. All donations will be acknowledged on my website and project page unless requested kept private.
If sending a check, please make payable to NYFA & mail to : Vault of the Valley Music, 27 Abbott Street, Greenfield, MA 01301.
“Visions come to prepared spirits.”