On October 21st, 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 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.
My Mom wrote a folk song at the time, that I heard growing up. Throughout my adult musical life, I have been compelled to create adaptations of her song. Now, Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), is a modern composition that splices 31 musical sections of “Rain”, “Interlude”, “Rock” and “Hymn” in a spiraling pattern with their “Alterations”, punctuated by “Trauma”. Fragments of her song are woven into Aberfan.
MUSIC SAMPLES of work in progress
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.
Ian Heisters will create an immersive space, capturing the landscape and people, the tactility of coal ingrained in their faces. The viewer walks inside, behind and around the images, at times full of unsettling, discordant sound as if being subsumed in an avalanche of slag and at other times nearly silent. A tender voice is juxtaposed with disjointed piano rhythms. Sounds of steel shovels, picks and hatchets erupt unpredictably through languid chords of a funereal hymn.
In this desperate time, it is urgent we activate creative counterweights to what is destroying us and the planet. By addressing the visceral, personal experiences of the disaster, Aberfan also recognizes its universal relevance as a crime against a future generation. In exhuming a specific industrial accident, Aberfan confronts us with the hidden costs of our wealth and questions whether these crimes are inevitable.
With Juno winner Michael Farquharson producing and engineering, we began recording in September 2016 at Mix One Studios in Boston.
I am in need of funds to develop a design for the visual element and pay for the licensing of images and sounds.
Make online contributions now.
Demo samples of the piano parts from Aberfan:
(Pantglas Junior School, Aberfan, Photo courtesy of AGU Blogosphere)
Photo at top of page IC Rapoport Aberfan, 1966
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.
“Aberfan” (2003) 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 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.
Make online contributions now.
If sending a check, please make payable to NYFA & mail to :
New York Foundation for the Arts
c/o Fiscal Sponsorship
29 West 38th Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10018
Vault of the Valley Music, 27 Abbott Street, Greenfield, MA 01301.
“Visions come to prepared spirits.”
Dear Katherine–thank you so much–our meeting is the next remarkable event in Aberfan unfolding–pray I carry it–
Thank you for encouraging me to dip back into your music. It was great seeing you. I hope you can continue this beautiful work. cheers, Adam
How good to meet up, as we continue on the spiral. I’m so glad you hear me.