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 mother wrote a folk song, “In a Town Called Aberfan”, in the days following the tragedy, that I heard when I was a child. I have been compelled for years as an adult to work on an adaptation of my own. Incorporating excerpts of melody and lyric from my mother’s song — as well as portions of a hymn typically sung at morning assembly and another at the mass funeral less than one week later — Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue), is a modern composition that weaves together 31 musical sections of “Rain”, “Sunrise”, “Interlude”, “Hymn”, “Rock”, “Rubble” and “Field”, with their “Alterations”.
MUSIC SAMPLES of work in progress
Envisioned as an experimental multi-media installation, 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 will be 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 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. People must be moved in their souls, beyond emotionalism, beyond the recitation of scientific facts. In 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.
Denise Wallace-Spriggs, lecturer at Boston University School of Theatre, will consult on art direction.
We are in need of funds to complete the studio recording and develop a design for the visual element.
Demo samples of the piano parts from Aberfan:
(Pantglas Junior School, Aberfan, Photo courtesy of AGU Blogosphere)
Photo 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.
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.”