ABERFAN 54TH ANNIVERSARY 10.21.20 “How with this rage…”

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea… —Shakespeare, Sonnet 65

“Rain Sequence”, pianos, Aberfan — it has started to rain, the composition begins.  In this demo sample, as single pianos enter one after the other, you listen to the gradual dissolution of harmony.

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.

Getty images, Aberfan, October 21, 1966

21ST.OCTOBER 2020: Aberfan 54th Anniversary — Ronnie Davis

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2c2315a1.jpg
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.

21ST.OCTOBER 2020: Remember ABERFAN — Jeff Edwards

(Originally posted October 2016)

I came across this yesterday and was astounded by Jeff’s straightforward honesty.  Surviving an event impossible for any of us to imagine, unless one were there, with great dignity.

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.

21st.October 2020: Aberfan 54th Anniversary — Meet Detective Sargeant Charles Nunn

Charles Nunn story

(Originally posted November 2015.)

Over a year ago, Charles Nunn contacted me, offering help for my project, Aberfan.

Here is the story he wrote in 1987.  TheDisasterOfAberfan_CharlesNunn_ThePoliceReview_

From one of our email exchanges, his words:  “The team in the mortuary were composed entirely of Regional Crime Squad Officers drawn from all over Wales….We were tasked to set up a mortuary, and identify the 144 victims of the disaster. I was designated the Senior Identification Officer and worked with my team in the mortuary at Bethania Chapel in Moy Road, Aberfan for 15 days until the last body, and body piece, was identified.

Aberfan was a small village. No police station, no town hall, no gymnasium which was why we had to use the totally inadequate facilities of the Sunday school room at the rear of the chapel for receiving, washing the bodies etc. and the body of the chapel itself to place the bodies for viewing. Once a body had been identified and the cause of death recorded by a pathologist, without exception asphyxiation and multiple crush injuries, Death Certificates needed to be issued.

It now sounds very incongruous and bizarre but they were issued from a local land mark, the village fish and chip shop.

In my handwriting, a notice was placed on the door of the chapel directing families to that location.”

I am deeply grateful for all that he has passed on to me.

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.

21ST.OCTOBER 2020: Aberfan 54th anniversary

(Originally posted October 2019)

As the day of the anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster nears, I am reposting this story by Ceri Jackson, BBC News, written for the 50th anniversary of the Disaster.

Aberfan: The mistake that cost a village its children

Photo from AP Archives , the graves of Aberfan, October 27, 1966.

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 : Rev. Colin Peter Bessant

(Originally posted February 2018)

A few days ago, Sophie-Ann Williams of North Wales contacted me.  She was hoping to find out more about her Grandfather, the late Reverend Colin Peter Bessant, who helped to dig those days of the Aberfan Disaster.  She sent along this photo of him which had been cut out of Life magazine.  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…”

If anyone has any information about him, please leave a reply at the bottom of this post and I will pass it along to Sophie-Ann and Paula.

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 and nearby houses, killing 116 children and 28 adults.  

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.

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: “Landslides in Art” Part 22

11_05-Aberfan_Tip_Disaster_5 AGU Blogosphere

Dave Petley has included a beautifully written post about Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue) in his series “Landslides in Art” on AGU Blogosphere, The Landslide Blog.

“The story of the Aberfan disaster is seared into the memories of a generation of people in South Wales, and it remains a tragedy of huge proportions.”

I first wrote to Dave in May 2013 after reading his post, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, which was so helpful in picturing and understanding how this catastrophy occurred, what led up to it and what followed,  all vital to the composition.

Dave Petley is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

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.

(Originally posted June 2015)

Aberfan 54th Anniversary 10.21.20

In 1966, my Mom wrote a song when she heard and read about the landslide in the news.  My father wrote down Mom’s lyrics on a sheet of his graph paper in November 1966.  The small letters above the last chorus and verse are the chords.

In the midst of the deepest revision of Aberfan, my own modern composition,  I realized this question:  how do you have words for such tragedy?  Should I use any lyrics at all?  If I did (for there are memories, and attempts to tell the story), the words themselves must be like the event, scattered, broken phrases, yet of a whole.

Here are the words that I kept, spliced together for my own piece, cut out from Mom’s lyric.

In the small Welsh town of Aberfan

for days the rain did fall

down on the heart–

Little children of Aberfan

in their school that day

the big, coal mountain–

They worked with their picks all through the day

dug with their shovels and hands

kept  on  digging 

kept  on  digging 

kept  on  digging–

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 continue to create this recording.

(Originally posted several years ago, when I began this blog.)

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!