August 29, 2010 at 10:32 am (*SONGS OF AFFLICTION)

Composed for – and performed by – anybody who lives or works with affliction, this song cycle explores the human condition and the nature of suffering.

The performers are encouraged to communicate their own stories and experiences through simple musical phrases accompanied by rich orchestral colours and textures.

It is conceived as a flexible piece that can be long or short and for anything from a single soloist with a single instrument to full orchestra and multiple soloists.

This first outing will be performed by former and current mental health service users and the Kings College London Symphony Orchestra.

October 26th 2010 at 7.30pm

Kings College Chapel

The Strand


In the bible* of mental health there is an ever increasing number (and an ever lowering threshold) of what counts as a mental disorder. Indeed there are many signs that the human condition itself is being pathologised. Ten per cent of British children are regarded as having a clinically recognisable mental disorder, 34 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were written in the UK in 2007, while it is estimated that 10% of US children take Ritalin to combat behaviour problems.

As composer-in-residence in a context that deals in part with mental health, I wanted to create a piece that focused generally on this issue but more particularly on the experience of both sufferers and carers.

Suffering of course has been a key theme of art throughout human history – but also of religion and so I’m thinking of this as some kind of rite or ritual. I’m keen to acknowledge suffering as part of the very nature of being human, its universality, something that needs to be fully integrated into our lives. But also to acknowledge that for some of us it becomes unmanageable and we need help. The piece explores the symbiotic relationship between suffering and care in the words of those who deal most closely with affliction. The idea is that the orchestral accompaniment will function as a solid support and a sort of warm, empathetic blanket wrapped around the soloist.

I’m creating the piece through a series of creative workshops with mental health service users. These workshops will initially be focused on story content, forming personal accounts into something that communicates in a concise but rich, authentic and affecting way. The second phase will be focused on musicalising this content. I will provide a number of templates which will be melodic cells of anything from 2 to 10 notes. These will be flexible and adaptable and there will be versions with and without pulse and versions with different tempi. The final phase will focus on performance – or rather on communicating the piece with confidence, on projecting the voice and on feeling secure with the piece.

*The American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is considered the gold standard.


Permalink Leave a Comment