In this Section: LUCAS RICHMAN, HAMISH BARKER, VEDA HILLE, DAHLAN & HONORA FOAH, SYLVIA LE BRETON
Composer and Conductor
An interview after the World Premiere of his
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth
"My works have a deeper meaning than notes, notes,
notes, notes, notes." — Maestro Lucas Richman
Interview by dahlan robert foah
I’ve known Lucas Richman for about twenty years, and his parents for a good bit longer. Lucas has always appeared to me to be an extraordinarily serious professional musician — conductor and composer.
Recently he conducted the World Premiere of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth. I felt it was time to ask him about the underlying reasons for his works.
DRF: What is your earliest memory of your love of music?
LR: [After a long, thoughtful pause]: “My mother singing lullabies to me.”
There is also a recording, “It’s Nice to be Nice.” It is a whole album of songs about etiquette. We would sing the lullabies and the songs from this album all the time.
“Good morning, good morning,
My face is shining bright;
Good morning, good morning
My teeth are gleaming white.”
This is the music I heard at a young age. My mother didn’t have a trained
voice, but she sang with love, and that is what I incorporated into much of
the things that I have written, both music and my prose, about music for (Lucas' parents, Helen and Peter Mark, 1960s)
The lullaby is the first music that a child will hear and it’s that connection between a mother and child which associates music with love.
DRF: It’s that association that you have, and the passing on of that to your son.
LR: I wrote “Day is Done” – children’s lullabies, which sold thousands of copies. I just listened to it again recently. It’s with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony and Debbie (Lucas’ wife and business partner) and me. (CD Available here.)
So many lullabies are recorded with synthesized music. This is all acoustic. So it’s really beautiful.
We put it together when Max [their son] was just a baby, one-year old. So it has a lot of meaning to us. And we’ve had a lot of anecdotal comments over the years. Orli Shaham just wrote to me and said, “We play your lullaby album every night.” And she sent me a picture that her son had drawn of one of the songs. How incredible is that?
DRF: What about acoustic vs. electronic music?
LR: There is nothing like acoustic, real instruments. Synthesizers are cold. They are computers. While you hear a melody or beat, it’s not at all the same as hearing a person playing an instrument live.
DRF: And the quality of the acoustic sound — I feel it goes into one’s soul differently than synthesized music.
DRF: You were influenced by many people. Who were the most influential.
LR: A personal story about Aaron Copland: when I was six years old, I was reading the biographies of composers. Unfortunately, when I reached the end of books about Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and others, I found out that they had passed away...so, being six, I thought that, in order to be a composer, one had to be dead! But when I reached the end of the book about Aaron Copland and found out that, at the time, he was still very much alive, I went to my father and said, “Daddy, Daddy — I want to write a letter to Aaron Copland!” Well, my father found Copland’s address but warned me that the composer was a very busy man and would probably not have tome to answer my letter. I was determined, however, and mailed off a letter with a six-year-old’s brazen expectation that, of course, this esteemed icon of American music would respond without a doubt.
Sure enough, six weeks later I received a postcard from Aaron Copland that has given me inspiration ever since. He wrote: “Dear Lucas, I received your letter and thought it was just fine. Good luck in your composing! Your friend, Aaron.” Now, the fact that this man, at the top of his profession, took the time to write to a little kid from the San Fernando Valley has remained with me as an important motivator for my own efforts in music and education.
Postcard from Aaron Copland
There is a postscript to the story, which is that I think Mr. Copland actually couldn’t resist writing back to me because, being six, I copied directly out of the biography I had read. So for my introductory sentence to this esteemed and very distinguished man I had written the following: “Dear Aaron Copland, when you were born you were wrinkled, reddish in color and bald.” Ten years later, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Copland and, fortunately, he had no recollection of the content of my letter.
Aaron Copland and Lucas Richman (below - ten years after the postcard).
DRF: Who are some others?
LR: Mr. Robert Kursinski, they called him “Mr. K.” - my high school chorus teacher. I had two years of harmony with him when I was 14-16. I was also arranging and conducting. He would sometimes not be available for rehearsals, so he would call my mom and say, “Is Lucas available for rehearsals?”
At a very early age I was suddenly standing up in front of an orchestra and chorus and . . . leading. Leading rehearsals.
I was also rehearsal pianist and taking violin lessons and playing in the youth orchestra. My youth orchestra conductor was Mr. Thomas Osborn, who has unfortunately since passed. The last time I saw him he came to a concert I was doing with the Young Musicians Foundation in Malibu, and I told him that when I do these pieces, “I think of you, because you are the person who introduced this piece to me. I sat in the second violin section and played this piece while you conducted. So I always associate these works with you.”
That speaks to the musical legacy, things that we pass on from one generation to the next. And the mentorship which is an inherent part and progression of music and the teaching of music, the passing on of music. From parent to child, from mentor to student. And when I became a teacher of music of middle school and high school . . . four of the most difficult years of my life, I realized I was to those kids what MR. K was to me. And it was profound and I realized that it was a very, very important thing that I was doing. It was very difficult.
Teaching is something that I am very passionate about. Teaching in a grammar school setting is perhaps not my life’s work, but I applaud those who do it and can do it for a sustained amount of time. I managed for four years, but I had other things I wanted to do as well.
DRF: I think of you as being very influenced by Leonard Bernstein – not only in your conducting style, but also in composing and in your love of education.
LR: In everything that he did he was teaching. I’m reading the book you gave me [‘Dinner with Lenny’ by Jonathan Cott], and it’s fascinating that he loved to teach everything. He was a teacher. When he was composing, when he was playing the piano, when he was conducting, he was teaching. He always wanted to inform and enlighten. People respond to music on many different levels – on an intellectual level, an emotional level, a spiritual level. And sometimes it helps to know a little more in depth about the music to make the experience that much more rich. Because it’s very abstract to just hear sounds. Just sounds. And have them create an impression on us.
Why does the sound of a larger orchestra impact us in a certain way that might be different from hearing a solo violin, or three instruments together, or a whole orchestra playing very quietly, as opposed to one horn playing loudly. And the pacing of that . . . when a composer has ideas and stitches them together — ideas with a certain pacing that tells a musical story, without words, it takes us on a journey through time. It’s such an amazing and odd, abstract art. Once its done, once you hear the notes, it’s done. It is at that point a memory.
DRF: And the vocabulary is not one that many people are acquainted with. Therefore their absorption of a live performance, if it is informed beforehand is different than if it is not. And yet you need a balance, you don’t want it to be all intellectual or all emotional. And there is no real way to quantify it. And it varies from performance to performance.
LR: Oh, absolutely. Why does hearing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony move you one time and not the next time? It could be the performers, or what you ate for dinner.
DRF: It seems to me somewhat obvious that your working with Bernstein, who seemed to have such a joy in teaching and sharing . . . [BIG SMILE FROM LUCAS AND SAYS, “YEA”] and that is exactly the way you are. So giving. And that is what is exciting about being around you.
LR: For me, interestingly I just want to create. And so much has to go into managing one’s life and doing the things you don’t want to do. And how much more could I do if I didn’t have to think about marketing the things I have already created?
DRF: It’s everyday life today. While 200 years ago, with the patronage system it was different. Yes, they had their problems, but it’s such a shame that we can’t do what we should be doing.
What are you priorities once you leave the KSO? Where do you see your weighted system, what takes precedence?
LR: I look forward to having the opportunity to explore more of the creative side. I need to have a good balance between creation and re-creation. And conducting is re-creation. You are re-creating something that somebody else put down on paper. And the teaching aspect, the learning, the exploring, what did other people do . . .that is part of the re-creation and assuring the continuation of the legacy that precedes me and my colleagues.
At the same time, I have things to say in, I hope, a unique manner, to perhaps shed a little more light on things that are part of the human existence and the things that I want to create I need time to be able to create those things and let them gestate.
It’s hard to do all this at the same time. To be music director of two orchestras, and write a piano concerto . . . and have a friend in Dahlan . . . oh my God! [laughs]
DRF: You are a perfectionist and want to do things well.
LR: It’s so rare to have truly sublime moments in performance because being, ok, maybe a perfectionist and being a leader, you are always making choices. You have a goal, what is the standard, what is acceptable, what is my personal level of integrity, how much do I push, what and how much can I expect of other people. And in the moment making decisions when someone has misunderstood something that I’ve done, or another musician, or there is a discord or something out of line – it’s making the adjustment, it’s making choices all the time, weighing the value of one thing against the value of something else.
DRF: And the time involved.
LR: Exactly. So it is rare to actually have those moments in performance where everything is perfect . . . and in that moment you feel everything ……. whooooosh over you. And it might only be for three seconds. But those moments are those moments that sustain us and they are the stunning moments in our lives when you can feel, as you are coming to the final crescendo in Mahler’s Second Symphony, and you feel the orchestra generating incredible heights of passion and the chorus is singing, the soloists are singing, and the audience, you can feel behind you, are on the edge of their seats. Those are incredible moments.
DRF: There are those moments within each concert that are gratifying enough to you, to the musicians, and of course to the audience. Your enthusiasm when you conduct, when you lead, seems to be something which makes the musicians and the audience aware of what’s there, besides the music itself.
LR: Yes, that’s the teaching aspect. And that’s being aware of myself as a performer, in trying to guide. Not that it’s choreographed. But I certainly have those moments when I know, “Oh my gosh, I’ve lost focus.” It’s human nature. It’s hard to always be hyper-focused and involved, but in putting that energy in all the time, it’s very tiring. It’s taken me a week to recover from working on the piano concerto and the performance.
DRF: What’s the difference for you between conducting, say, the Mahler #2 and your own Piano Concerto?
LR: It’s a very different mindset. And interestingly, I think that Bernstein was the same way. I think that he may not have conducted his pieces maybe as well as he conducted other peoples’ music. You have to put on a different hat. You have to be the conductor. I look forward to doing my music more and more, additional performances so I can live with the piece.
When you are involved in a premiere there is so much going into it, and writing and finishing any corrections to the parts at the last minute that there is not as much time to prepare the score as a conductor. I realized after the performance that I could have conducted a certain part much better. Maybe a specific [conducting] pattern made things slow, but I didn’t have time to work it out.
DRF: Speak to me about the Piano Concerto and where it came from and what keeps drawing you to this particular material and how it has evolved.
LR: [Lucas gets quiet]
There are things that we encounter in our lives as adults, which we are forced to question, on a regular basis.
“Am I crazy” or “is what I believe to be true really not true?”
Is it possible that that person over there truly believes what they are espousing, or are they saying what they are saying for personal gain and not caring about the ramifications of their choices.
And also not taking responsibility or any culpability for the aftermath of choices that they make.
Sometimes people make choices and make statements and do things in a non-malicious manner. And it’s simply because of lack of education.
But we all know people who decide to do things and “beat the system,” get away with stuff. Well, if you are getting away with stuff – can you live with yourself? Because you know that you did something ‘not quite honest’.
So the perception that we have as individuals of what is acceptable behavior to one another all came out in this piece, “In Truth”. And I think that to begin with we have to be true to ourselves and discover what kind of person we think we are and/or want to be. And take a look in the mirror, a real hard look, and say . . . . for instance people who aspire to have a career in a certain professional.
If you are not talented in that profession. Look in the mirror. You are probably talented in something else. But find it. Discover it. Don’t keep on hitting your head against a brick wall and say, “I’m going to be the biggest actor, rock star.” If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. And be honest. Be honest with yourself. You not only hurt yourself, you hurt everyone around you because you are not being true to yourself and your inner. And that’s why I wove in, as the second theme for the first movement, “Strengthen the Bond between your inner feeling and the One who watches over you.” It’s being honest and allowing yourself to be guided. Properly. That’s what the whole first movement is.
[In the first movement,] "To One’s Self" in there], I also have musical ideas which, in Latin, Veritas vos Liberatis – Truth will set you free. That rhythm is throughout that movement.
And the word, “Emet” – Truth – assigning pitches – E, F, E, F, along with the English – Truth – assigning pitches – FDGFA and combining those two phrases came up with a melody that is put through many permutations in this movement and in the other two movements. Forward, backwards, upside down.
And so you hear many different versions of the truth.
The second movement, “To One’s World,” therefore, after having taken a good hard look at ones’ self we take a look at the world. And it’s chaos, it’s fast-paced, it’s dissonant, and there are things in it we can try to fit in it, sometimes we ride along with it, and sometimes we just can’t make sense of it. Sometimes we just go . . . .BLAAAHHHH!
And there is no answer. And ultimately, very often, as much as you try, as one tries to teach and coax an understanding out of other people, it’s not unsolicited advice, and teaching as posturing is largely unsuccessful, which is what takes us to the last movement, “To One’s Spirit.”
If we lead by example, people will follow. And if we are true to ourselves, people will follow. And it’s a matter of tapping into that universal higher power to find what is the truth. And that vibration, if it’s magnified and broadcast loudly enough, can’t help but make it’s way into peoples’ hearts and souls in a way that they never knew was there.
To touch people not through their mind, but through the same avenue by which we receive our understanding. To touch them through their core as well.
DRF: It’s fascinating how when there is clarity within ones’ self there is a cleanliness to it. Which then makes the dissemination of it to others easy. It’s not done by volition. It happens on it’s own accord.
And what is the movement from the Cantata to the Piano Concerto?
LR: The Cantata (The Seven Circles of Life: A Subud Cantata) was written for an audience, a congregation, if you will, that already understood. And it’s interesting that when we did it in Spokane there were a few members of the Spokane Choir who opted not to sing. Once they began to understand that this piece was talking about an individual connection to the Higher Power that didn’t need to go through another intermediary, that was objectionable to some people. And they promptly left.
DRF: But the flip side is that many people were opened [in Subud] after the concert, from the community.
LR: Yes, and that’s what I’m talking about. They felt something. They felt the vibration. They felt something in a way they never felt it before. And it was so interesting to hear, anecdotally, after the premiere of my Piano Concerto, not even having read the program notes, that they were so moved on a spiritual level that they felt like they were floating.
There is something about that and I like the fact that the melody, “Strengthen the Bond” really did come from the Indonesian chants that Lorenzo Music had given me — a whole box of tapes of this woman singing the entire Susila Budhi Dharma text, chanting. Hours. [Lucas sings the melody]. And I notated in preparation for writing the Cantata. That’s what you have, she sang a different melody for different passages.
I notated what she sang, and she must have sung it twenty times as she was going through the text. The fact that that melody came from that original chanting, it’s already infused with something very powerful.
DRF: Thank you, Lucas.
I am very touched, honored and happy to have your friendship.
Click here for more about In Truth and Program Notes.
If I am asked about my earliest significant childhood memories they would definitely include hearing songs on the radio. I can recall feeling a sense of wonderment, almost like standing at the doorway to another familiar, yet more exotic world, having a sense of comfort and well-being and wanting to express and interpret my happiness through physical movement.
60 years on and I can say that music can still have that effect on me! — although these days I am rather more discerning in my choice of music.
I think it was because my response to music was spontaneous, that, despite early attempts to learn an instrument at school, I simply could not relate to written music. Indeed, I have never learnt to read music, although I understand theory and chord construction.
In my teens the doorway to that exotic world was opened wide by The Beatles— suddenly it was possible and valid to make your own music in your own way— to ‘do your thing.’ I joined a band formed at my local youth club and started the process of teaching myself to play-.first bass guitar, then guitar, then flute, then drums and finally keyboards. I played professionally for a while in various bands at home and abroad before my interest in the art of making records led me to getting a job as Sound Engineer in a small London recording Studio. Here I learned much that I would put to use in the future, although after 2 years a longing to be making music rather than recording others led me to leave.
After several years of trying to find a situation that would enable me to express my musicality I was at a point of frustration and disillusionment. Here Subud found me.
I initially let go of my musical ambitions, then started to think in terms of playing solo- a very scary idea at first. I slowly put together a repertoire of singer songwriter type songs and eventually played clubs and pubs for some time, learning as I went.
The next phase of my life found me running a retreat centre with my new wife, Latimah. We had a large country house where we hosted groups of 20 or so. Events included massage, dance, creativity, relaxation, yoga, counselling and Shiatsu. Playing in pubs was no longer either possible or attractive.
After a while I became more tuned in to the type of New Age music various groups were listening to and I started to record my own atmospheric music, multi-tracking principally flute and guitar to create a relaxing soundscape. I was able to introduce my music to guests as they came down to breakfast in the morning and started to sell tapes and later CDs fairly steadily including to many therapists who found it an ideal backdrop for their practice. This phase continued for almost 20 years until we felt that we needed to move on.
I now have a Recording Studio at our present house where I spend a lot of my time. In recent years I have been teaching myself to play piano and find the keyboard a much richer and more expressive form of accompaniment. It also seems to support my singing voice in a way that feels more natural. Indeed I find myself more interested in writing vocal pieces these days. Writing lyrics however does not come naturally to me. So if there are any gifted lyricists reading this I would be most interested to hear from you!
Music and the Latihan
Over many years doing Latihan I have observed how my musical life has run parallel in many ways to my inner process. Similar purifications, re-evaluation of motives, and letting go of old ways and the discovery of new talents and ways of working seem to occur.
When I was first opened I felt I really wanted to sing, but it was some years until I actually began to sing in the latihan. Now singing is what I do most in Latihan and I can confidently say that for me there is no finer tuition for my vocal chords. I now regard the ‘songs’ I find myself expressing in Latihan form the benchmark of what I need to express in the world. Of course, one cannot hold on to these Latihan ’songs’, they are of the moment and cannot be captive..
Still, the feeling remains and I strive in my musical endeavours to have enough ‘effortless’ technical ability to allow the channel to be open and let something of true content come through.
I can really recognise and feel when it works and conversely that makes it very unsatisfying when it doesn’t! Truly a double-edged sword! -And a journey that I sense will never end.
reprinted from subud world news
Thierry Sanchez and Maya Bernardes (now Korzybska) had a number of companies in Paris in the 80's and 90's, with activities surrounding live concerts and the music business: Stage One, Rock MC, Music Point and later TMS and associates. The main activities were merchandising, pioneering on-line ticketing (le minitel) and CD/Video distribution in the tabacs (kiosks). Subud members as associates or employees were involved in all these activities; the company that employed numerous Subud youth to sell t-shirts at rock concerts was called Rock Merchandising Club – Rock MC for short.
Maya Korzbyska writes:
It was a real surprise and a stroll down memory lane, when Thierry sent me an article with photo he found when googling his name and Rock Merchandising Club, looking for archival material. Oh, the wonders of the internet nearly 30 years on.
Here we are: Thierry and Maya above on the right of the picture; on Thierry's right is Rolf Gibbs, with Hermas Lassalle beyond; Dahlan Lassalle (bending down front left of picture); below us, Pamela Lassalle on our right, Stephanie Nordrum on our left and Lisa Pfeiffer kneeling in front. These were the enterprising Subud Youth of 1984! (Check full article for a closer view and the accompanying French text)
I cannot begin to remember the names all the younger Subud members who worked for us on tours, concerts and other events; but for sure I remember Dylan and Osanna Vaughn, Richard Lassalle, as well as Paul Gawen, the Berger boys (sons of Lienhard and Roberta) and Robert Carré (son of Rashid and Rochanna).
Hey! Anyone who worked on a rock 'n roll concert in Paris in the 80’s please contact me! Just for the fun of it: bernardes.maya at gmail.com
And before we get too holy holy about Subud enterprises associating with rock 'n roll (we know the expression drugs, sex and rock 'n roll), believe me this was a super clean crowd, who just had lots of healthy fun. What's more, one of the outcomes today of this, ‘oh so commercial, superficial, money making business,’ is Talent for Humanity and the Human Spirit Awards. Check out www.talentforhumanity.org
Celebrate! Summer 2011 cover artist.
"Canadian singer-songwriter, Veda Hille, regularly sells out theaters throughout Canada and Europe, and it's easy to see why. She possesses the high register range of Tori Amos, the coy wit of Ani Difranco, and the sort of grown-up wisdom that Sarah McLachlan casually displays. Hille's words are smart, uplifting, and a little arty, but endearingly so. Her music is joyfully all over the place, from confessional, personal, and painful songs to punky, powerful romps and pretty, floating tunes that stick in your head for days" — Mike McGonigal, Amazon.
Steve Baylin, another reviewer, calls her "the Monet of modern pop." He feels her work is a "pure sonic celebration of colour and light, its fluid moods and shifting rhythmic shapes always precise and striking." He was reviewing This Riot Life. His conclusion? "It's what great music was meant to be: human to a fault."
Have a listen as you read on. (Click on Music Player.)
A Subud member from Vancouver. Veda has put out 13 independent recording of her own music, starting out with the tapeSongs about People and Buildingsin 1992. Her latest release, Young Saint Marie with the CBC Orchestra, features reinterpretations of songs by Buffy St Marie and Neil Young. In her 20 year music career Veda has toured in Canada, USA and Europe, composed for opera, musical theatre and dance, curated shows, mentored young talent, worked on musical collaborations — and that's just the music part.
She's really a Renaissance artist. Her 2012 hit musical, Do You Want What I Have, a Craig's List Cantata, (written in collaboration with CBC host, Bill Richardson) for Vancouver's PUSH Festival, is a huge runaway hit that theaters everywhere are clamoring for. It's scheduled to play Toronto's Factory Theater in 2013. Indeed, she is joyfully all over the place!
So where did all this start? Veda announced to her family at the age of 5 that she was going to be a musician and hasn’t wavered or looked back since, building constantly on her keen creativity and love of exploration of all things. Influences have been Glenn Gould, Beatles, and the Talking Heads according to the interview with ‘Vancouver songwriting legend Veda Hille’ in Scout Magazine Dec 31, 2009.
On her creative process Veda writes: “I think the best advice that I was ever given was to write about what amazes me. This has led me to a huge variety of subjects, and helped me to remain interested in music as well as cultivated a kind of constant amazement at the world.”
And what does she think has been the influence of Subud and the latihan in her work? “It was soon after I was opened (at age 21) that I began writing music. I’ve always seen that as a pretty direct relationship. The act of surrender that we practice in latihan is closely related to the writing process for me; learning how to listen hard to music that isn’t there yet.”
Veda and husband Justin Kellam (a drummer with the band No Kids) spent the fall of 2009 working and living the creative life in Europe’s cultural center — Berlin. These days they both lead a busy life as working parents in Vancouver with their little boy Anders (18 months) and daughter Saoirse (17).
Learn more about Veda and her music on her website:
Listen to songs, find upcoming concerts and blog on myspace and YouTube.
Listen to Veda’s concert from December 2009 on CBC Concert on Demand
As one music critic wrote about Veda – “She is a gift from God, or at least from Canada.”
Creativity in Captivity
How is it possible to retain our humanity in the worst of circumstances? When everything is taken, what remains that allows us to survive not only, or not even, in body, but in spirit? What is it, in the power of creation, that activates what is most meaningful inside ourselves?
These are the questions that inspired conductor Dahlan Foah and Honora Foah of Imagination Institute to partner with Italian concert pianist, composer and musicologist, Dr. Francesco Lotoro, to launch Creativity in Captivity.
A year long series of concerts and events, Creation in Captivity will also support the work Lotoro has been doing over the last 22 years to copy, record and preserve music written by prisoners interned in WWII concentration camps.
It is said that the Devil asked God for a free hand to do what he liked with the world and God gave him the 20th century. The result was two huge world wars and a level of violence and killing that is unimaginable in its scope and horror. The greatest depth in this horror were the Nazi concentration camps. The images of huge incinerating ovens, of lines of emaciated innocent people, of piles of bones, are so dark and evil it’s hard to contemplate them.
It’s hard to imagine how, under such appalling circumstances, the human spirit finds enough energy and courage to create, to bring something new into such a brutal world. But somehow people did find the courage to do so. The purpose of “Creativity in Captivity” is to celebrate this courage and its musical expression.
Dr. Lotoro explained: “ If we think of it, no one can control the creative energy of mankind. In fact, the creativity of mankind multiplies the more difficult, the more restrictive, the more limited the situation. It was generally a sentiment of many of those who knew they would not survive to leave a testament, they had nothing. They couldn’t leave their house, their belongings. They had nothing. . . . So people who were maybe even resigned to an atrocious death, had all the more reason to create artisticall. . . . The process of creating music was something close to the heart, a testament of the heart.”
Mythic Imagination has partnered with Dr. Lotoro to insure the permanence of the archive and help to continue his research and recording, as well as bringing the works to America and creating performances. Creativity in Captivity is presenting events, exhibitions, conversations, podcasts and films exploring the power of creation to activate what is most meaningful in situations of captivity. Dahlan and Honora Foah conceived of, produced and directed the concert. Dahlan is the president of Visioneering® International Inc. and Honora is the president of Mythic Imagination Institute.
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THEATRE: Sharing One Spirit, One Breath
SYLVIA LE BRETON
The first community drama I directed was in the year of the
Millennium. Thirty minutes after the ending of our open-air drama, “One Breath,” the heavens opened. Next day, the rain continued, and as we paddled in the quagmire dismantling the scaffolding, which held the set, the same comment was repeated: “Weren’t we lucky? If this had happened yesterday, we’d have been washed out.”
Of course I agreed, but I didn’t tell them about the angels: the ones holding the giant umbrella over the area of Cannon Hall Country Park, Cawthorne during the four nights that we presented our play.
You don’t believe me? That’s because you weren’t there.
I heard them on the last night, just after the show ended.
“Or reight lads” (you mean you didn’t know that angels speak with a Yorkshire accent?) ”They’re dun – let it go.” And that’s when it rained.
It might seem that plans for the play began in September 1998 with a meeting to discuss the possibility of a community
drama for the Millennium; in reality the play began some years earlier at the Subud Congress on The Isle of Wight.
At the end of a session, we each asked to receive about our talents. There I was, surrounded by lots of people. There was music, lights, action! At the end of the test I shouted out, “Let the kettle drum be sounded! Then I burst out laughing.
Then the doubts, of course. Who - me? You’re joking. After Spokane I bought a book by Ann Jellicoe on community drama. This was it: a community drama for the Millennium. It all fitted; all the aspects of theatre, which I most loved, could be there:
It could be simple and accessible to all.
It could be inclusive of all ages and abilities.
It could relate to people’s lives.
It could touch people and hopefully, uplift.
It could celebrate not just the particular but the universal
We set to work. A committee was formed; funds were raised; we applied for grants and the money came. At first I looked for a writer for the play but gradually came to feel that I must write it myself. Adrienne Thomas encouraged; Kadarijah Gardiner advised and contributed two stonking good songs.
If I doubted, I tested and always the receiving was the same, “The people and story are there, just find them.” The subject of the play was crucial of course. If this was going to work it needed a strong story line and real people depicted who would engage the audience. It must celebrate local history but be universal enough to appeal to all those coachloads who would drive up the M1 to see it. (They did – well, a mini bus!)
Cawthorne is now a commuter village but still a farming area with many working farms. We took a true incident: a farmer takes 100 store lambs to market; they fetch £5 a lamb; it is the last straw. He leaves the market and walks up the hillside; there is a tree, a rope and then comes the vision. The play unfolds through the eyes of the farmer and the spirit of his dead grandmother. Together they discover the lives of their ancestors. The character of the grandmother is central to the play: strong, loving, feisty and flawed. She is not there to moralise, simply to witness.
Although the basic story is serious, there is much laughter, lots of action, including a battle between Normans and Saxons and a dance sequence choreographed by “The Full Monty” choreographer, Suzanne Grand. Over 130 people were involved, 91 actually performing, many never having performed before. I always believed that it would work but never realised just how well. People kept coming forward to help. We had raised £18,000 but spent less than half because so many people offered their services free. Our cast cut right across the village divides. Our youngest member was 7, our eldest 76. Friendships were forged, old enmities healed. People who had not spoken for years were now arm in arm. “Aren’t we lucky?” we said.
After the first performance we were sold out. The word went round and everyone wanted to be there. What can I say? It just worked and the impact was amazing. There was something there, and it had precious little to do with me. The word “magic” was used a lot, also the word “privilege.” Cast and audience alike felt it. One cast member said “It was like being in church.” It was the latihan of course. What else is there to say except that it was the musical director who first suggested that our modest musical ensemble should include a kettle-drum? It was great when it sounded during the refrain of the final song: “Sharing one spirit, sharing one breath.”