I’m concluding this overview of the music in Song of Contagion with two excerpts from the final section of the show. They also encapsulate two extremes of the key musical features: first, the edge-of-your-seat excitement generated by the exchanges between jazz soloists…
…and secondly the solace and beauty of the spine-tingling textures created by the ensemble of glorious voices:
This week the hope, the aspirations and all the hard work invested in the show will become manifest! It has been a challenging and ultimately deeply rewarding journey, and I hope it receives a generous and open-hearted response.
As I write this latest preview, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in to final rehearsals this weekend, working with GUO’s sublime ensemble of singers from all over the world…
…and incomparable jazz soloists (Chris Biscoe and Tony Kofi, alto saxophoones)…
…as we make the final preparations for this extraordinary show. Don’t miss next week’s final instalment in this series of previews before Song of Contagion actually hits the stage – a dramatic and deeply moving coda!
The story of dengue fever and the Zika virus – and how the first has eluded public attention for decades, while the latter hit the headlines over the Rio Olympics – is narrated by a mischievous mosquito who dances her way across Africa and the West Indies to Brazil, following the spread of the diseases. Here she is in the Caribbean:
As you can see, when it comes to dance rhythms, Grand Union has many wonderful drummers from around the world to call on. They all feature in the show, and here they are in full cry on the typical African rhythm that sets the mosquito on her way:
The most harrowing episode in the show describes the experience of different people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or ‘shell-shock’. They include a refugee mother and child, a conscript soldier in Africa, and here combatants in the Pakistan/Bangladesh war:
Their experiences are first described in song, woven together, and then – as is often my practice in my music for Grand Union – dramatised instrumentally, with jazz soloists embodying the characters:
One of the compositional challenges I faced in this project was how to translate statistical data into music. I describe in the scenario how I wanted to tell the story of HIV/AIDS by converting a graph into a musical score. Here is a fascinating example in reverse: as the score moves across the screen, it looks a bit like a graph! There are three groups of three instruments (trumpets, saxes, trombones), playing identifiably different lines, which you can see and hear quite clearly:
I also wanted to find a way of expressing in music a more abstract idea that characterised our early workshops – debate or discussion. Here is an example: a soprano saxophone (Chris Biscoe) converses with trumpet (Claude Deppa) and alto saxophone (Tony Kofi); perhaps you can also hear vox pop (tuba) rumbling underneath?
The final section of Song of Contagion is about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – ‘shell-shock’. It begins with a brief evocation of a devastated city in a war-torn region, anywhere from Eastern Europe to Central Asia in the last 60 years:
PTSD affects civilians and combatants alike. One of our stories is based on the experience of a refugee and her daughter, and will be sung by Maja Rivić, seen here performing a song from Undream’d Shores:
Wilton’s Music Hall is in Cable Street, in the heart of London’s East End, the setting for the show and home of many of its performers. Cholera, the first of our subject-diseases, was rampant here in the early to mid-nineteenth century. This is how singer Davina Wright introduces the evening:
Interwoven with the story of London – where the construction of sewers eradicated the disease – is a parallel narrative set in Kolkata, where cholera is still rampant, and Indian voices clamour for fresh water: