“My covid bubble is my safety bubble, family gets me, family accepts me.
Can I remember how to be social? Please don’t make me.”
Composer Gareth Churchill’s project for our Cerddoriaeth Eich Milltir Sgwâr programme has been a very personal exploration of the experience of people with head injuries during the pandemic.
He told us:
“As an artist who lives with ABI [acquired brain injury], I have long wanted to create work which connects with the lived experience of disability, but circumstances have never presented themselves.”
Supported by a commission from Mid Wales Opera, Gareth worked with Headway Cardiff and South East Wales, his local ABI support charity and its service users, with the intention of creating a song cycle which gave voice to the experience of social distancing from the perspective of some of those for whom social interaction is already a huge challenge.
“I conducted a series of online meetings with Headway Cardiff and South East Wales staff and five of their service users with existing interests in music and creative writing.
“Using verbal / written prompts and with facilitation from myself and Headway staff the service users were able to compose a series of short texts (‘libretti’) which I used as the starting point for my songs.”
Working via WhatsApp with cellist Nicola Pearce and mezzo soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, Gareth then workshopped the material and eventually the pieces were recorded remotely, sharing the final recordings with Headway’s participants.
One of the key aims of the project was to find a way of sharing the experiences of the pandemic from the perspective of people with brain injuries. Gareth’s own experience of Headway’s work in supporting rehabilitation meant he felt a deep connection to the stories and the importance of finding a way to voice them.
Rebecca Pearce (director), Headway Cardiff and South East Wales told us:
“Our members really appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with Gareth. His personal experience of brain injury gave them confidence that they were working with someone who would understand their experiences. They often feel these go unrecognized or misunderstood and the project gave them an opportunity for creative expression as well as introducing them to a genre music they might be less familiar with.”
The musician and singer involved with the project have never met each other or Gareth. His ambition is that one day the song cycle could be performed, live when circumstances allow, in front of the people whose words are at the heart of it. For now these compelling pieces are a virtual record of the deep impact of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable people in society – and on all of us:
“many ‘normal’ people now feel ‘broken’.”
A dramatic song cycle by Gareth Churchill examining the experience of social distancing.
Based on the testimony of brain injury survivors and created, in association with Headway Cardiff and South East Wales during the Covid 19 Pandemic.
Grey Matters I.
I suffer from fatigue, anxiety, loss of focus; many don’t understand that.
My avoidance mechanism lessens stressful contact; loss of human interaction over shadows that.
Covid’s reinforcement of negative mental habits will make re-connection difficult;
many ‘normal’ people now feel ‘broken’.
Grey Matters II.
Always two steps behind, always chasing, chasing, chasing, never catching up with your
conversation. My covid bubble is my safety bubble, family gets me, family accepts me.
Can I remember how to be social? Please don’t make me.
Grey Matters III.
Keep away! This Virus is a weapon of mass destruction! That’s what I say!
Distance is my saviour, don’t reach out your hand. What part of “Back Off” don’t you understand.
A different kind of “Normal” whatever that is and I shall go forward avoiding the abyss.
Grey Matters IV.
Having a ‘hidden disability’ is a daily battle and I didn’t want others to struggle like I had.
You have no control over your emotions, so to battle with the adaptation of the world is
very unnerving. The normal you wish for is something you’ll never get back.
You feel like a stranger in your own head.