Post 1. The italicized section below was written by my librettist Tracey Slaughter.
This project aims to speak to the scale of the refugee crisis sweeping the planet today, through tracing the plight of an Afghani family caught amidst this global maelstrom who find their way – through the perils of border flight, the privations of the camps and the complexities of international aid – to the shores of Aotearoa. The work aims to give voice and story to those enmeshed in these traumas of dispossession, evoking both a chorus of speakers who find their lives overturned by refugee experience, and a chorus of forbidding ‘world’ responses which mobilises a rhetoric of statute, border, and exclusion to withhold shelter and look away. From the midst of this conflict, the project tracks the journey of a single family exiled from their homeland who survive the risks of the refugee route to reach safety in New Zealand, examining the challenges of adaptation, memory and reclamation they face in their new space of belonging. The project aims to witness the global tragedy of refugee displacement, as well as engaging with the embodied experiences of individuals who have lived through this narrative of exodus, and how their resettlement has been impacted by the cultural aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks. Key to this examination of the cultural implications of the refugee crisis and its specific expression in NZ, is the collaboration of poet Nida Fiazi, herself of Afghani refugee background, with poet Tracey Slaughter and composer Michael Williams: Nida’s first-hand experience as both refugee seeking asylum and as citizen of a new diverse Aotearoa, is integral to the cultural dialogue the project intends to activate.
The process of composing still fascinates me, even after decades of writing and I continue to see it as a mysterious and sacred undertaking. The excitement and fear of beginning a new piece remains intoxicating. The blank canvas, or in this case, the blank manuscript paper can be seen as new potential, a vessel waiting to be filled, with as yet with unknown substance, and with luck something magical. On other occasions, the page seems like the enemy. It stares back like an accusation, a threat, or even ridicule. This, I hear from others is normal.
Prayer for Broken Shelter both excites and frightens me. The idea to write a new work based on the world refugee crisis is perhaps an honourable one and my intentions are certainly pure and born of the desire to make a difference. However, having decided to go ahead with this project, I am feeling a great sense of responsibility and fear. What if we miss the mark? What if we unknowingly offend? What if no-one is touched? These fears will stay with me all the way through the composition process, through the rehearsals, through the performances, through the recordings and well beyond. This I know, because I have lived, and continue to live this experience with other works less importance than this one.
The wonderful Tracey Slaughter and Nida Fiazi have written the text for the first act, which in my opinion is extremely powerful, and I have begun to compose the music for it. My next post will outline the progress so far, a little about the plot and my musical approaches. I hope you will find this interesting.