Having a row of tough night shifts as a nurse at a Cardiac surgery department in the Netherlands made me decide to follow my dream; becoming a classical/opera singer. I wanted to surround myself with something beautiful and inspiring. For many years I combined the two professions but since my move to the United Kingdom in 2015 I am very happy to say I get to be a singer full time. Classical music and singing is food for my being, essential to my existence. I spend my days learning and singing new pieces and passing on my knowledge as a teacher, for which I am very grateful.
Working in the prison with the inmates was one of the most special things I have ever done. The amount of talented people one can find in the prison is astonishing. Talent in creativity, acting, singing, thinking, painting and so on. I felt honored that the guys in HMP Swaleside opened up to us and shared their stories and trusted us in all the excercises.
I was halfway through my pregnancy when we went in one day. We had created a mini opera around Schubert's Der Tod und das Mädchen. One of the scenes involved the guys lifting me up above their heads, pregnant and all, and walk around, then carefully laying me on the floor whilst singing the lyrics of "der Tod" which they had only learned that morning.
Their reactions to the idea in the first place were so varied. Some felt up to the task and others didn't dare to carry that responsibility and were brave enough to share that in front of their fellow inmates. After all; there were two gangleadears from within the prison in the group and everybody had their reputation to keep up high. However, when the moment arrived they all stepped forward and did it. It was a moment of utter trust for them and me.
It seemed like it was a long time for some of them since they had another human putting their faith in them.
It may sound strange, but I miss them and I very much hope they are all well despite being in there.
It's not everyday that one can experience what it is like to be in prison and to be able to walk out again at the end of the day.
And trust me; being stuck in prison is punishment enough, by far enough, so please let's not deprive the people in there from life any further than necessary and bring them art, any form of art, to keep in touch with the essence of life itself.
Them vs us
A story about the WhoAreWe? project at the Tate Modern (Tate Exchange) 22nd – 27th May 2018
We started on the Tuesday with 3 sofas, some pillows, a piano and an idea.
Very suiting for a project called WhoAreWe?.
We had to figure out in little time who WE were.
Singers? Musicians? Actors? Engagers?
How was that fitting in a project focused on (dis-) placement, housing, memory and migration, movement, politics of language teaching, the design of a hostile environment, rural, regional and urban ecosystems/transformations, food, environmental and racial justice.
Not only did we have just weeks to prepare - some projects on the floor had been talking to the organisers for a year - we also felt like “musical immigrants” in a big famous house that focused primarily on the visual arts.
Luckily we were guided by Menotti’s opera The Consul and the concept of teaching.
These two ideas stood almost directly opposite of each other as teaching requires people to open up to each other, to search for mutual grounds to start sharing on – the secretary and even more so the consul himself remain closed and safe on their own ground.
Them vs us is of strong influence in the opera.
When we ask ourselves who WE are instantly we create a feeling of them vs us.
Being open - teaching and learning can bridge this divide.
Perhaps more fundamentally, a universal experience of humanity is our experience of our parents and our children, which can be linked by the lullabies we hear as children and sing as parents.
People from all over the world sing lullabies to their children. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have the visitors sharing their lullabies with us and each other?
Maybe even teach us one or two? Or record them singing their songs to us.
Having started the Tuesday with very little we ended the Sunday with a mini opera including a chorus based on pieces from The Consul and above all: with a table full of lullabies on rolls of brown paper, with the rolls continuing on the floor. Lullabies in many different languages, alphabets, moods and meanings.
How interesting that a few from the Slavic countries had more threatening texts like: if you sleep too near the edge of the bed, you’ll fall off and the wolf will eat you.
Or in many of the East Asian ones children needed to go to sleep so that their parents could go work hard on the fields or the sea.
A big box of cut out brown paper full of lullabies is waiting for us to go and explore, as well as many recordings of people singing their lullabies to us and telling us what they mean.
Furthermore, the music score of The Consul is burning with desire to be opened and performed as never was the topic of them vs us and the need for papers more of an international problem as today and we need to show “them” that we’re all “us”!