British Christian music stalwart ADRIAN SNELL talks us through the tracks on his new album 'Fierce Love'
On the 28th September Adrian Snell released his new album 'Fierce Love'. Through this article Adrian will give you a glimpse 'behind the scenes', song-by-song, at the people, places, experiences and instruments that make 'Fierce Love' so special.
'Fierce Love' has many stories to tell, but one particular influence is my work with children and young people with a variety of special needs. This influence comes both from the relationships I have formed, and the extraordinary range of instruments that are central to my music therapy work and now contribute to the unique soundscape of the album. 'Fierce Love' features an unusual array of instruments - from a giant quartz crystal singing bowl and Chinese wind gong to the African gong drum and the high-tech electronic Tenori-on.
"Hold You There Forever"
This song was written for my daughter, Carla. It was a kind of 'farewell' to her as she finally moved away from the family home to her own place in London. It was inspired by a card she gave me for father's day, the cover photo depicting a father holding his little girl on the palm of one hand. . . the text underneath was "A Father will. . .hold you there. . .forever. . ."
And I will.
"The Firefly And The Dazzling Moon"
"However small and lost you may think you are, to me your life is shining like the brightest star"
One evening in Italy, under a night sky with a dazzling full moon, I was walking with a friend who was in an emotionally challenging place, feeling lost and insignificant. Our eyes were attracted to a flashing light in the bushes - it was a firefly. In that moment, it represented her as the firefly overpowered by the dazzling moon but, even though the Firefly was minuscule in comparison to the moon, it was to this that your eyes were drawn first and foremost. A single candle can light a whole room. . .
"Sometimes The Broken Hearted"
The instruments I use in my music therapy work are selected not just because of their sound but also their shape, resonance and texture, which can be equally engaging to the students I work with. Although a rather unusual instrument to be used as a composition tool, a particular example of this is the sound wave bed. The surface is, in effect, a bed - you lie on the curved top of this beautifully crafted wooden instrument. One side has four tuned 'tongue' drums carved into the wood, whilst the other side has 30 metal strings stretched across the surface. The effect on the individual lying on it is one of powerful resonance as the sounds vibrate through the wood and thus through the body. These qualities are very important to my work as music therapist, and remind us that we do not hear sound only through our ears, but just as powerfully through our skin and bones. This song was written for a broken hearted friend. The words suggest the holding, cradling of a person when there are no words of consolation, just as the sound wave bed 'cradles' someone through a physical immersion into sound and music.
"Safe Back At Home On The Shores Of Loch Goil"
As he neared the end of a posting in Gaza, the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was seized at gunpoint by militants. After 114 days as a hostage, often anticipating execution, he was freed. A few days later, reflecting on the experience, he said this: "And in my captivity in Gaza, I learnt again that oldest of lessons. That in life, all that really, really matters, are the people you love. And here I am. . . safe, back at home, on the shores of Loch Goil."
The title track is dedicated to the children, young people and staff at Three Ways School who have taught me so much. I have been profoundly enriched by working with, and forming meaningful relationships with people, whose view of the world is coloured by their struggle to conform to society's expectations. One of the great privileges I have as the school's music therapist is that I am focusing on what our children and young people CAN do, beyond their limitations. Within this community music so often becomes the bridge between us; particularly where people are unable to communicate through words or choose not to use them. I witness the joy of seeing meaningful relationships develop as confidence grows.
The needs of some of my students are so profound and complex that I must begin by discerning what is 'intentional' communication. With one particular student, there are times when the rhythm and sound of his breathing is all I have to work with. On my original drawing to accompany this track were the letters YVHV, which is the traditional Hebrew name for God. This word by its very nature, being without vowels, is unpronounceable. As the Jewish Rabbis would tell you, if you try to pronounce his name, the sound from your mouth would, in effect, be the sound of breath.
The Hulusi means gourd silk referring to the instrument's silky tone. It is a Chinese instrument and one of its traditional uses was the 'wooing' of a girl much fancied by a boy! It's a wind instrument whose tone mirrors the way we use our voices. Interact China, the people who lovingly crafted this Hulusi, expressed delight at sound of their 'Asian' instrument within the context of a more Western European musical framework and generously sent it as a gift.
"The Desert And The Eagle"
This instrumental track in particular features some unusual instruments, one of which is the Kool drum. Acquiring the Kool drum actually began with a search for the 'hang drum', which had in effect become unattainable and so led me to the metal, spherical, Kool drum. I loved the unique sound, purchased one, which led to another in a different key, which lead to another, and another. . . ending in a collection of fove! Whilst in contact with the maker, I discovered that he makes them out of the tops of recycled gas containers! They are played by tapping the notes with your fingers and thumbs. The pleasing shape invites participation from more than one person and so is very effective in group music therapy work.
Another instrument that features in this and other tracks on 'Fierce Love' is the Chinese wind gong. The combining of five different metals and the technique used to hammer them together result in the extraordinarily powerful sound this instrument produces. At one moment soft and calming, the next building to the crescendo of a raging wind; the vibrations of which can be felt from a distance, immersing you in the sound. It's also another wonderful way to focus a group of people - to bring them to a silence and stillness which is such an important beginning to a session.
"For the forgotten victims of war. . . And the violated. . ."
"Broken" was inspired by Megan Stack's immensely powerful and insightful book Every Man In This Village Is A Liar which forces us to consider the innocent victims of war and violence long after the 'event' has passed and the attention of the world has moved elsewhere, and the consequences for the violated - the endless cycle of hatred, revenge and further violence that can last for many future generations. Colonel Bob Stuart's authentic words, reflecting on an incident when he was a soldier in Northern Ireland, provide a harrowing introduction. Whilst I want people to interpret the images which accompany these songs in their own way, and in their own time (there are no 'wrong' interpretations - what you see, you see!) this image has a particular significance for me. The pierced body represents the victims of violation, but if you turn the image 90 degrees, it takes on the appearance of another kind of violation. . . one crucified. . .?
"Give Peace In Our Time"
In our local church community we were handed bracelets with the words on them "Give Peace In Our Time". They were given to us to remind us of the on-going profound suffering in Zimbabwe and the heart cry for justice and healing from so many in that country. In this song I have extended it to include all those who cry out for healing and justice. There is a sense in which pretty well any object can become a musical instrument, if you view its purpose or potential that way. Enter the broken drainage pipe! Walking through woodlands near Bath, I came across this pipe and had the feeling it could be more than it appeared to be. Sure enough, when drummed at one end with the palm of the hand against the hole, rather as you'd play an udu drum, an unexpected but wonderful sound emerges through the other end - somewhere between a digerydoo and a jembe. Here's hoping your woodland walks will take on a whole new meaning!
"Night And Day"
A colleague at Three Ways suggested the Tenori-on as tool for music therapy. I had seen footage of the comedian/musician Bill Bailey performing with it and was fascinated by the combination of buttons and lights on its display, with its corresponding sounds. Once researched, I recognised the potential in my musical therapy work - its interactive possibilities visually and sonically, and the scope for shared music making. I adapted its usage in the construction of several of the songs on 'Fierce Love'. In these it becomes the 'glue' that binds these tracks together.
Based on a poem by E E Cummings, this, the final song on the album, has taken on a very special meaning for me. My dear mother, Margaret, died on March 11th this year. By this time all the songs on 'Fierce Love' were close to completion. Therefore, to my great joy, I was able to share much of this music with her in the last months of her life. She was, undoubtedly, my 'greatest fan' and supporter, consistently throughout my life. The words of "Grateful" couldn't express more completely the way she lived her life - just always, overwhelmingly full of gratitude for the gift of life, in all its colours. She heard, and loved, this song, and as I sat by her bed just hours before the end, she asked me to sing it to her. You should know that on the "Grateful" illustration, the flower in the bottom right corner of the picture was drawn by her.
I sincerely hope that this article has helped to demonstrate something of the 'physicality' behind music making, greatly emphasised in the context of music therapy. Many of the instruments on 'Fierce Love' have properties that belong to pretty well all the senses - sound, sight, touch, smell - and yes, sometimes even taste! As expressed earlier, music should offer us a 'whole body' experience, where we 'feel' and 'sense' the sound as much as we 'hear' it. So often in my work the, sometimes extraordinary looking, sound making object between me and another person becomes a wonderful bridge between us - a tool in the building of a truly meaningful relationship.
On October 6th 2103 at 8.10am, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast their Sunday Worship programme from Three Ways School on the subject of special needs and inclusion.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.