PRS for Music Foundation: What impact do you think your involvement in New Music 20×12 will have on your work?
Sally Beamish: This is a commission that has made me think quite differently. Melanie Reid’s title idea – Spinal Chords – brings to mind the function of chords within a structure – the importance of harmony as the backbone of a piece. The link to sport, and the Olympics, has opened up all sorts of possibilities and exposed me to a world I know little of.(See ‘message from the commissioning organisation’ at the bottom of this page to find out more about Melanie Reid.)
PRSF: Tell us the story of how and why you joined forces with the performers you are working with on this project.
SB: As a child I was fascinated by early music, and played the harpsichord. I never became involved professionally in the early music movement – it was just starting to be a big thing as I stopped playing and became a full-time composer. It is a kind of ‘full-circle’ for me, that the world of early music is now reaching out to contemporary composers. I love the sound of period stringed instruments, and am fascinated by the similarity the sound has to Scottish traditional fiddle playing. The ornamentation also has a lot in common, and this is something I hope to explore.
PRSF: How are you going to approach creating your new work? What kinds of creative input will the performers and community you are working with have on your work?
SB: Melanie is now home from hospital and we have met to discuss the text. She has just sent me a first draft, which I found so moving that I wonder how I will deal with meeting it face-on, and responding with my musical input.
PRSF: Who do you hope to reach through the creation and performance of this work and what do you hope they’ll take away with them?
SB: I hope that in some way the work will raise awareness of the devastation that spinal injury causes, and make the audience think about the aspects of life they simply take for granted. I also want to convey something of the energy and positive attitude that Melanie pours into her writing.
PRSF: Where do you draw your inspiration and influences? Which creator – musical or otherwise – do you most admire?
SB: I am a fan of all sorts of music, and often draw my influences from jazz, traditional and world music. But I would say words are by biggest influence – most of my work stems in some way from the written, spoken or sung word, even if no performing voice is involved.
PRSF: Which Olympic and/or Paralympic Games will you be seeing in 2012? What was your best/favourite sport when you were growing up?
SB: My main love was riding, and I identify with Melanie’s descriptions of the exhilaration and abandonment of cross country riding. I will also watch the Paralympics with interest, having heard from Melanie about wheelchair rugby and other sports which have boosted her spirits and kept her going.
Sally Beamish’s new work for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will set a text by Melanie Reid who broke her neck and back in a horse-riding accident in April 2010 which left her paralysed. Melanie’s weekly ‘Spinal Column’ in the The Times is an inspirational account of how she deals with raised and dashed hopes of recovery and how she in turn has been inspired by the many young people on her ward, many of them injured in sporting activities. Sally’s piece will reflect the positive spirit of Melanie and the many other people, including Paralympians, who display such a life-affirming attitude in the face of adversity.