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Spirit of the middle passage

Thompson, Shirley (2007) Spirit of the middle passage. [Composition]

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Abstract

Composition for Solo Singers, Speaker and Orchestra, commissioned to commemorate in music the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. ‘Spirit of the Middle Passage’ is a composition featuring the narratives of three women from Europe, Africa, and the Americas whose diverse lives are joined only by the thread of the slave trade experience. The musical ethos of each movement is inspired by the unique characteristics of each iconic woman, commingling opera, contemporary popular and folk idioms. A Speaker takes the role of a choragus that contextualises the narratives. Projections of the three women onto video screens at the back of the stage hyperexplicate the music-theatrical performances of the solo singers. Each woman is characterised musically by a distinct lyricism portraying the essence of her nature, analogous to bel canto operatic vocal traditions, against an intricate, multi-layered string background. Call-and-response techniques between the wind instruments and the strings recall African music traditions, as does the presence of the Speaker, reflecting the function of the griot in many African cultures. Brass flourishes are underpinned by timpani ostinati, recalling the rhythms of African Master drummers. Vocal lines explore the full register, emotional range and stylistic flexibility of the singers, encompassing operatic, popular and folk modes of delivery. The work was commissioned by the Freedom and Culture International Forum with a grant from the Arts Council and sponsorship by the South Bank Centre, and was premièred in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 10 November 2007 by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Yuval Zorn. The performance was a focal part of an international three-day London conference on the slave trade, with keynote speakers including Professors Stuart Hall, Angela Davies and Nobel Prize-winner, Wole Soyinka. The second movement, ‘The Woman Who Refused to Dance’, was premièred at the opening of the parliamentary exhibition, The British Slave Trade: Abolition, Parliament and People (23 May – 23 September, 2007) at Westminster Hall.

Item Type:Composition
Research Community:University of Westminster > Media, Arts and Design, School of
ID Code:4814
Deposited On:07 May 2008 16:04
Last Modified:29 May 2008 11:20

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