BACKGROUND TO BAGLAN
‘Peace At Baglan’ is a track from the 2014 leere release ‘On Truth And Renewal’, a collection of acoustic songs recorded away from a studio setting. The song refers to ‘St Baglan’s Church’ which is situated in the area of Llanfaglan, approximately 4 miles south of the town of Caernarfon, in North Wales.
The size of the surrounding churchyard, and the presence within the structure of the church of a stone dating from the 5th or 6th century, is evidence that an earlier church or churches probably stood on the current site. It is traditionally credited to its namesake, the 7th century Saint Baglan ap Dingad, who some believe to have been a hermit and missionary. There are tales - widely disputed - that a certain Saint Baglan carried fire in his cloak without it burning. The church is now in the possession of ‘The Friends of the Friendless Churches’ but can be opened to the public on request.
It is in a beautiful location along the North Wales coast, overlooking the Island of Anglesey and provides visitors with a wonderful opportunity to observe the wildlife and the different habitats along the estuaries and inlets, and to generally 'empty' the mind of clutter! Visit if you can.....it won't disappoint!
Peace At Baglan
The Peace at Baglan came over me
Sure eastward, swept eastward
The Peace at Baglan came over me
Sure eastward, swept eastward
And I had fire within my cloak
I had forest blood
I had fire within my cloak
I had forest blood
Forest faith and blood
I’m walled now like a happy Jerusalem
Knowing my response, can’t give Baglan up
I’m walled now like a happy Jerusalem
Knowing my response, can’t give Baglan up
Can’t give Baglan up…no, no
Can’t give Baglan up
‘SEVEN SISTERS' TAKING ELDONIAN SHAPE (from an article for 'Plus' magazine, October 2016)
(The background to the Art and Poetry Exhibition by Ruth Smith and leere)
Between September 2014 and July 2016, I worked as a part-time ‘Creative Activities Officer’ at a care home in the north of the city of Liverpool. It was my very first experience of working directly with those affected by dementia, and within weeks I realized that I would have to radically adapt and to adjust my long held secondary school teaching routines and habits in order to respond appropriately and sensitively to the needs of each resident. Having not worked in my home city of Liverpool for over 25 years, there was also a determination to discover more about the life circumstances and histories of those who were now part of my new responsibility. There were approximately 30 residents at the care home, many of whom had lived the most eventful of lives, and whose character traits and features, responses and reactions, now fascinated me.
Fortunately, I was able to recall conversations, testimonies and references that I had come across to the implicit power of the ‘creative arts’ to help stimulate and to spark the smallest of connections for people affected at all stages by dementia. ‘Make music your life blood’, suggested one professional in the field. The Alzheimer’s Society listed numerous drawing, singing and drama classes on offer through their website. Gradually I found myself wanting to test the theory behind the Picasso quote ‘every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up’.
As a founding member of the musical collective leere (from the German word for ‘emptiness’), I have always had a long standing interest in the relationship between human energy and our positive appreciation of ‘space’. Many of the songs and the different writings and recordings with which I have been involved have focused on the possible and the spiritual. We have consciously worked against imposing boundaries around age, culture and ability. I was enjoying the idea of a challenge.
With the regular support of Sally King and Revd. Penny Leeman from the local Anglican Church, from relatives of the residents, and from my own parents and close friends (…who all knew far more than I about the upset, the anxiety and the isolation associated with a dementia diagnosis) I began reaching for the small affirmative and optimistic signs behind any words and behaviours.
I set about trying to create the most imaginative spaces in the building, to offer colour alongside calmness and good humour, and to encourage the ‘butterfly approach’ in practice (where various activities are offered without the pressure or expectation that individuals will spend any length of time on them). I wanted to pose the question ‘how can we really offer spaces that acknowledge elderly people’s achievements and contributions, and guard their decisions and actions sensitively and sympathetically?’ The daily humdrum of television, cups of tea, dreary interiors and a committed but tiring care staff had to be revisited.
I began to consider ways in which all artistic forms could initiate the deepest response from our residents, and serve to not only tap into their past interests and hobbies but also into their true (…and very present) characters. I felt it to be important to keep a sense of ‘journey’ alive around the place with the use of light, pictures of the old Liverpool waterfront, memorable holiday destinations, cuddly toys, even artificial fish! I needed to draw together a genuine network of creative support to help keep the momentum in this process.
It was then, in late 2015, that local artist Ruth Smith visited the care home using different artistic techniques and mediums to help develop the cognitive skills of the residents and the mobility of their arms, hands and fingers. She immediately began to allow them to use whatever form they wished in their art work and prepared the dining room space with soothing music and soft voices. As Ruth collated the different shapes, drawings and patterns that the residents completed themselves, close friend and local musician Dominic Hanway carefully compiled a CD of seven songs that conveyed something of the themes and qualities touched on in the poetry. Together we felt that we had a rounded means of representing some of our community members, looking to the present, but with honest reference to the past - in a written, visual and musical form.
The poetry took shape over approximately a 5 month period, and we decided to focus on seven particular qualities or personal attributes that we came to associate with seven of the female residents. In summary ‘the sisters’ and ‘the qualities’ we noted in their presence were as follows:
Pat – Spirit
Nellie H. – Strength
Rita – Simplicity
Eileen – Sincerity (please see poem attached below)
Agnes – Serenity
Nellie W. – Stillness
Sheila – Sanctuary
The poetry was finally structured with a prologue and an epilogue, partly so as to emphasize the link between the sometimes fragile and uncertain lives of any reader and the situation and perspective of the seven women. I was keen to deepen that sense of common history and community that has served Liverpool well over the years. On a broader level I hoped that those seven qualities might encourage reflection on something deeper within the Judeo-Christian tradition – namely an appreciation of the key Hebrew word ‘Shekinah’ and its closeness to interpretations of ‘Imago Dei’.
Having learnt so much from the wonderfully supportive families and the friends of the women involved, our only wish is that the poetry and the art manages to touch both on themes of local history and personal identity, but also on the very real issues around ageing and dementia care that people face today in the UK. As a person that has enjoyed music and poetry for many years (…my painting skills are improving!) this project was a privilege to be a part of, and we hope that in some small way that we were able to look ‘afresh’ at the characters, the gifts and the lives of seven special women.
(The ‘Seven Sisters of Eldonian Space’ Exhibition will be running at the ‘Unity Theatre’ in Hope Place, Liverpool 1, from Tuesday 15th November until Saturday 26th November 2016)
HANK AND A GENTLE RECLAIMING OF THE ‘H’ WORD
'‘You’ve got to have smelt a lot of mule manure before you can sing like a hillbilly’, once quipped Hank Williams Sr. when asked about his particularly unique and rather lazy vocal delivery. The term ‘hillbilly’ had strong geographical and cultural undertones and Hank Williams wasn’t shying away from the definitions people were beginning to attach to his ‘brand’, to his rapidly developing sound. Associated with Alabama and the Appalachian mountain region of the United States, ‘hillbilly’ (or ‘hillfolk’) was a quick, rather off-hand reference used to dismiss a loose assortment of string players and enthusiasts who took up the music to ease the everyday burdens of a very transitory and fragile life. Hank Williams might not have liked the term, but he was using that judgement around whom he was to state something clear and true about his attachment to his own rural upbringing, almost as a badge of identity in a precarious profession.
He had not been schooled in the ability to read or to write music, nor had he the opportunity to listen to a huge amount of material that was being shared in the cities of the south East in the period. He had been selling crops in Georgiana as a kid, witnessing life, love and loss on the huge farms amid the severe Alabama climate. Nor had he really been prepared for the all-dazzling and glamourous musical spectacle and extravaganza of ‘Nashville’ and its huge showtime musical entourage, ‘The Grand Ole Oprey’, with its radio broadcasts running for over 4 hours every Saturday evening. He had learnt guitar from a seasoned Afro-American guitarist, Rufus Payne, at the age of 8 years old and listened to the highly personal stories that filtered through in the sounds of the blues and gospel music of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Hank above all witnessed first-hand the lives of those musicians who learnt and loved their art through their existential uncertainties, that mode of ‘drifting’. He even adopted the name ‘Luke The Drifter’ to share certain songs rooted in profound Biblical themes and images of salvation. ‘Drifting’ might take expression as that struggle for a purpose, a focus over and above the everyday interactions with one’s environment, a sense of unity over the loneliness and the isolation of day to day work on the farms, among creation, with nature, besides a God.
By bringing together through song, the stories and the plight of the common moral man and ‘the ache’ of personal experience Hank stumbled upon his vocal manner that went on to define Country Music for generations later. His sound, sometimes referred to as ‘Honky Tonk’ (perhaps with the effects of the demon drink in mind), was as cutting as a ‘hillbilly pitchfork’. That long drawn out note that warbles, rises and falls away a little on key words and phrases – ‘gone’, ‘blues’, ‘cry’, ‘lonesome’ – quickly seemed to connect with vast numbers in America who heard its beauty and its sheer honesty, first through the medium of radio on ‘The Oprey’, with Roy Acuff and Fred Rose pulling the commercial strings, and in time through the sheer number of live performances that he was cramming in. Hank was something so pure and so rare but even then, like now - with our multitude of unforgiving talent shows seeking out the next ‘celebrity’- this talented soul had to be pushed into the mainstream.
Yet the stories he told – of ‘the ache’, of ‘the drifting’, of the struggle and the search – were much more deeply personal than anyone realized. Born with a serious spinal condition he was often in great pain as he played and performed on a regular basis. He had used alcohol to alleviate the various symptoms at times of acute pain, and after the breakdown of his marriage to Audrey he became increasingly dependent on the bottle to get through shows and the lonely schedules of touring and travelling. This ‘hillbilly singer’ was holding a dark secret and few around him could see it and offer practical help.
Hank had looked into the very depths of the lives of the people from the communities where he had come from, he had sung about those simple ‘hillfolk’ just like himself and he had written poignantly and with clarity about those everyday trials and losses. He had done so with his own pain bubbling openly and regularly to the surface and yet always traceable was the wider narrative. He regarded songwriting almost as both collective duty and personal catharsis and yet he had done it more often than not with a smile on his face (…check out those ‘Grand Ole Oprey’ pictures of him again a little closer)
In his songs we get an insight into the geography and the social character of the US in the period just after World War II and we also see an artist pushing the boundaries of himself and his art form, tackling loose prejudices and stereotypes by somehow embracing them and creating pure ‘singalong’ melodies time and time again.
By the time of his death on New Year’s Day in 1953, in the back seat of his own car on the way to a gig in West Virginia, he had reached multitudes of fans and inspired a new generation of singer/songwriters who had learnt considerably more about those ‘simple folk’ that belonged to the hills and to the ‘smell of mule manure’. The greatest tragedy is that he did not live long enough to know something of the huge impact on American music that he had. He was aged just 29 years old. Today he is buried next to his devoted mother, Lillie, in Montgomery Oakwood Cemetery….a ‘hillbilly’… another ‘hillbilly’ who set an entirely new musical agenda.
leere cover Hank!!
Check out a version of 'You're Gonna Change' by leere at the soundcloud page:
And follow the 'YouTube' link below for a version of 'Why Don't You Love Me?' followed up with 'There's A Tear In My Beer' .
leere and their 'Hank Williams Week' - All posts from the leere Hank Williams Week are still available at facebook.com/leerecollective with plenty of reflections, recordings and reminiscing around the singer/songwriter who gave us classic tracks such as 'Hey Good Lookin' , 'Cheatin Heart' and 'Cold Cold Heart'. Scroll to the dates from Monday 15th September 2014 right through to Friday 19th September 2014 and learn a little more about Hank before the US biopic based on his life hits the big screen in 2015
WHAT IS UBUNTU?
Here's a thing!
Coming Soon : USING GRATITUDE WHEELS - 'If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'thank you', it will be enough' (Meister Eckhart)
Check out : https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201504/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-gratitude
FOREWORD TO SMILING STORIES OF TRIUMPH
‘He ploughed the land. And cleared the stones….and then waited for a harvest of sweet grapes’ (Book of Isaiah 5:1-2)
At a time… perhaps as long as seven years ago, whilst reading the works of the thirteenth century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, I deliberately adopted a German word ‘leere’ to help convey something of what I felt strongly existed when any individual or any group embarks on a creative task or journey.
A literal translation of the word ‘leere’ from the German would be ‘emptiness’ or maybe refer to a ‘vacuum’ or a ‘void’. However I was moved by the manner in which Eckhart interchanged this word with the idea of a present and energising spiritual force, and how he encouraged people in an age of strict religious doctrine to be alert to the dangers of attachment and to readily accept our individual and our collective limitations. For Eckhart the institutions of the Church could overlook the workings of ‘inner space’.
The body of poetry entitled 'Smiling Stories Of Triumph, is an attempt to reflect on that inner potential of every human being – the potential to re-prioritise, to re-focus and to re-new so as to deepen and to know our creative and most dedicated side. The poetry deals primarily with a positive sense of space, with position and with perspective, and how we come to re-acquaint ourselves with ‘the here and the now’, despite the clear challenges and obstacles behind us and the unforeseen ones ahead of us. Some poems are about the patience and the self-discipline it takes to discover this ‘Space Full Of Mercy And Rest’, others point to moments when this mysterious ‘Space’ simply finds us….and quite often then there is much use made of ‘the child’ as analogy. For ‘leere’ remains now for me, as it did all those years ago, about optimism – about the positives around ourselves and others, and about the strong connections we can forge below the line that we frequently draw to conclude a chapter of our lives.
Simon – North Wales, September 2011
'CHERISHED FORMS' - A RESPONSE TO AN INCREASING AGEING POPULATION
to hold (something) dear.
"I cherish the letters she wrote"
synonyms:treasure, prize, value highly, hold dear
As countries, local communities and families all begin to adjust to the pressures of an increasing number of elderly people who need specialized care and attention, questions will arise about the significance of places and 'spaces' that allow for positive and enriching experiences and fully take account of an individual's spiritual capacity and their awareness of their own unique life journey. This presents a huge challenge to consider again the ways that we use and designate 'space' and whether the 'space' supports the person. In much the same way as places recently became more 'disabled friendly' with greater access for all, it may be that we need now to examine how we best include and value those who feel isolated or suffer from illnesses such as Alzheimer's, Parkinsons, etc, in their later life.
It could be that we give priority to particular design ideas and projects that refurbish buildings so as to structure our homes, our parks, our care centres and our hospitals to allow the individual to have a sense of serenity and security in the face of any obtacles or difficulties. More specifically, the challenge might be around how we 'cherish' or 'treasure' the present life of the individual and at the same time 'cherish' or 'treasure' their sense of identity and their personal history - of who, and where they are today based on an understanding and an appreciation of their vast experience and the direction that their life has taken over the many years. To ensure that people receive the right sort of care in later life alongside the right sort of stimulus, it is incumbent on younger generations to search and find the triggers, the sparks and the levers that enrich life and deepen what multiple generations can achieve together. Can we, as guardians of the welfare and the care of older citizens, provide an environment that holds the different scenes of their lives in a way that affirms the pathways that their lives have taken? Can we offer 'spaces' that look at their achievements and their contributions, their decisions and their actions, sensitively and sympathetically. Can we offer 'even borders and cherished form' ('A Tale Of Two Fields' - Smiling Stories Of Triumph) through a careful re-examination of space and of place, and help ease anxiety, depression and loneliness in those later years?
It might be that the whole thrust of our thinking - socially, economically and politically - has to shift so as caring for a rapidly increasing elderly population is pro-active, with a long term goal and seen as being for the ongoing good of us all. Learning about ageing, committing to quality time and creative opportunities with the elderly and providing responsibly and sensibly for the specific needs of relatives and neighbours might just help replace some of those heavy feelings of fear and uncertainty (...not to mention cost!) that currently dominate whenever our minds turn to this topic. Public, private and voluntary sector can all do their bit, but as ever...we need the political will to make a new sort of 'space' for the most vulnerable. Perhaps here, music, art, poetry and dance can push a little in this general direction, and help point to that place of peace and contentment, where the spiritual needs of the individual person are fully recognised and their 'holistic health' placed at the centre of any future planning.
'Cherished Forms Learning' encourages any feedback on this topic. It shall remain on the leere website throughout 2015/2016 Please do get in touch using the contact page with any of your own thoughts or ideas around this central theme of creating 'a vibrant space' that truly 'cherishes' the life of person.