Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Spirit of Intuitive Rhythm : Sign Language Leading the Beat

Rachel Hargrave

One of the things I have always wanted to do is create a piece of music out of silence. I was contracted to Head for Arts in the Heads of the Valleys as  a Song Consultant collecting material which would become a collection of 32 songs and script for 4 Festivals called Valley’s Girl Directed by Chris Durnall.

I loved the way that Chris worked. He collected all the pieces and gave them a framework afterwards, rather than having set and rigid outward plans, this way he was able to navigate the sea ahead by using the elements that made themselves clear to him. He was such great fun to work with but also understood and embraced his art form totally, trusted it, lived it. I decided that this was the type of Director that I wanted to be. He inspired me to move from Musical Direction into full Artistic and Creative Directorships. Thanks Chris J

Chris Durnall

So, there I was, on a library bus in the middle of nowhere, collecting and writing songs with people who came to change their books and it transpired that we were parked by a woods known as 'Silent Valley’ I was totally intrigued.

As a musician, people associate me with noise but in actual fact I love silence. I spend many nights and days in complete silence, writing, thinking, and reading. Sometimes the pitter patter of fingers on keyboards are the only rhythm keeping me company! (Mmm there’s an idea in there! A piece written purely from the rhythm of typing the lyrics!)

Anyways, I was in a great place to find out what local people thought they knew about their Silent Valley and it seemed that in the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s a great number of miners had lost their lives due to what was perceived by the local community as negligence on the part of the mine owners. The Owners had sent the Coal Company Choir to sing on the side of the Valley in the woods, as a memorial to the men lost, and in protest they refused to sing. They could not refuse to go to the Valley as their employers had made them, but they could refuse to sing, and so they stood in complete eerie silence, as a mark of respect for their friends & colleagues who had lost their lives.

There is now a nature reserve at Silent Valley that you can go to visit: Here’s the link: http://www.thevalleys.co.uk/attractions/silent-valley-nature-reserve-p96441

This story appealed to me on many levels. The idea of protest via song and voice, passive protest to maximise effect, that the Valley had subsequently been perceived as a place where these men should be remembered, named after those who stood proud, showing the impact this had on the community; i love the idea that the silence itself is stronger than the voice, is a collective voice.
I wanted at the time to create a piece from this silence and thought about working with people who use sign language to create rhythms from lyrics that would be the infrastructure of the musical composition. So often, Sign Choirs are interpreting music that has come from the hearing, but this piece would come from their inner silence and grow.

So when I had the opportunity to create within my Individual Mainline Grant from the Arts Council of Wales I incorporated this idea as part of the overall composition, but based in West Wales rather than Silent Valley.

In order to make this so, I decided to work with 2 specialists, one a specialist in Signing and the Arts, Maggie Hampton who is Director of Disability Arts Cymru and who communicates via Sign language, and the second, a percussionist.

I play percussion myself, but I wanted to collaborate and incorporate the skills, the pulse of someone who lives and breathes rhythm in the way that I live and breathe writing songs and composition.
I first met Rachel Hargrave as part of the Celtic Women Project. I was Creative Director and ran many women friendly workshops for over 370 people, creating networks and access for those interested in music, film, recording, creative writing, publishing, singing, etc. It was funded by Big Lottery and delivered in partnership between myself, Community Music Wales & Welsh Gov.t.

Celtic Women Book & CD Launch

One of the workshops I delivered was at my Studio and I organised it via a musician friend whom I hold with the greatest of respect, Heather Summers. I am hoping to work with Heather as part of Fusion Inspire later this year, so will go into more detail about her work then. Heather was one of the founders of Women in Tune, quite possibly one of the longest running Women only Festivlas in Wales and the UK. 

Heather Summers

Back to my Celtic Women workshop organised with Heather, specifically for Women in Tune: Improvisation & Recording which gave women the opportunity to come together and experiment without worrying about the studio costs. The musical improvisation was then used as a Dance piece for a troop of young contemporary dancers with Arts Care Gofal Care and performed as part of The Celtic Women Book and CD Launch at The Great Glasshouse in The National Botanic Garden of Wales.
Here’s a link to a youtube clip of rehearsals by the young dancers.

Rachel came to the Improvisation & Recording workshops at my studio with Women in Tune, bringing her African drums. We immediately connected. Rachel has such a beautiful energy. She is passionate about music and also plant medicine which she is currently studying, but there is a cheeky ‘let’s get up to some mischief’ glint in her eye that I always find irresistible! It got me into all sorts of trouble when I was a youngster! My mum would say I was easily influenced but truth is I think I may well have been the instigator!

Women in Tune Logo

Celtic Women Project Flier

I was always equally as comfortable studying in the library with the kind of gals my mum would have preferred I ‘knocked about with’  as I was down the bike sheds with the skiving off gang, or playing jolly hockey sticks in the school team, as I was smoking in the hollowed bushes with the naughty girls, or taking a lead role in drama group on the one hand, yet hiding under the stairs to avoid Maths on the other whilst returning from our hide away in time to make book club! I was either a good girl or a bad one! Never in-between!  But truth is, I do feel easily connected to people who work hard, have a focus and a passion and yet retain an all round good fun naughtiness! Quirky, a bit different.

And this, I believe, is our Rachel. Beautiful to look at, beautiful to be with … and a special kind of musician. An intuitive one; one who feels what she plays and connects with those who are listening, unassuming, yet present, using the rhythm to hold the space, not dictate it, yet beautifully intertwined, woven, into the fore and back ground. Coloured, yet sketched, outlined yet textured.

Example of Rachel's Workshop Flier

I went to a few of Rachel’s drumming workshops to get a feel of her work and it was the most fun I have had in ages. The first was in The Powerhouse in Llandysul. We sat in a circle together and Rachel taught us immediately how to play as one, the second workshop was AMAZING!! It was at her house; well, just down the road from her house by a little caravan where she retreats to herself. We lit a fire and sat around it drumming to the trees.WOW!

Drumming Workshop at Rachel's Place

Rachel does a lot of workshops across West Wales and collaborates with dancers, playing with their movement, so the music follows the dancer and not the other way round, that the musician is interpreting the movement, not the dancer interpreting the music.

So it stood to reason that in terms of finding a collaboration with a musician who understood the Spirit of Intuitive Rythm, with whom I could connect musically and as a person, who would bring joy and love to the piece, had a glint in her eye that I would be able to connect with & would be able to respond, feel and understand intuitively the hand movements of sign language, interpreting them with subtle beats and texture,  Rachel Hargrave would be perfect.

I had a meeting with Rachel at what we lovingly call ‘Posh Café’ as it is the posh-est one we have round here! She was so excited about Fusion Inspire. I am going to give her the edited sign language film work from my meeting with Maggie Hampton planned for after Easter, where we will be working on my lyrics for a song I have written called Mermaid Tales about the folk stories surrounding Cardigan Bay.

Rachel is then going to interpret the piece via drumming, come to my studio to share, collaborate and record it. Then I will compose the song around the rhythm piece. We discussed filming a group of drummers from her workshops in a West Wales location once the piece is complete. Tickety Boo! I’m thinking a lovely castle or palace... will let you know where very soon as am going to scope a few places during April.


As I mentioned earlier, Maggie is going to be signing the lyrics to Mermaid Tales for me, but also the lyrics to the bass section of the ‘Women Build Fires’ Song. Do you remember me talking about this piece from an earlier blog entry on International Women’s Day’ at Miranda’s Place in New Quay?

Fire on the Beach @ International Women's Day

For the recording of this second signed piece, I have a cunning plan but I haven’t asked the person I have in mind for it just yet so won’t spill the beans until I have confirmed it …

The other very exciting news is that Arts Care Gofal Celf Dance Dept. have confirmed dates for working with me on these sign based pieces and they will work with their dancers to interpret the sign language via choreography / dance moves … check out my next blog explaining how this is going to work …

Why not have a look at my website www.cherylbeer.co.uk

Or add me as a chum on facebook


  1. ((o))

    The above is a pebble in your pool, sometimes there isn't anything to say I just wanted you to know someone had stopped by.

  2. Thanks Nera, that's beautiful :) Do you mind if incorporate your message into one of the songs/spoken word pieces of Fusion Inspire xx Chez


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