I am swimming is the centrepiece of the CoMA Festival of Contemporary Music for All – a large-scale commission for chorus and orchestra by Nigel Osborne. This Open Score work has the flexibility to be performed by groups ranging from a seven-piece chamber ensemble to a massed mixed ability orchestra and choir. It will be premiered around the country during the Festival weekend.
I am Swimming draws on the experience of the composer working with refugees in Syria, Uganda, Bosnia and Myanmar. The piece is in several episodes, each representing refugee journeys by reflecting the music of the places through which they pass. The accompanying film includes a sound track which features three pre-recorded musical episodes by Sufi musicians, serving as bridges between the ‘tutti’ episodes.
“Sometimes the closer you are to a situation, the more difficult it is to make art about it. I am an aid worker and I found myself in the position of having both too little and far too much to say. And of course, music doesn’t ‘say’ anything; it does not describe situations. But it can capture people’s states of mind and body, feelings and motivations and unfold them to be shared as sound in time.
I did not want to make a hand-wringing disaster piece, or a profound philosophical treatise; nor did I want to patronise or victimise refugees with pity. I wanted to share with listeners some of their thoughts and feelings and the hopes and the fears. I work creatively with a lot with refugee children, and sometimes adults, so I chose some texts and fragments of melody they have composed about their own lives.
I also invited my long-time collaborators, film director Samir Mehanovic, himself a refugee, and editor Laura Carreira to create a kind of intimate documentary film to accompany the score – or indeed for the score itself to accompany. Samir had filmed in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon in 2014 and returned there with me in 2016, and he had filmed refugees travelling from Turkey and Greece through the Balkans to Germany in 2015. Samir and I had also worked together in Bosnia with cameraman Gavin Wolfe Murray. So the film gave me a way of both showing and ‘saying’ some things.”