STARS COME OUT IN A MIDNIGHT SKY
Stars Come Out in a Midnight Sky was commissioned by the Hush Foundation for ACO Collective. The piece was performed by ACO Collective in Sydney and Melbourne, in September 2018, for the Hush Foundation’s 18th CD, a project instigated and run by Dr Catherine Crock who is the Chair and Founder of the Hush Foundation.
Writing for this project was a deeply affecting experience. The process involved residencies at the Royal Children’s Hospital and the Monash Children’s Hospital under the mentorship of Prof Stuart Greenbaum, Head of Composition at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Music.
We took part in music therapy sessions with adolescents with chronic health and mental health conditions, most of them severe. One of the children we worked with was documenting her life through music and photos. The session was upbeat and the young girl and her mother were happy, but the prognosis was terminal. The disparity between the therapeutic situation and reality was profound and I found it very difficult to process. Working with the music therapists was engaging and sometimes fun, but the sessions also elicited deep emotional responses. It is important to state that not all of the children we met during our residency survived their experiences.
The brief of the commission was to write a piece that would support patients, their families and medical health professionals as they navigate the hospital system. The purpose of the music was to soothe but not patronize, engage without distracting, be uplifting without being inappropriately joyful, and offer understanding without hitting too hard on a nerve. It was clearly stated in the brief that the music should not reflect any difficult emotional states. This meant that to write this work, I had to consciously bury my own personal response to the hospital experience underneath music that was purposefully peaceful and uplifting. Although this is a process I would normally follow, in this instance, it was extremely challenging. The disparity that is typically found in my work had to be completely hidden. While I was writing the piece, I could not allow myself to experience the emotions of being with the children at the hospital lest that have a melancholy influence on the piece. I had to work from a place of consideration and contemplation and not my actual personal experience.
The title Stars Come Out in a Midnight Sky coincidentally related to a quote I later read by Martin Luther King: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” What I understood from this is that during times of great trial and hardship, we reach an appreciation of the magnitude of life, and this is indeed what these children were going through. In order to look for hope in this work, I focused on the stars, not the darkness.