Music for Social Justice and the Environment
In 2004 I made a commitment to myself that each year I would commission a new work or spearhead a project that leveraged orchestras’ powerful capacity to bring people together and create a platform to confront the 21st century’s most pressing problems.
Collaborations with community members, scientists, schools, young musicians, and social justice and climate activists has taken me on the most extraordinary journeys, and not just to incredibly beautiful places like Afghanistan. It has given me deep insight into people’s experiences on this planet and put me in immediate touch with some of the sobering science of water security and climate change.
A handful of these commissions and projects are showcased below.
We Are Water
We Are Water is a series of water-focused climate change compositions Cayenna commissioned from Pecq. The first two compositions were commissioned for the Orchestra of St John's and recorded in 2020 in that magical window of activity during the Covid pandemic. The project raises awareness around global issues of water security, engaging with the research of Himalayas to Ocean (Earth Flow) and Dr Catherine Grasham of REACH: Improving water security for the poor, an initiative let by the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford (Reaching Water). Both are electro-orchestral pieces which interweave orchestral strings with the band's own DIY electronics. Earth Flow incorporates field recordings from the Himalayas captured by the interdisciplinary research team as they tracked the impact of climate change through the mountainous region. Reaching Water incorporated water sounds recorded by listeners from across the globe and drew on the stores from people who live in the Ethiopian river basin who are disproportionately impacted by human driven climate change. We Are Water was funded by an Arts Council England’s Emergency Covid-19 grant.
CLIMATE JUSTICE COMMISSIONING PROJECT WITH EXPERIMENTAL POP BAND 'PECQ'
Afghan Women's Orchestra
The Afghan Women's Orchestra—side-by-side with OSJ players— performed at the British Museum, Sheldonian Theatre, Lancaster House and Harrow Arts Centre as well as giving Educational concerts to hundreds of students in Oxfordshire with Dr John Baily and Veronica Doubleday and for the Oxford County Music Centre.
OXFORD RESIDENCY AND DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMME
In 2019, and with the support of the Orchestra of St John's, FCDO, British Council, Afghan Embassy, Arts Council England and MANY individual donors, I brought the first all-female orchestra from Afghanistan, Ensemble Zohra, to the UK for a 10-residency at Somerville College, University of Oxford. This visit was the start of an enduring relationship between OSJ and the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). After my visit to ANIM in August 2018, I created a distance learning programme for music students at the Afghan school with the musicians of OSJ and a mentorship programme between University of Oxford students and the young musicians at ANIM. My work with many of these young people continues to this day.
Many Worlds in One Place
BRIDGING CULTURES IN SCHOOLS THROUGH MUSIC
This project brought together young asylum seekers with year 12 pupils at a local school to collaboratively explore cultures of origin and musical heritages—creating a pool of musical and textual resources for a group composition. The final work curated and written by composer Toby Young and accompanied by a video montage created by Ross Harrison, interweaved the contributions of all of the participants with their own visual art responses to the final composition. The project was funded by Arts Council England and produced by the Orchestra of St John’s. It makes sense when you watch the video!
AMPLIFYING THE VOICES OF YOUNG REFUGEES THROUGH MUSIC
Displaced Voices is an umbrella initiative that encompasses a constellation of engagement projects which bring together school and university students with the professional musicians of OSJ, community members, refugees and asylum seekers through musical participation, and raises awareness about refugee issues in Oxfordshire through artistic expression in orchestra performance.
Two concerts, one at Somerville College and one at King's Place on the 18th and 19th of January are the culmination of a three-month project with the Oxford Spires Academy. Four refugee and migrant students from the Academy worked with composer Toby Young and Cayenna to create orchestral 'backing tracks' to spoken word performances of their own poems. The project builds on the award-winning poetry programme at the school developed by author Kate Clanchy. Three additional poems from Clanchy's edited volume of the students' poems: England: Poems from a School (Picador 2018) have been set by composers Shirley Thompson, Sadie Harrison, and Toby Young for mezzo-soprano, Charlie Tetley, and string orchestra, creating the Displaced Voices Song Set. Performances also included the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony Op. 110a, dedicated by the composer to the victims of fascism and war, and the Barber Adagio for strings.
The project also included a panel discussion at Somerville College exploring the issues facing refugees and a reception and poetry reading by the Oxford Poetry Library hosted by Open House Oxford: a public talking shop on housing and homelessness with food from the Refugee Resource Women's Group.
Read more about the concerts by Dr Jackie Watson in her open letter.
COMMISSIONING MUSIC FOR HUMANITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Sounding 2020 was a 5-year commissioning project dedicated to highlighting current humanitarian and environmental issues through the generation and performance of new orchestral works.
It facilitated the pairing of individuals, groups or organizations interested commissioning a piece of music about a specific topic with composers, and then presented these works in concert.
2016: We Are Seneca Lake Commissioning Project. Fully funded. through crowd sourcing.
2017: A Polyphony of Personalities: Celebrating the Diversity of Humanity For the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County
2018: Sprouts from the Rubble. A new piece by Max Buckholtz for all refugees who have suffered through war and cviil unrest
2019: Sounds of Peace. New musical voices from Afghanistan including an original orchestral composition by one of Afghanistan's brightest young musical talents, Arson Fahim
Water-Culture: Women's Works
RAISING AWARENESS ABOUT THE HISTORIC ROLE OF WOMEN IN DOMESTIC WATER PROVISION
COMPOSERS AND COMMISSIONS
Rachel Lockwood: At the Falls
Sol Carlile: Little River
Kate Whitley: Flood Days
Nicola LeFanu: May Rain
Deborah Pritchard: [TBA]
Water-culture: women's work(s) is a commissioning and performance project aimed at raising awareness around about women's historic role in water provision. Women composers are commissioned to write works for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra engaging with texts that explore our human experience and of water.
Art Science and the Thirsty World
Art Science & the Thirsty World video installation at Venice to Expo 2015, as part of "Visualizing Water Worlds", Venice Arsenale Tesa 105. A project implemented by Comune di Venezia and Centro Internazionale CiviltÃ dell'Acqua Onlus with the participation of UNESCO Venice Office, supported by Eulabor Institute, curated by Eriberto Eulisse, Gail Holst Warhaft, Christina Sassayannis.
Art, Science & the Thirsty World was sponsored The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, Merton College, the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (Cornell University), Cornell Institute for European Studies, and the Brettschneider Fund.
AN INTERDISCIPLINARY DIALOG ON CREATIVE RESPONSES TO THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS
Art, Science & the Thirsty World was an interdisciplinary conference project between the University of Oxford and Cornell University organized by Oxford graduate students Cayenna Ponchione (Music), Jessica Thorn (Biodiversity) and Benedict Morrison (Film) in collaboration with Cornell Professor Gail Holst-Warhaft (Comparative Literature and Biological and Environmental Engineering, Director of the Cornell Institute for European Studies Mediterranean Initiative). The conference cast together academics in the arts and the sciences to pursue a critical exploration of interdisciplinary practice through collaborative presentations and performances. It facilitated dialogue between researchers and practitioners in the arts, sciences and engineering and sought to foster creative, innovative and trans-disciplinary discussions about water scarcity solutions.