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Belonging

It is the most beautiful thing when your chaotic thoughts and inarticulable ideas begin to coalesce and elements from different corners begin to fall into place. I am over the moon to announce that we have received funding from the PRS Foundation's The Open Fund for Music Creators towards a new music & poetry project, and I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to it. What was the nascent idea of a solo piece from wonderful composer, friend and colleague Aaron Holloway-Nahum has become something which brings together three of my favourite artists - Aaron, Ashkan Behzadi and Taher Adel; has me attempting to write down some of my own musical ideas; and is centered around our thoughts on the topics of home and belonging, something that has occupied much of my head space in recent years.


Side profile of Marie Schreer with a red hue and overlaid white text reading "New Open Fund for Music Creators: Marie Schreer with Aaron Hollowa-Nahum, Ashkan Behzadi and Taher Adel. At the bottom is the PRS logo (wavy circles inside each other) with the title PRS Foundation.

Throughout my life, I have become increasingly captivated by the question of where I belong in the story of my family’s history. When I first moved to England to study, I was often asked “where is home”; “where are you from”; “whereabouts in Germany”. All these questions have never been straightforward to answer because we moved a number of times. “Where is your family from?” - a completely different answer again, because until just before I was born, they all lived in the German Democratic Republic. I’m the only child of that generation in my family that was born after the wall fell, and so their history and their story is entirely different to mine. My brothers were brought up in a different country to the one in which I was born and raised. They were brought up under a brutal and violent dictatorship, and with all the knowledge and insight I have about that time and part of history, I could never truly share the same heritage as the rest of my family.


It’s always personal when a friend writes music for you, but Aaron's If I Am From Somewhere I Am From There for violin, video, and electronics has not only kickstarted the journey of this project but for the tape part he asked my family to speak about their memories of me as a child. Knowing that they will be a part of this in such a direct and lasting way is something truly special. When the ideas for Aaron’s piece and my ruminations on home and belonging began to come together, I knew I wanted to build a programme around it. From here, it began to grow into a much larger and much more broadly relevant project than I could have imagined.


Almost exactly a year ago, I did some work at the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill and in the rehearsal studio was a beautiful calligraphy exhibition from Soraya Syed. Paired with her art was the poetry of Taher Adel. I saw his poem Carbon and every word resonated with me. While exploring more of his poetry, I came upon his series 14 reasons why, a poetic translation of 'love' in Arabic (Taher’s parents’ mother tongue). Arabic is a wonderful language with an enormous vocabulary, and the fact that there are fourteen words for something as nuanced, complicated and complex as love makes entire sense to me. Much of Taher’s poetry is inspired by language, heritage, and migration, and I’m so thrilled that for this project Taher has written a new series of poems on the Arabic Names for Home.


Black sheets with white text which reads the poem "Carbon" by Taher Adel from 2023: Silence until sound in the heart of the universe, the cradle of life, six elements initiate the first dance The original art, guided by the masterful  Hand...the dot of existence and from it the ink of time expands leaving its trace on all living space. The architecture of existence.  From emerald leaves to the heart of a tree, veins of mountains, to ocean songs Where art is and where art belongs.  The ink of poets, the lover's sigh, the spark in the scholar's mind, in all of life, Carbon we find. The thread woven deep the cosmic forge the Earth's grand design, in the air, the sea, the pine.  In fossil's grasp, and steel's embrace, the story is found in every bone, marble dust from quarries deep to ink's dark stain, it finds its home in printed word, in weighted tome From ancient scrolls, to fluid elixir, granting wings to words and Thuraya's pure white space where she finds herself inked Into constellation Carbon's grip Even in death, a supernova That births a tale Unfurling in every sweep, every swirl ink-dipped dance on parchment bare the calligraphy of life is born again.  In her hands the dance begins, the realm of materiality, paper and ink marking time, leaving trails, where silence has been.  Within the white space, the silent place an illusion springs of ethereal beauty where static letters sing and in this simplicity, the profound sits quietly  where soul and script align.

Another composer whose work I admire is Ashkan Behzadi and he was immediately on my mind when I began thinking of poetry. I first got to know his music through his enchanting soprano/violin duo az hoosh mi… which Sarah Dacey and I recorded for Riot Ensemble. I am over the moon that he will write a new solo violin piece incorporating Taher’s poetry. Ashkan dedicates this piece to the children who have lost their lives and homes during the conflict in Israel and Palestine which escalated during the beginning stages of this project. Global shifts have continued to unfold that accentuate extremely divisive questions of home, origin, and belonging. To explore which of various places might warrant being called ‘my home’ feels almost insignificant when considered in light of the brutality that is taking place all over the world. Arbitrary lines on a map - constantly changing throughout history through both evolution and force - allow people to wage wars and unleash unspeakable barbarism in the name of home. I hope that through this project we can help to bring into focus the importance of humility in understanding the complexities of the human condition, our shared history, and our interdependent being on this planet we all call home.


At this point, I want to express my deepest gratitude to Aaron, Ashkan and Taher for embracing this project, exploring these themes with me, not shying away from difficult conversations, and being so committed to the artistry and our journey here. I draw so much inspiration and love from all three and I feel incredibly honoured that they are writing for me.


Since moving to England, I have found myself hitting one dead end after another when pondering the question of what home is. Is it where we are from or where we are now? Is our identity defined by the cultures and social circles of which we are a part? How much of our family’s history is our own history? If we speak multiple languages, does our character change depending on which linguistic framework we are occupying? Does our humour adapt to fit with the vocabulary to which we have access? Does that mean our personality changes?


Linguists have long been researching the connection between words and their perceptual significance across languages. And indeed I sometimes feel as though there is an English and a German version of me, perceiving, and therefore living, my life differently depending on which language I’m operating within. Did I lose some of my ‘original’ identity when I went to live in a new country with a new language? And conversely, can I ever truly become a part of a new culture with a language that isn’t my mother tongue? Is identity a zero-sum game? Do I give up some of one culture to fully embrace the other?


These are thoughts with which I’ve been sitting for a long time, and they have been particularly prominent over the past one and a half years when I yet again moved city. Most of my friends and colleagues do not live where they grew up. We move elsewhere to study, we move where our work takes us, we move to explore different cultures. And I believe that artists especially have a constant drive to discover, grow, and push ourselves slightly beyond the borders of our comfort zone, draw inspiration from having to adapt and making the unknown known. I have had many conversations about the concept of ‘home’ and about others’ individual interpretation of the term. Unsurprisingly, answers are incredibly diverse, but it also strikes me how unclear a question this is for many people. We try with one word to describe something that is complex, subjective, and malleable. Even if we translate it into other languages with a larger vocabulary, we will never be able to truly articulate how we feel when we feel at home; how we feel when we feel like we belong.


Language is a tool to aid communication, but it can never be a true translator of our thoughts or emotions. And why do I try so hard to articulate something that is inarticulable? For me, this is where music comes into play. This is what sounds are. This is what creating is. The art that touches us, the sounds that stir us, the noises that resonate with us… These are the things that make us who we are, and we belong wherever we find them. For some, this is all in one place. For others, this can be both here and on the other side of the world.


A huge thank you to the PRS Foundation for supporting this project, to the Vaughan Williams Foundation for additional support towards Aaron’s piece, and to the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival for hosting Taher and me for the world premiere of Ashkan’s new work as part of the hcmf// shorts day on November 18th.


The support of these organisations means that we can dedicate meaningful time and energy to this project and I can’t wait to get fully immersed in the new sounds that will be created. Watch this space for updates!


Love and laughter,


Marie


Three logos next to each other: "hcmf// huddersfield contemporary music festival" in black; red wavy circles inside each other and to the right "PRS Foundation"; dark blue V and underneath a green W and next to it "Vaughan Williams Foundation" in dark blue and green.

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