Freedom from Torture - Words and Music

Words and Music

Words and Music from Sheila Hayman on Vimeo.

In December 2012 Freedom from Torture’s then events fundraiser, Marika Chaplais, decided to organise a series of musical events to raise awareness of the charity. There was a club night, a pop night, a world night - and a modern classical night. Her ambitious idea was to send texts from Write to Life, our creative writing group, to a few young composers, with an invitation to set them to music.

They rose to the challenge with enthusiasm and brilliance. Three of them chose to set relatively short, poetic texts. But Marika had also sent excerpts from two prose descriptions of the process of undergoing a Medico Legal examination: a painful and difficult process insisted on by the Home Office where torture is being claimed as a ground for asylum. Essentially, it involves going to see a total stranger, taking off all your clothes and reliving, through their questions, the most horrific experiences of your life. And this is an interview on which your whole future, your chance of living in safety, may depend.

The accounts were written in simple prose, without any hyperbolic language or poetic ornament. But it was these fragments that caught the imagination of Kate Whitley and Thom Andrewes, two young members of the Carmen Elektra Opera Collective. They asked to read the complete texts, and set about putting music to them. As Kate says: ‘The text is so simple, it allows me to use music to paint the emotion behind the words.’

This encapsulates an important discovery we have made at Write to Life, and that impels our continuing departures into new forms: performance, theatre, visual arts, sound. The stories we tell, in themselves, are painful and sad, and most people don’t want to hear them. But the skill of an artist, like that of these two composers, can make something beautiful out of these terrible events, and use their emotional power as a sort of rocket fuel for the work.

Certainly the effect on the audiences at both performances testified to that power. And that’s why Sinfini Music and Freedom from Torture agreed to co-fund a film about it, so that the music and the stories it tells could be heard and seen more widely.

We hope you enjoy it.

And if you’d like to screen it, to a group or at a festival, please contact Write to Life Coordinator Sheila Hayman at