As a writer and composer, I spend a lot of time telling stories. Sometimes these are stories that belong to other people, and sometimes they are very much my own. Over the past two years I have started to write more about my faith in a creative context, as I believe the heart of my vocation is to bring my art and my discipleship together.
In my previous blog post for CSU on Storytelling, Music and Faith, you read about how I feel a responsibility to tell stories that are not often heard, particularly of those imprisoned on Nauru and Manus Island. In this blog I would like to discuss stories closer to home: faith stories, grief stories, and women’s stories. Stories that are deeply personal and strive for authenticity, and which often emerge through my music.
Those who are familiar with Lent would know that Christians traditionally give up something for the forty days preceding Easter (often chocolate, coffee, alcohol, or even make-up) in order to set aside a small amount of money each week for charitable purposes, or to establish a personal routine where God is more present in their daily activities. My Lenten tradition for the past few years has been to establish the discipline of writing a poem every day. This year, I set myself a more complicated task: every day during Lent I was to read a Bible passage, and my daily poem was to reflect on it.
This discipline allowed me to sink my teeth into theological questions and link them to our current political and social climate. Of all these poems I deemed eight appropriate to share, and you can read them over at my personal blog.
I believe it is important to not only share stories of our faith, but also women’s stories, which are rarely heard.
Much of my poetry and prose is dedicated to exploring femaleness, including feminist poem ‘She Stands’, which formed the basis for my first electroacoustic work. This was my first foray into the realm of poetry; until then I had considered myself exclusively a prose writer, but this boundary has since blurred. ‘She Stands’ is about a female persona reclaiming her own space in the world, and contains many words I wish I had heard across different parts of my life. The poem does not shy away from the politics of our time, or from Biblical references, and it gave me the confidence to take on my Lenten challenge.
I do not, however, compose music based only on my own texts. Last year I had the opportunity to work with Sydney Chamber Opera musicians as part of their Composition Masterclass, and I composed a piece called 'Morning Song' for soprano, flute, viola and piano based on the Sylvia Plath poem of the same name.
This poem, written after Plath miscarried a pregnancy, describes a disjunction between mother and child. The mother cannot see her child as anything more than an object, nor their relationship as anything but coincidental. Plath is known for her angry feminist poetry, but ‘Morning Song’ is gentler and perhaps more heartbreaking, and it is a story that needs to be told. It was a wonderful experience working with professional musicians on a recording, and this is one of the compositions of which I am most proud.
Recently I have returned to the realm of prose, bringing my poetic experience with me. The result is another very female story which straddles the line between verse and prose, riddled with illusory imagery. ‘Prenatal Dreams’ concerns one of my most unusual topics yet. The short story presents an imagined conversation between a telepathic woman and her unborn child. Of course, the child does not yet have command of words, so the conversation is an exchange of vivid images from the child’s dream-like state in the womb. While this story does not contain any religious or political material, I hope that stories like this still spark conversations and capture the imaginations of readers.
I was lucky enough to have ‘Prenatal Dreams’ published in the 2018 edition of ARNA, the Literary Journal for the Sydney Arts Students' Society, which is available for purchase at the Better Read Than Dead bookshop in Newtown.
Putting my faith into words – or borrowing others’ – continues to be an important part of my artistic practice.
Bringing together my skills as a writer and composer alongside my faith makes for more cohesive art making which reflects my vocation. The road of discipleship is one that I will travel for the rest of my life, and I feel equipped to process and express every step through words and music.
In sharing my compositions, poetry and prose, my hope is that others may engage with Christianity and social justice issues in an empathetic way through the power of storytelling. As through empathy we glimpse something of God in other human beings.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is an emerging musician, writer and composer and is currently club secretary for Christian Students Uniting at The University of Sydney. Gabrielle studies English Literature at the University of Sydney and Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and her pieces have been performed by youth orchestras and professional musicians alike.