Opera singer Bibi Heal was supported by the Fusion Fund to create Song Surgery, a project that explored the use of poetry and music to improve mental health and wellbeing. Here she reflects on how Fusion gave her the freedom to research and develop the project, as well as how she is adapting the project to suit the current climate of self-isolation.
Like everyone else worldwide, my life and plans have been deeply affected by the coronavirus. At such a time of unprecedented global vulnerability and uncertainty, it is absurd to write without acknowledgement of the seismic shift we musicians all face. I have no answers and there is no ‘foreseeable’ to the future at the moment, but in a strange way this crisis is beginning to justify all of the things that I asked Help Musicians for funding to explore.
I had a creative idea and needed to know if it was a good one. Through Song Surgery, I planned to prescribe art songs (classical songs in any language, from any century) to individuals as a musical paracetamol, to lift their spirits and bring some mental clarity. This would probably also be inviting access into a musical world they might never have discovered. Art song in particular is a dauntingly huge and often inaccessible genre, but it is a rich vein of wise poetry and transformative music, with a history of poets and composers self-medicating through art. I hope to make this art form uniquely of service to all, no matter the level of musical understanding of the recipient.
I applied for a Help Musicians UK Fusion Fund grant to delve into my idea, and fully investigate all of its possibilities, both live and digital. The grant supported a week’s Research & Development with my core collaborators; we are Bibi Heal (singer), Stephen Barlow (pianist), Struan Leslie (director), Bridget Foreman (writer), and Jane Rice-Bowen (creative producer). The greatest asset to our R&D was having no pressure to create a finished product, but instead to interrogate our idea from every angle.
We were thrilled to discover that it was unanimously considered a good idea, from many audience demographics. Decidedly an idea worth building!
According to the principles of the Fusion Fund, during our R&D we placed no restriction on ideals or ideas, allowing ourselves to launch down every creative path that offered itself. It was uniquely enriching to be able to foster the impracticalities of blue-sky thinking, and as a result, we gathered many more ideas and data than if we had been simply building a show. Now that we find ourselves in a global pandemic of unknown proportions and outcome, we are extremely grateful for that period of freedom to pursue every avenue.
We ended our R&D with a strong idea of what we thought we would build; a staged live show plus a digital interpretation, most likely a mobile app. The current climate of isolation and social distance is uniquely suited to our digital aims, so this will now be our focus in the immediate future. It was also clear from our informal Song Surgery showings that the 1:1 element of prescription was by far the most compelling component, but really hard to deliver consistently well. We have therefore started talking to an app designer who is helping us to build a digital tool for delivering personalised prescriptions to your phone, satisfying that appetite for personalisation and intimacy.
Application: Personally, I find this area of arts admin gruelling, but I had great help from Bex Ransom on the phone, who clarified what I needed to write, and was just one email away. I was very comforted by this virtual hand-holding!
Career impact: as a mid-career artist with 6 year old twins, my previous working models of opera touring and long periods abroad are no longer sustainable or desirable. The Fusion Fund enabled me to find a structure that fits into the practicalities of my daily responsibilities, while feeding the creative freedoms of my artistic imagination.
Side effects: an unexpected and fulfilling development has been the opportunity for creative discourse and discussion with other artists; because of our first R&D showing we were a feature spread in The Observer, also I’ve been a guest on BBC World Service twice, BBCR4 PM programme, Heart Radio, Smooth Radio, BBC local radio, and have delved into a deeper understanding of poetry, prose, writing and artistic debate. The overwhelmingly positive media response has reinforced our belief that this is a strong concept and it has enabled us to build collateral which we can use as evidence in our next round of funding bids.
Do you want to research and test new work that involves collaboration across art forms? Our Fusion Fund is currently open and accepting applications. In this round, we're welcoming applications that explore the use of remote, digital or online collaboration tools or performance spaces. Read more and apply here.Back