Address: Vancouver, BC Canada

Cambridge Calling

Catherine Carmack's unique relation to music was the inspiration for the Cambridge Music Conference: Music and the Word. These are her words about the Conference.

It's a strange feeling to be the inspiration for a conference! I looked on with a fair amount of ambivalence. What would happen? Who would come? Where would it be? Why me? Ironically the last question was the easiest to answer. I had cancer and my sister wanted to give me a reason to live! Her idea was to hold a conference on all aspects of music and healing. The result is as follows.


The Cambridge Music Conference has been a three year project resulting in annual events in 2001, 2002, 2003. The conferences were held at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, England and included such varied topics as 2001, The Esoteric Importance of Music: Educating and Healing the Spirit through Music; 2002, The Harp: Music and the Oral Tradition; and 2003, Sacred Music and the Sacrificial Self.


The first conference arose out of Elizabeth's wish to create an avenue for dialogue on music and healing. She said on more than one occasion that she chose music as her subject because I am a musician. If I had been a farmer she would have run an agriculture course! She is not a musician. The idea was to take the subject and make it a healing venue. The conference was developed under the quote from Novalis (1772-1801): "Every illness is a musical problem -- its cure a musical solution!" Contributors included Nigel Osborne, professor of music at Edinburgh University, "The Effective Intervention of Music for Therapeutic Purposes"; Heinz Zimmerman, former head of the Anthroposophical Society's Pedagogical Section,  "The Ramifications of Recorded Sound on Aesthetics and Creativity", and "Music in the Development of the Child"; Paul Hillier, professor of music at Indiana University, "The Sacred Music of Arvo Pärt"; and Paul Robertson, leader of the Medici String Quartet, "Music: The Healing Art" and "Music as a Threshold Experience: Benjamin Britten's Last Quartet 'Death in Venice'."


Highlights from the second conference were Judith Weir's (perhaps England's most famous composer of her generation) contribution of a new work based on the Grimm's fairy tales; Graeme Lawson, director of Archologia Musica, an archaeologist who is a musical expert on the Anglo-Saxon harp. Rita Costanzi, Vancouver harpist, performed "The Collected Silences of David's Mother" by Don Mowatt and Kate Waring contributed "Immortal Words" for harp, narrator and dancers on a text by Sappho and "Mythical Moments" for oboe, viola and harp.


The third and final conference celebrated the sacred in music and philosophy. As in past years the contributors provided a colourful tapestry of ideas and performances. Nigel Osborne's piece "Dialogue" for harp and oboe was premiered as was Howard Skempton's "Song-cycle of Emerson's Poems: Music, Brahma, Pan and Xenophanes" and Elena Firsova's "Beauty Will Save the World", based on the quote from Dostoyevsky. Mary Berry, the founder of Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, lectured on "The Unveiling of Revelation" the origins of chant as nourishment for the spirit. Dr. Diane Thompson from Cambridge University lectured on "Dostoyevsky and Music." Leading authority on Emerson, Dr. Joel Myerson, spoke on Emerson's ideas on music and Dr. Arif Ahmed, lecturer in the Philosophy department at Cambridge brought us "Music, Being and Sacrifice."


Auditors and performers came from all around the world and included amateurs to top class musicians. Paul Hillier, founding member of the Hilliard Ensemble, and his group Theatre of Voices opened the first conference. Paul Robertson and the Medici Quartet performed in Trinity College Chapel. Okeanos, the new music collective, performed both in 2002 and 2003 with new works for them by Judith Weir, Nigel Osborne and Howard Skempton. Kate Waring had a third piece, "Harmonious Relationships", commissioned by the conference for 2003.


In August 2003 Vancouver duo Catherine Carmack, cello and Dr. Carolyn Roberts Finlay, piano brought the conferences full circle with their closing recital Voice of the Spirit. Both performers are cancer survivors and are living proof of music as a healing art! The programme was chosen to reflect the inner theme of all of the conferences, music as spiritual substance and sustenance. Highlights from this concert included "Spiegel im Spiegel" by Arvo Pärt, Max Bruch's "Kol Nidre" and Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick's "Prayer and Dance." The heat during the performance was incredible, with record breaking temperatures next day. Historical highs for England. A number of the audience had assumed that we would not complete the concert due to the heat, but as always "The show must go on!" From this performance we were invited to play the programme two more times, once in Ely Cathedral and again at Michaelhouse Cambridge. These extra concerts were given as benefit performances for Nigel Osborne's music therapy camps in the Balkans for children suffering from violence and post-traumatic stress syndrome from exposure to war.



As with most conferences contacts are made, new friends are found and professional engagements follow. We have been invited to play next year in the Cambridge Summer Music Festival, which is one of the leading summer recital series in England. We look forward to receiving new works written for us by Howard Skempton and Kate Waring. And I am left with the question: Would I have met all of these people if I had not got cancer? The answer is probably: "No!" "Every illness is a musical problem -- its cure a musical solution!" and it still feels strange to be the inspiration for a conference.


- Catherine Carmack

(12 October 1957-12 December 2003)