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Helen Adam

Though now settled in Wales and feeling very Welsh, I have both Jewish European and Celtic blood, and was brought up in Oxfordshire. I learnt piano, violin and viola as a child, and composed from an early age. I graduated from Bath University with a BA Hons in Music, having specialised in performance, composition and 20th century opera.
I then worked as a free- lance musician in the Somerset area, organising creative and improvisation workshops in special schools, and with adults with mental health problems. I also played in a string quartet performing new music, and in a ceilidh dance band, taught piano and violin and organised a series of concerts.
In 1995, with the arrival of my second child, Beatrice, my partner Ken and young son Sam and I moved to West Wales, initially into a community biodynamic farm. This proved to be a short-lived venture, but we all fell in love with Wales and decided to make it our home. I began to learn Welsh traditional music, and was soon playing regularly in twmpath bands. This music has been a continuing source of inspiration in my compositions. I also studied Welsh intensively, and am now a reasonably fluent speaker.
I now have a well established and busy private teaching practice, teaching piano, violin and theory from home. I tutored strings and led the string orchestra in Llandovery College, for 6 years but now concentrate my teaching time on my private practice. As a performer I am busy throughout the year. I have played with a variety of ensembles, including folk bands Y Ddafad Gorniog, Doed a Ddel, Gwenlais and Crochan, Bluegrass band Roots and Galoots, the Dinefwr String Quartet, Klesmer band Zemerchora, and duo Fiddlebox. I play a wide variety of functions: twmpaths, festivals, weddings, street entertainment for food fairs, concerts, small-scale gigs, and also perform for and with groups with special needs.
I have a special interest in collaborations with free forms of dance, and in 2007 and 2008 worked at Dance Camp Wales- a 12-day festival in South Wales, as well as making three trips to Amsterdam to work with innovative teachers of ‘Biodanza’.
I am very involved in community music making and was secretary and string fixer of community orchestra ‘Symphonica Tywi’ for 8 years. I was also a founder member of Llandeilo Fawr festival, and was a director of Small Nations festival 2008 and 2009, recently standing down. Recent media appearances have included a main part in 6 part series, the Valley of Song, about Symphonica Tywi and musical life in the Tywi valley, as well as appearances on Wedi Tri, Radio Cymru and numerous local radio programmes.
Compositionally, I have always written original material and arranged music for the ensembles with which I have been involved. In 2007 I undertook a mentoring scheme aimed at helping musicians develop their professional careers, which persuaded me to develop the composition side of my work. In 2007 I wrote my first full length (1 hour) work, Gwyl Nos, for a group of about 20 musicians, singers and a dancer. Though ambitious in scoring (requiring a clog dancer and Welsh piper among others) it has been performed 5 times so far, in venues as varied as Pontardawe festival and Lampeter music society.
I was then commissioned to write a piece by Small Nations festival, and produced Merch y Felin, which is an allegorical love story exploring the relationship between nature and industry in the Welsh valleys around Ceredigion at the time of the arrival of the first heavy industrial weaving and spinning machinery in the mid 19th century. I was inspired by my love of the sounds of running water and moving machinery. This piece is scored for 5 piece Celtic band, as well as a large group of percussionists (up to 40) who attend a workshop on the day of the performance and learn to play rhythmic grooves which fit together to create the sounds of a (noisy!) working weaving shed, on congas, bongos, din dins, djembes, and various bells and shakers.
I have also recently completed a commission by a community arts and heritage project Rite of Passage, to write a piece celebrating the historical maritime connections between West Wales and West Ireland. This piece, Crossing the Water, was premiered in November 2008 by a local community group, the Cleddau Music Makers, and was performed by them twice more in 2009.
I am trying to write music which breaks down the boundaries between audience and performer as much as possible, and which can be performed by either amateur musicians, workshop attendees or children, working in conjunction with professional musicians. I am also interested in multi media performances- both Gwyl Nos and Merch y Felin are semi dramatic with a costumed narrator who tells the story.
The last full-length piece I have completed, Totem, develops this idea further. Based on significant animals in Celtic and Norse mythology, and structured around a shamanistic shape shifting ritual, it involves young children in its performance, and had its first two performances this summer working with children from Cilycwm and Cynghordy primary schools in Carmarthenshire. This piece was a collaboration with a dancer and artist, but in a new departure, I wrote the script! It has two more performances booked for 2010.
My influences are many and varied, but certainly include Celtic dance music, African drumming rhythms, Klesmer and Sephardic Jewish traditional music, as well as composers and artists such as Bartok, Messiaen, Terry Riley, Morton Feldman, Josquin du Pre, O’ Carolan, N’faly Koayate, Lau, and Kraftwerk.