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MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND #13 (article first published : 2006-04-24)

Miriam Stockley is a relatively unknown singer – other than, perhaps, becoming known as The Voice of ADIEMUS. As an ex-South African her two albums to date form part of my music collection. Originally from Johannesburg, she began singing at the age of 11 when she formed a duo with her sister Avryl. Shortly afterwards she was asked to record a jingle for a local building society, which began her session career. Halfway through her A levels she found the combination of singing and schoolwork too much to cope with, so gave up school and concentrated on her singing. After developing her unique vocal skills of multi-layering vocal harmonies and having reached the pinnacle of her career in South Africa, she set her sights on Europe and began travelling to Paris to work with French composer, Francis Lai. Aged 18, she finally packed her bags and based herself in London, where she worked as a backing singer, doing demo songs for songwriters and joining the occasional band as well as singing on several British cult comedy shows.

Her solo voice has also graced feature film and TV soundtracks, including Rob Roy, Great Expectations and the successful Beatrix Potter series Peter Rabbit & Friends. I particularly enjoy Perfect Day, featured on her first album, taken from the Beatrix Potter soundtrack: it has SUCH beautiful words. She also appeared live in a variety of concerts, including the 1997 Prince’s Trust Concert, the Wham! Final Concert and the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at London’s Wembley Stadium, where she provided backing vocals for Elton John, Annie Lennox, David Bowie and Seal. Miriam was also featured on the 1998 Diana, Princess of Wales, Tribute Concert.

Only You, a hit she performed with the group Praise, charted No.2 in the UK and resulted in her debut Top of the Pops appearance. Miriam always had her heart set on recording her own solo album, and after completing the third Adiemus album she felt the time was right to expand her musical audience. Her first solo album released in 1999, the eponymous Miriam, is a work of the finest quality. Her second album was titled Second Nature. However, going back to her first album, I noted when I purchased it, that the track Innocents is dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank. Here are the words of that particular song …

Sleep my innocent, let angels watch you as you lay,/ And while in slumber, harm will never come your way./ On your journey may you dream away to freedom,/ So rest until the dawn, when angels are reborn./Knowing eyes, reflecting good in all they may behold, /Should rest, that they allow their beauty to unfold./ Harrowed mind that knows the inhumanities of mankind,/ May rest until the dawn, when angels are reborn.

I was moved to read up and refresh my memory on the Anne Frank story... Let’s visualise this scene: August 4, 1944; a bright morning. The heavy tread of police boots resound through the staircase of the building in Amsterdam in which the Frank family is hiding. It is followed by loud knocks on the door, matched by the heartbeat of the refugees within. Then the bloodhounds are in the room. As the prisoners are marched off, one of the SS-men finds a parcel of papers. He glances at the writing, and pays no further attention to it: he throws the parcel to the floor, and only packs a few valuables into his briefcase.

The parcel, which contains Anne Frank’s diary, is still lying there - on the same spot - one year later when the only surviving member of the family, Anne’s father, comes back to Amsterdam after his liberation from the concentration camp to visit the house. He had not known of the diary’s existence and, as he reads it, it seems like a last message from Anne.

The subsequent publication of this Diary made Anne Frank the symbol of suffering innocent children who had to hide in order to save their lives; children who led a miserable existence behind barbed-wire fences. For all that, the words of the child who left this diary are free from hate. In the 32 languages or more into which they were translated, they sound as though coming through a mist of sadness.

These were the last words of Anne Frank’s diary: … if different people were living in the world. So Anne’s message reached not only her father but became a symbol for the young, whose hopes are echoed in the two words: Never again!

Several orphans’ villages all over the world bear the name of Anne Frank as do many schools in Germany – which usually are named after poets or heroes. Young people stream to the mass grave on the site of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp where Anne came to rest. They lay down wreaths and vow that what happened during the Nazi inferno must not be allowed to happen again.

Simon Wiesenthal spent five years trying to find the man who arrested Anne Frank – the most difficult case he ever undertook - and he can be rightly proud of having discovered the identity of this anonymous, nondescript SS-man who arrested the Frank family. By confessing to the arrest, this SS-man, Karl Silberbauer became a historical witness. His admission made the lie collapse that Anne Frank never existed. By throwing down the parcel with the diary, he saved an important document for mankind.

Another favourite singer in my collection is the relatively unknown (in this country, anyhow) Bjorn Casapietra. On his album Silent Passion (the only one I’ve been able to track down in South Africa) is Peace for the Children which is, to quote him, “dedicated to three semi-orphaned girls in Afghanistan who, since soldiers broke into their parents’ home and vandalised it for days on end, no longer speak, have been unable to take pleasure in anything, and have wept a lot of silent tears.” He also dedicates the song “to ALL children so mercilessly scourged by the horrors of war”.

His recording of Amazing Grace (on the same album) is dedicated to the leader and violinist of the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra, gave free concerts during the war-time years with his string quartet, giving strength and hope to so many of the people of Sarajevo. Evening after evening they played, without heating, without lighting except for candles, in the rubble of the ruined National Library, with shells exploding and bombs falling all around them. In fact, Sabanagie is quoted as having remarked about making his daily run through the firing line to the city centre: “If they hit me, I hope it’s only in the legs. I need my hands for playing”. How moving; how admirable! How marvellous that music can remind us of such heroism. - Bev Pulé




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