Adopt a Composer: Meet your neighbours

Composer Esmeralda Conde Ruiz on memory, archives and human nature as influences in her Adopt a Composer collaboration with The Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra.

It’s that awkward moment when you meet your neighbours for the first time on the staircase.You might smile, you might small talk, you might pretend not to see them. We all know how that feels like. But what if you ask a community orchestra to meet their neighbours?

When I was selected for Adopt a Composer to work with Brighton based The Fretful Federation Mandolin Orchestra, one of the first things I did was to look on the map to identify where they rehearse and what surrounds them. Interestingly enough I saw that a few streets further down there was Screen Archive South East, a regional moving image archive at the University of Brighton with the function to collect, preserve, research and provide access to screen material. It includes material made by individuals, families, cine-clubs, public services, communities and companies from the 19th to 21st centuries and serves as a rich historical resource.

With an impressive website of hundreds of little films I found myself spending much more time than expected clicking through other people’s lives and feeling strangely emotional. That was exactly what I was hoping to trigger in my newly adopted orchestra: a connection. A connection with contemporary music though. So what if a real film with local footage could strengthen that feeling, not only for the players but also for the audiences?

I met Jane King, Archive Business Coordinator and Dr. Frank Gray Artistic Director of Screen Archive South East and I was overwhelmed by the openness, creativity and sensibility with which they welcomed my poetic idea of using extracts of their footage. A true understanding of what I was hoping to do. Knowledge, passion and key contributor of our event now: the ideal neighbour!

The experience of adding a new partner in this venture has been quite astonishing. And good neighbours know that together we are better. In the end it doesn’t matter where we are from nor who we are: we are all human, all connected, all the same. And that’s what my piece is about: ‘The other ocean’, world premiere at CINECITY - The Brighton Film Festival - 18 November at Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts.