My third week in Penrhyn Castle

A sign on a electricity post at Bethesda, North Wales

My third week at Penrhyn Castle comes to an end. A week of music, mountains and landscapes.

Music

When working site-responsively on a commission it’s as much about listening to the sound of a place as it is about doing things, about taking-note as much as actually interacting.

And so, during the course of the last 4 months I’ve been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of (and film) a few pianists playing the grand piano in the Great Hall. I even discovered the piano tuner on one occasion, playing scales, as I traversed an upper landing.

Piano duet at Penrhyn Castle, North Wales
Piano duet at Penrhyn Castle, North Wales

These audio ‘slices of time’ are as indicative of the life of the castle as the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir is to Bethesda and the quarry. And so, within this context, I was lucky enough to record an original piano duet titled: ‘Llechi’ composed by two of the Conservation Assistants, John and Kane, at the start of the week.

A few days later I added to the ‘Strike Penrhyn’ (2016) audio archive by recording the choir in Bethesda for the third time.

The Penrhyn Male Voice Choir (Cor y Penrhyn) practice
Cor y Penrhyn practice in Bethesda

I am always humbled and honoured to be in their presence as they exercise their vocal chords and harmonies. Whilst simultaneously being taken back-in-time as originally the choirs members were sourced solely from the quarry workforce.

They are a living link to a history so deep and vital within the area that their voices from a melodic incantation that spans decades.

Mountain

The light was noticeably different last week - signalling a change in the weather and reminding me of the seasonal shift from Winter to Spring. It cast long, monochrome, shadows across the hillsides that surround Bethesda, adding further layers of drama and intensity to the narrative.

Long monochrome shadows on the hills surrounding Bethesda.
Monochrome shadows of the hills surrounding Bethesda.

It seemed as if just about every discarded piece of slate was reflecting back towards me. Like individual narrative shards reflecting the complexity of the stories held within the valley and the oppositional opinions related to castle/quarry, chapel/church, striker/returnee:

'A very close community during the hard years of the strike - rifts were formed and still linger in the older generation's thoughts.'

People

This was the week that I began recording the thoughts of the people of Bethesda. Contacting richly diverse elements of the community from castle volunteers and quarry members to the people at Marchad Ogwen.

The Great Strike memorial at Bethesda
The Great Strike memorial at Bethesda

I collated the responses of more than 80 people who embody just about every element of the embedded narrative.

From those that refuse to enter the castle on account of their family history passed from grand-father to father to son to those that have volunteered there for more than 20 years:

" My grand-father died in the quarry. My father worked there and his three brothers. When I visited the castle I was so angry at the opulence. "
- Bethesda resident
" The slate industry is such a fundamental element of the story of Penrhyn that there is a definite need to extrapolate the relationship with the community, to signpost its relevance to the visitor."
- A Penrhyn Castle volunteer



As I continue on with the commission until late April I will continue to gather more responses that will feed into my blog,