Finding New Portals

"We doubted that diverging from our music industry goals could ever pay-off: we were wrong." 

Ruth and I accepted a song-writing job offered by a Belfast-based theatre production company. We decided to compose on the move whilst we travelled through Thailand and Malaysia. Feeling disillusioned from our experience of living a creative life without ever gaining significant recognition, we had briefly considered taking six weeks off from our daily writing ritual to simply soak up the experiences that south-east Asia had to offer.

In the end, we brought our ukulele, strapped to a backpack to help us along as we recorded our ideas on an iPhone and shared them with a director back home via email. We wrote on the balcony of our beach bungalow in Koh Tao as the monsoons swept by and as the sun set off Turtle Island. We crafted our lyrics in cockroach-infested motels in Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur as we sweated and readjusted our tiny bedroom fan.

We were writing to a brief and working to a deadline, but we were certain that our songs should and could be more than just stopgaps between scenes on stage. It was children’s interactive theatre and the songs were to be simple and memorable with soundscapes to fit an adventure involving a crew of space adventurers. We used the term ‘alien’ as a double entendre; whilst we described the onstage exploits of aliens from various planets (and Pluto) within our solar system, we interwove themes of togetherness, acceptance and friendship. We felt these were good messages to be teaching children, even if this message was not as conspicuous as the striped, furry arms of our Martian character or the flashing teeth of our Plutonians.

The show toured and received great reviews from children, parents and teachers who watched and participated in the immersive experience.

After a few months had passed we received a message from the uncle of a six-year-old boy who had passed away the week before. Eoin had been living with severe cerebral palsy. Having seen the theatre show a few weeks previously he had since become very unwell. We learned from his uncle that our music had been played to him continually over his last few days of life. At his funeral, Eoin's favorite song was played; one of the songs that we had written.

We both cried as soon as we read the message. We felt obligated to share it with the actors and the director of the show. Each time we reread the message we would shed more tears. Each time I came back to it I felt compelled by two instincts; empathy for Eoin's family, but also a deep gratitude that a song we had written had achieved such a high level of success. Our success was that our song was able to engage, entertain and comfort a young boy having to come to terms with the end of his short life.

In the months that went by after receiving this news we reflected on how songs can be more than just chords, melodies and lyrics. Songs can become for us, portals to another world, another place where our physical and even our mental anguish can be faded out, helping us engage with something larger than ourselves. We doubted that diverging from our music industry goals could ever pay-off: we were wrong. This idea of songs being portals to another better place is one that we have carried forward into our new project, which we have named “New Portals".

Mike, New Portals