I was privileged to watch a rare performance of Victoria Hume’s Delirium project at Wiser (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) at Wits University last Friday. The project first premiered in 2013 in an 18th Century operating theatre in London, which must have been a particularly profound experience. Stepping back onto the Wits campus always comes with a wave of nostalgia for me – I spent four years of real growth and development there in the early 90s, and met my former husband and some lifelong friends there. Of course, it’s different walking around a university as an adult – one realises one doesn’t have all the answers (and that there aren’t always answers).
Victoria Hume is an English singer/songwriter who has an interest in medicine, particularly the way music impacts health and healing. After having worked for years in England as an arts manager in the NHS, she found herself brought to South Africa by her heart, and is continuing her studies in the South African context. Delirium is a fascinating study which uses samples of interviews with patients who have experienced delirium in ICU units, and nurses who have cared for them, and puts these to the most beautiful music. The lyrics are inspired by things the patients mention in the interviews and recurring themes that come up, and this is all woven together in a magical manner.
Maybe I got a sense of magic because out of several of the delirious experiences come some common themes – one of them being fairies. Sadly, not all the delirium experienced was pleasant though – mostly patients found the experiences terrifying. Patients recall skeletons, the inability to speak and militarisation. However, listening to the project is a far cry from traumatic. Hume is a fantastic musician and her voice is angelic. In this project, she is joined on viola and backing vocals by fellow Brit, Quinta, who adds so much depth to the pieces, and by master soundsmith (and Head of Music at Wits) Chris Letcher. Together, they weave the most beautiful, haunting sounds.
The entire experience was incredibly moving. The haunting, disconnected voices of the interviewed patients, combined with the live music and melodies (I’ve never heard the word Morphine sound quite so beautiful!) is something really special. I’m not at all surprised to hear that this piece was shortlisted for the Medicine Boxed Creative Prize in 2014 (and how wonderful that such prizes exist somewhere in the world!). You can listen to the piece here, but I suggest that if you ever get a chance to hear the piece live, or any concert by Victoria Hume or Chris Letcher for that matter, you drop everything and get there. You will not regret it. They are seriously brilliant and intelligent musicians (and humble too!), and I feel more intelligent and fulfilled whenever I hear them play.