First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 – 18 April 2023 and repeated 7 May 2023
Pick Of The Week – Sunday Times
Pick Of The Week – BBC Radio 4
Hannah Conway is an award-winning composer who has turned her energies towards giving a platform to people who have lost their voice. In some cases the loss is dramatic, from the necessary removal of their larynx, and in others gradual through illnesses like Parkinson’s or Motor Neurone Disease. Hannah talks about how she and her collaborators who have a lived experience of voice loss, come together to create songs and installations which allow the rest of us to understand why the voice matters so much, how it defines our personality, and how even without it, musical expression is both possible and powerful.
In the course of the programme we meet Tanja Bage, who had her voice box removed within a week of being diagnosed with throat cancer, and Paul Jameson whose voice deteriorated more gradually as a result of his MND (Motor Neurone Disease). Both Paul and Tanja worked with Hannah and her colleague Hazel Gould to come up with lyrics and music that combined their voices with those of trained singers. The resulting duets, with the relationship between the two voices and the words garnered from several hours of conversation, make for intensely intimate chamber songs.
Hannah has also worked her music into installations, with a new project to have them running in four hospitals across the UK. The Willow Tree project will continue another element of the SoundVoice project, and that is the way the medical professionals involved in voice and automated voice recovery have been closely involved with both patients and artists. The result, as explained by Martin Birchall, Professor of laryngology at UCL, is that research into improvements in voice technology has been given a powerful insight into what it is that those with voice loss want and need most from whatever speech capacity is available to them.