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Home / Latest News / How dyslexia inspires composer Andrew Lewis’ sonic art work

How dyslexia inspires composer Andrew Lewis’ sonic art work

The words “classical music” usually conjure up thoughts of late great composers, like Beethoven and Strauss, who were  brought to life during school history  lessons.

But for the last two decades, contemporary pieces have been the firm focus of the Vale of Glamorgan  Festival of Music, which celebrates  living composers.

And this year is no exception.  Launched at St Donats Arts Centre in Llantwit Major last night with an  opening gala entitled Discovering  New Music, the festival will host six  world premieres and seven European  premieres at  formal and informal venues  in the area  – from concert  halls to churches – during  the next nine  days.

Audiences will be able to enjoy performances from international  groups, such as  Mexico’s Onix  Ensemble and  Vox Clamantis  from Estonia,  as well as those  a little closer to  home.

And a musician who will  be firmly in the spotlight is  Graham Fitkin.

The Cornish  composer, pianist and conductor is particularly  known for his music for solo and  multiple pianos, as well as for music  accompanying dance.

The festival has commissioned a new piece from him which will be  premiered at All Saints Church in Penarth next week to mark his 50th  birthday.

Harpist Ruth Wall will also be  showcasing a number of Fitkin’s  works as part of her concert at  Cardiff’s Norwegian Church.

Harpist Ruth Wall and composer Graham Fitkin
Harpist Ruth Wall and composer Graham Fitkin


Meanwhile, Bangor-based composer Andrew Lewis is looking forward to a performance of his sonic work Lexicon, which highlights the  plight of dyslexia sufferers.

Lexicon uses sights and sounds  to convey the complexity of language, emphasising the challenge  to people battling the condition.

The inspiration for the work was  a poem, As I See It, written by  documentary maker Tom Barbor- Might when he was just 12 years  old.

The project came about through  the Wellcome Trust, which encourages arts projects inspired by medical science. Lewis was put in touch  with the Miles Dyslexia Centre in  Bangor when one of the researchers  mentioned the poem.

“In the poem, Tom expresses his  feelings about being a dyslexic  child, his struggles with language  and so on,” says Lewis. “That became the basis for the piece – it’s a  great poem, especially for a 12-year-old.”

The poem illustrates some of the  word confusion the pupil faced  while writing his poem and Lewis  says they add to his piece.

For example, he uses the word  ‘lifes’ instead of ‘leaves’.

“It provided an additional image  which he didn’t intend about life  itself being blown around and  chaotic,” says Lewis, whose artist  daughter Martha is also dyslexic.

The starting piece for the composition was recording a number of  dyslexic people reading the poem,  including its author.

“I didn’t let them see it before  the recording and they were struggling to read what it said, but I was  trying to compute their struggle  through sound. It led to some interesting and unexpected outcomes.”

Lewis then used computers to  manipulate the sounds of the  voices.

“Sometimes you can hear the  words being said, but sometimes  you can’t make them out. Sometimes they are quite chaotic and  jumbled and something new can  emerge.”

The 16-minute piece was premiered in Manchester last October  and Lewis warns that it’s not always  easy listening.

“Someone responded to it in  their blog, saying it took them back  to childhood. At the beginning it’s  very uncomfortable and emphasises the struggle and problems with  dyslexia.

“But the end of the piece is more  positive, there’s more optimism.”

Lewis is now looking forward to  the Welsh premiere. In the run-up  to the festival, he has been working  with schoolchildren to produce a  brand new work, which will be  performed alongside Lexicon.

The father of four believes attitudes are now changing to dyslexia.

“I teach at university and it’s very  common for a student to have a  dyslexia diagnosis now,” he says.

 “But on the other hand, there’s  still a lot of misunderstanding about  what it really is.

“People tend to think it’s all  about how we see words on a page,  but current researchers say how we hear spoken words is just as important, as the consonants can come  together.”

Lexicon will be performed  by the St Christopher Chamber  Orchestra at Urdd Hall, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff,  tomorrow at 12.15pm.  The Vale of Glamorgan Festival runs until Saturday,  May 18. For full details,  visit

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