Interview: Benjamin Fitzgerald | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Multi instrumentalist Benjamin Fitzgerald is a neo-classical composer from the North East of England. His rare style of composition incorporates an eclectic mix of transcendent strings, surrealism and a plethora of inspirations spanning modern jazz through electronica. His latest project, commissioned by Tyneside Cinema for BBC Arts, ‘Mind, Matter & Perspective’, looks into the links between music, mental health and the ways we can empathise with them. To share this work with the general public Benjamin will be performing it live at the Lit & Phil on the 8th August in accordance with the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) with support from local artist Calm C. We catch up with him to find out more.

Tell us about yourself and your background in music.
So I’ve been playing music for over 16 years and recently graduated from the music course at Newcastle University. Until recently I’ve played in local bands such as Bares  and Twiceborn. I regularly perform with Neo-soul group Portraits at events including the likes of Tipping Point festival and I’m a resident percussionist for Revolucion De Cuba. All of my musical projects involve playing drums in one way or another: playing piano while writing for strings as well as saxophone made this project extremely challenging, but still endlessly rewarding. 

How did the Mind, Matter & Perspective project come about?
The idea came from witnessing the development of Dementia in a close family member: I used composition as a way of not only coping but as a way to empathise with what they were going through. I started thinking about how I could take that further, so decided to use that idea as the theme for my major composition during final year of university. The project came together successfully across the first semester of final year, so I applied for the New Creatives commission, which ultimately funded its recording. The recordings will be sent over to BBC Sounds to feature in a number of productions: until I find out how they’re going to be used, I thought a performance in my hometown would be a perfect excuse to demonstrate my work.  

Can you give us more insight into the project?
The compositions look into the representation of mental health through the means of music. I’m looking to challenge the stigma surrounding serious mental health disorders by giving the listeners a platform to fully immerse themselves whilst simultaneously educating them of the symptoms affiliated with a certain disorder. The compositions include the creative use Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) alongside acoustic instrumentation, as a way to immerse the audience so they can truly tackle their own perspectives of the subject matters, as well as being guided into a state of acceptance in order to do this. That is, as long as they’re willing to be challenged.

Why do you think there’s still so much stigma surrounding serious mental disorders?
I feel we’re living in a time where our society penalises weakness and gives celebration to a ‘put up and shut up’ mentality. Personally, I grew up under the ideology that if you had a mental health disorder then you were weak, and if you were weak then you had to keep that hidden. Thankfully, through the people that surround me, I’m now aware that this doesn’t need to be the case. Too many friends have taken their own lives as a result of this mentality so it needs to change; I’m just trying to help that process in the best way I know how.

What can people expect from the live performance at the Lit & Phil on 8th August?
A combination of eerily wistful soundscapes, soaring melodies and a healthy dash of discomfort.

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