Speaking with Elizabeth
Highlights of a conversation with Beth Turnbull, co-founder of Mysterious Barricades
A beautiful, healing idea
The idea for this concert came to me literally in a ‘flash’ about a week after Chris died. I was still in shock, but I knew I wanted to make music in order to connect with my friends across the country (some of whom came to Edmonton, but many of whom could not be with us for Chris’s memorial), to raise awareness and to support those at risk of suicide, for suicide survivors, and for friends and family of those struggling with mental health issues that could potentially lead to suicide.
When the idea occurred, it seemed to come to me almost as if it was entirely fleshed out in my mind. I knew what I wanted to do, but not specifically how I would actually make it happen. I just knew I WANTED to make it happen.
A mammoth undertaking
It has taken a great deal of time and energy on the part of the Mysterious Barricades Concert Society team, which started, as I imagine this type of thing often does, with a couple of people with a desire to make a change, to make something important and necessary happen. And the team gradually grew as it became more clear what was needed to actually make the bigger concert event happen.
We knew we needed performers, and because I have such an incredible, connected, loving and supportive community of musical friends across the country, who each – in their own community – is connected with their own musical friends, finding the musicians was in a way, the easiest part.
And clearly we needed venues. Because many of my friends are also now associated with universities, we were fortunate to have access to venues as well.
Because the live-streaming aspect of the day was also part of my original ‘vision,’ we knew we needed technicians in place to make that happen. These incredible people have come into place through a combination of personal, community and university connections.
We are also fortunate to have support from organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, in addition to university health and wellness services. Once we reached out to them, they were wonderful about adopting us and helping us to connect through their individual networks
When the idea initially occurred to me, I thought about larger centres across the country where I had singing friends and colleagues. I was amazed, when I stopped to think, that I knew people in virtually every major city and university across the country. It was then a question of emailing each of those people, outlining the project, and asking them to commit to the endeavour. I am not exaggerating when I say that within 24 hours, every one of them got back to me with their answer – a resounding ‘YES!’ We are so grateful they remain committed to the project and have agreed to organize a concert again this year.
Music and healing
Music is at the centre of the healing process for me because it speaks beyond what we can say with mere words. And when we make music, we forge a connection between a composer, and – if we are singing – a poet/librettist, ourselves as artists, and an audience. This connection works like an infinity symbol. The music goes out from the performers, is received by the audience, who – with their attention and energy – give back to the musicians on the stage.
This energy force is alive and palpable.
I believe that the musical vibrations we make, like a ripple of energy across water, reverberate in our entire body. I believe we virtually resonate on a cellular level. And this energetic vibration, shared by everyone simultaneously, connects us in a way that is beautiful, mysterious and healing. We experience something together that is much greater than the sum of all of its parts.
This connection is very important to me at this time, because losing my husband of 27 years made me feel that I needed even more desperately the connections with my family and friends.
Music has created my community. Clearly, I am not an expert on suicide or mental illness, but it seems to me that those who are affected with mental illness feel disconnected from the world around them. They have lost that organic connection, which I hope through experiencing music, they can start to rekindle in themselves. That they can feel the connection between each of us, so they will not feel alone. That they will feel the love of so many people who are committing their time and energy to demonstrate this.
I want people at risk of suicide to know how much their lives matter to us, and that we as a country and a community wish for the stigma of mental illness to become a thing of the past, like every other prejudice against any other unasked-for human condition or illness should be a thing of the past.
To become more open and accepting, a substantial conversation must take place. I want to herald in that conversation with music – loud, glorious, positive and far-reaching, deeply reverberating and connective.
This project has already helped me with the healing process, and continues to do so. Because putting this event together has involved reaching out to many people to ask for assistance, I have discovered that many, many people have shared the experience of losing a loved one to suicide. A brother. An uncle. A friend. It has helped me feel less alone in experiencing my grief. Due to the often sudden nature of death by suicide, feeling that one has not had the opportunity to say goodbye, and having unanswered questions is something that can be difficult, haunting and isolating. Through the experience of this project, I know that I am not alone in feeling this way.
Having to explain the event to others has forced me to articulate many aspects of what it was like watching Chris deal with his illness, and ultimately succumb to it. The need to verbalize and communicate this experience has forced me to process it, in order to try to help others (and myself) better understand that which is – to those not suffering from a mental illness – incomprehensible and terrifying. At first, telling Chris’s and my story was incredibly difficult and painful. It was almost impossible not to cry. But with time and repetition, while it is not easy, it has gotten easier. My new reality has become more real. This is where I think much of the healing is coming from.
Concert day is always emotional for sure. I see and hear so many of my friends across the country sharing their incredible artistry. There is so much beautiful music and so many powerful performances. There are stories shared, messages of hope, and resources and support for people who are struggling and their families, and for survivors.
Why ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses’
Chris was an amazing man who possessed the logical intellect of an engineer, and the heart of an artist. He loved the intricacies of ‘Les Barricades Mystérieuses.’ I know there is quite a lot of information about this piece on the Internet – it seems to fascinate many people. I believe what he loved about it was the fact that it can be appreciated for its harmonic cleverness and as well as its melodic beauty. It has been called ‘a kaleidoscope,’ and a ‘trompe l’oeil,’ hinting at ‘fractal mathematics,’ while nonetheless entrancing us with its song-like tunefulness. The duality of this piece embodies the dual nature of Chris himself, beautifully artistic and intelligently creative in its genius.