The Jewel Merchants
Composer - Rose Miranda Hall
Poet & workshop leader - David Gilbert
Soprano & Dramaturg - Lila Palmer
Cellist - James Whittle
The Jewel Merchants - A Parable for Healthcare and true collaboration.
‘The Jewel Merchants; is a collaborative venture between me (Rose Miranda Hall) soprano, librettist and operatic partner in crime, Lila Palmer and poet superstar David Gilbert. We are delighted to welcome the latest member of the team, cellist James Whittle.
I met David at Critical Voices 2016 - a mental health and the arts conference - where he performed some of his poetry - he writes about his experiences of his own mental health journey - and I was overwhelmed by his words. After throwing myself forward we decided on a collaboration - the nature of it tbc. A year passed and my operatic partner (Palmer & Hall) Lila joined the collaborative team as soprano and dramaturg to weave her story telling magic. After trawling through a vast back catalogue of David’s work we came across ‘The Jewel Merchants - A Parable for Healthcare ‘ and we immediately knew what the backbone of our collaboration would be. David had written the parable about his own personal recovery and as an analogy for the emerging patient-leadership movement he is part of. Both Lila and myself resonated with the tale and knew it would with others too. The piece became not just telling David’s story to inform others, it became a piece to include and help others.
The collaboration bloomed. All three of us were equally involved in constructing the narrative, selecting David’s poems from a vast back catalogue of work, with continual additions. We eventually came to a decision of poems and their order in relation to the parable.
David describes our collaboration and the inaugural performance and workshop at Bethlem Gallery in his blog When my words went elsewhere - true co-production across arts and health
As our collaboration blossomed we realised we had more than that. That our coming together was us modelling co-production in a unique way - we got to know each other, trusted each other’s different talents and learnt to let go. Rose and Lila checked out how I felt about my poems being re-crafted, rhythmically and schematically changed, mixed up and mashed up. That was a bit weird but I was loving what was emerging.
My ideas were not being plagiarised or co-opted for someone else’s benifit. I did not feel a weaker partner and reliant on someone else's power….
I stayed part of the process, equal decision maker in what happened next in our vision. Instead of the ideas and words being crushed under the deal weight of political necessity and external accountability, an opera took shape. I was learning about a different world. I was travelling.
What does The Jewel Merchants 'package' Provide?
‘The Jewel Merchants’ compromises of a creative writing workshop facilitated by poet and patient leader David Gilbert in response to his story ‘The Jewel Merchants - A Parable for Healthcare’ (full text) followed by a performance of operatic song cycle ‘The Jewel Merchants’ composed by Rose Hall for soprano, cello and poet. Although developed for mental-health service users, the nature of Jewel Merchants means it can be utilised by anyone with a journey and experiences to share.
The workshop invites participants to imagine themselves as fellow Jewel Merchants on the journey from the ‘caves of suffering’ where they discovered their jewels - their experiences. These jewels are invited to be shared round the campfire (the workshop) with time taken to craft a piece of writing. A performance of ‘The Jewel Merchants’ takes place (open to the public) follows the workshop, a space is left open in the narrative where the workshop participate are invited to read their work, have their work read, or to just listen. They are the Jewel Merchants and the piece is not complete without them; the piece develops organically as it passes through different organisations.
Participants have described it as: ‘overwhelmingly inspiring’, ‘a powerful experience to explore [my] journey’, ‘the workshop was intelligent, top standard and high quality’ and through participating ‘gained confidence’. After the inaugural performance one audience member said they had worked with service users on their ‘narratives’ for years but this had given him fresh insight into how people can voice their experiences.