As part of Royal Holloway’s VOTE 100 celebrations, I was asked, along with eight other composers, to write a piece for solo instrument about civil and human rights activism since the passage of (partial) women’s suffrage in the UK (1918 was when the first women in the UK could vote, 1928 was when women had equal voting rights to men). My piece was to be written for solo viola, and I chose to base it on the speech ‘All the little things’ (2014) by Rory ‘Panti Bliss’ O’Neill, an Irish drag queen and LGBTQ+ activist.
‘All the little things’ is an incredibly powerful speech, detailing the ways in which queer couples often do not feel comfortable showing affection in public, how their relationships are feared and demonised. O’Neill details how even holding hands is not something taken lightly by queer couples; the situation must be assessed and even when they feel it is safe, queer couples still can be the target of ridicule and homophobic abuse. O’Neill also explores the causes for this abuse and how in their own personal experience, they are fed up with how there are still those in society who would deny LGBTQ+ people rights.
For my piece, I drew on O’Neill’s experiences discussed in ‘All the little things’ as well as my own. I decided to use the various strings of the viola to my advantage, using an open D string with the same note stopped on the G string to illustrate a queer couple holding hands. Around this, I built anguished music, showing the calculating decisions and internal struggle caused by these simple acts of public affection. However, I wanted the piece to end with a hopeful tone; when the final “hand hold” comes, the motif is surrounded by a “halo” of natural harmonics and open strings. I hope that this ending shows the future, one in which queer couples may express themselves freely in public without fear or ridicule.
I hope you enjoy A Small, Intimate Gesture.