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Night vigil : from String Quartet: An AIDS Activist's Memoir in Music

by Lyle Chan (2013)

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The Australian Music Centre's catalogue does not include any recordings or sheet music of this work. This entry is for information purposes only.

It is listed in our catalogue because an event featuring a performance of this work was included in our calendar of Australian music. Details of this performance are listed below.

Work Overview

An excerpt from String Quartet: An AIDS Activist's Memoir in Music.

From notes to String Quartet: An AIDS Activist's Memoir in Music - "Night Vigil is the final part of the story of Bruce Brown. On several occasions Bruce made it clear to me that if he ever lost his eyesight, it would mean that the balance between quality and quantity of life had tipped over. Every person with advanced AIDS faced this: at what point do you decide that having more life was unacceptable? In late 1993 Bruce was going blind. Only 35, he'd already lived a full life, as an AIDS activist and an early music keyboardist (he cofounded San Francsico's legendary Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra). It was a calm, lucid decision he made to end it. I was one of three people, all ACT UP activists, he wanted present. Under Australian law, it is a criminal offence to assist a suicide. To be safe, no one could be in the same room. Which was as inhumane a thing as one human being could do to another, to force an already solitary death to be lonely. He took us into his bedroom one at a time to say goodbye. When it was my turn, he took off his watch and said I want you to have this. The law is an ass. I stayed in the room when Bruce swallowed his overdose and fell asleep. We waited through the night, three islands, barely speaking. I remember once someone saying, "I think I'm slowly going mad." In the morning I touched Bruce, still sitting up in bed, and he was cold. We called the police ad medics. One swore because Bruce's body was difficult to move from rigor mortis. A mere year and a half later, on 25 May 1995, the Northern Territory of Australia became the first place in the world to pass right-to-die legislation. This lasted nine months, then was overturned by Federal Parliament. Today it remains illegal anywhere in Australia to ask for assistance to die. The music is inspired by Bach's last piece, a organ work by a blind man ready for death, saying to God: before your throne I now appear."

Work Details

Year: 2013

Instrumentation: String quartet and police whistles.

Duration: 10 min.

Difficulty: Advanced

First performance: at Jane Sheldon & Acacia Quartet (Sydney Philharmonia Rehearsal Room) on 14 Jun 2013


Night Vigil, by Lyle Chan

Performances of this work

15 Jun 2013: at Jane Sheldon & Acacia Quartet (Mosman Art Gallery and Community Centre).

14 Jun 2013: at Jane Sheldon & Acacia Quartet (Sydney Philharmonia Rehearsal Room).

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