By DANNY LANE, composer
with EMMA AMSDEN, photography

Above film – music composed by Danny Lane based on Emma Amsden’s photography, Yorkshire Dales, deafness and landscape description in British Sign Language. (2016)

Award-winning photographer Emma Amsden is profoundly deaf, and her picture-taking projects in the Yorkshire Dales often emphasise the isolation she feels in “a world without sound”.

Emma says: “My pictures speak eloquently of the countryside I love with a passion. When the weather changes, it inspires me from within, I have an empathy with it. I can’t hear anything, but I feel that I grew up with a relationship with the environment. Using my strong visual sense, I see texture – taking photographs I feel the oppressive atmosphere of black heavy clouds in contrast with the landscape”.

Working together with Danny Lane, a composer with profound hearing loss in both ears holds a B.Mus(Hons) degree in music from Keele University and CEO of the UK’s based charity ‘Music and the Deaf’, three of Emma’s photographs have been transformed into a musical art form. Using her native language, British Sign Language, Emma talked in great detail about her background and upbringing and how it relates to her photography. Danny’s subsequent composition, The Amsden’s Yorkshire Suite, captures the essence of each chosen photograph whilst encompassing Emma’s background, life story, and passion for photography.

Each photograph is accompanied by one movement of The Amsden’s Yorkshire Suite. Danny wrote the suite for The Forte Ensemble, a UK-based classical ensemble consisting solely of Deaf musicians. The composition was written for flute, violin, flugal horn/cornet/trumpet, and piano.

Danny felt that there was a lot of potential to play around with the available instruments. The piano naturally provides a framework for the other instruments to build around, and does this well throughout the suite, especially in ‘Wild Garlic Flowers’. It is versatile in that it can transform from a thundering bass to a gentle lilt. The violin holds a very mellow sound throughout the suite; the flute provides soaring high pitches, and the flugelhorn punctuates the sound with a level of richness. In Danny’s words, he “had a wonderful palette of sounds to work with and excellent musicians, who knew naturally what the composition represented.”


The Ribblehead of Runscar represents the oppression and isolation that Emma felt during one particularly dark period of life. Her deafness means that society does not understand her or communicate with her, causing isolation and frustration. Looking into the past, she wishes that she had received better education with teachers who understood her abilities. She also craved more love and reassurance from her parents, wishing that they could communicate with her using sign language. The final version of the photograph on display is in black and white. The music can be heard to tie in closely with and represent the photograph – the dark rocks are heard at the forefront of the composition on the piano, whilst the flute’s quick ascending and descending scales depict the arches of the bridge. The flat planes are represented by the stillness of the violin and cornet.

reaching-tree-comeReaching Tree Come embodies a turning point in Emma’s life, illustrating a time when she was in deep thought about moving on from the demons of her past and yearning for happiness. The tree is known for being strong, stable, and secure, whilst always having a sense of life and renewal throughout the seasons. For this movement, Danny used traditional Yorkshire folk melody, The Song of the Swale, heard at the beginning and the end of the movement. The melody is played with thought and reflection by the flugelhorn which injects a sense of warmth into the music. Also tying in with the music is that fact that Yorkshire has a strong heritage of brass bands, making the prominent flugelhorn solo even more poignant.


The Wild Garlic Flowers is a photograph taken in a moment of joy. Emma’s sense of discovery and happiness can be felt in the bright colours of the photograph as the whites and greens stand out against the darkened backdrop of the woods. This is the most upbeat movement of the suite. Written in 11/8, the movement maintains a slightly off-beat ‘wobble’, giving it a sense of excitement and anticipation. In this movement, The Song of the Swale is picked up once more playing freely with a jazz swing (giving it a rebellious edge!), punctuated by the percussive rhythm on the violin. The suite ends in unison on a high note. The photograph and accompanying music serve as a reminder that the hidden delights in Yorkshire give life, excitement, and energy during that moment and into the future.



Danny Lane, Ruth Montgomery and Emma Amsden

On Saturday the 10th of December 2016, The FORTE Ensemble had the privilege of performing The Amsden’s Yorkshire Suite at the Dean Clough Gallery in Halifax, Yorkshire – not far from Emma’s own home. It was performed as part of Music and the Deaf’s Winter Recital where Emma and her partner, Tony, were guest visitors. The special performance began with a short BSL presentation about Emma’s work by Ruth Montgomery. The FORTE Ensemble then performed the music whilst words (which were projected onto a large screen along with the photographs) were interpreted into BSL. What was most striking was the level of feedback from the audience, which was a large mix of deaf and hearing individuals. Many deaf people mentioned that they hadn’t realised that music can represent shapes, emotions, and even stories. Emma and Tony were also very moved, saying that it was a unique and emotional occasion.

UPDATE: The Forte Ensemble performed the Amsden Yorkshire Suite on the 14th January 2017 at the Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury at Audiovisability’s Private Viewing event of art works.  About 70-80 people attended the event.

Saturday 14th January 2017

Danny Lane, Ruth Montgomery, Eloise Garland, Sean Chandler – Forte Ensemble