Meningitis Now Believe & Achieve B&A staff member Becky Hartwell

Meningitis in music

Becky Hartwell 10th September 2018

When Ross turned up to the office with his laptop in early September with something he wanted to gift to Meningitis Now we had no idea what to expect

FfN - Meningitis is Here blog

He’d told us about a piece he’d composed that was based around meningitis and the experiences people have had of it. Then he asked if he could play it to us.

What happened next left the staff at Head Office in silence.

Ross gave a little introduction and then over the next five minutes people listened to meningitis in orchestral version.

Attack on our Rights: Meningitis is Here was as thought-provoking for those who had played music professionally as it was for those who had never heard a symphony before.

Ross is passionate about his music. He described the meaning through his use of minor keys, piccolos and time signatures. But he also described it in a bit more detail for the average listener too. 

Meningitis is Here symbolises a person fighting through the horrific and sometimes tragic experience of meningitis. It’s based on those who have suffered as well as those who have watched it happen. A melody plays throughout the piece; it represents humanity. It starts on a calming instrument but is soon flung between instruments. It rises throughout the piece, sometimes calm, sometimes coinciding with other melodies and leaving the listener uncomfortable. But it is still there, a little changed from the start but clinging on. The humanity and heart of the piece never goes away. 

Although Ross tried to block out his own experience when writing the piece, as he wanted it to be a universal experience of meningitis, it’s clear that it pushes its way through. Ross’ younger brother has had meningitis over seven times, a very rare situation. Ross has seen this over his lifetime and recognises it in what he has written. The piece can be repeated; it has its rises and falls and sequences threading through it. As you come to the end you can imaging it starting again. But no matter how many times things do repeat there is still humanity at the end, there is still that familiar melody. That is Ross’ experience and also that of others. At the end of the experience the soul of the human is still there but not necessarily in the same way it was before meningitis.

Passion and thought is evident in every choice; whether beat, instrument, melody and sequence. Even the trumpets offer a warning that something is wrong and it’s going to get worse, which relates to symptoms growing and offering a warning of the developing illness.

As Ross sat in the silence of the room, staff considering what they’d heard he uttered, “Playing this at Meningitis Now is overwhelming”.

We can’t wait for what will happen next with his piece. After hearing it, members of staff got excited and together with Ross plans were made. There is talk of recording it, it may be part of a fundraising event and it could be shared at the carol concert this Christmas. Watch this space. 

We’re so excited that Ross is a Believer & Achiever, using his many gifts to support Meningitis Now, but also trying to develop them and how he uses them further. He’s helping us to Believe & Achieve a little more.

Ross is also a Young Ambassador for Meningitis Now and you can read his story here.