Thai Activist - Somchai Neelapaijit - photo credit Luke Duggleby

Artistic Collaboration out of Brutality

UPDATE: String Quartets around the globe are standing up for human rights defenders by paying homage to HRDs who have been murdered or abducted.
Watch moving video tributes#music4HRDs

Much of my musical output tends to either explore the beauty of people-kind, or the sheer horror of it. When coming up with ideas for a new composition, I usually look around me for some inspiration within one of these 2 sentiments.

May 23rd of this year was no different. Lisa had suggested I compose a new string quartet that she could submit for a call-out for scores from an Argentinian quartet. I wasn’t sure what to base the piece on so I went online and came across this blog post on the New York Times site. To put it mildly, I was moved to tears to read about Luke Duggleby’s poignant photo essay chronicling the disappearance or murder of 37 activists in Thailand. How can I have never heard of this? I visited the complete photo essay online and meticulously viewed and read each caption. It impacted me greatly. I proceeded to start composing, The Thailand HRDs (i.e., The Thailand Human Rights Defenders).

Mvt 1 - ChAroEn wAt-Aksorn - photo by Luke Duggleby/Protection International
Photo by Luke Duggleby/Protection International

That week, I couldn’t stop writing and composed four, 2-minute movements, musically representing each of the first 4 pictures in Luke’s essay. We submitted it to the Argentinian call-out. Unfortunately, no reply ever came. Last month, we decided that enough time had passed and we thought we should let Luke know what I had been up to. I didn’t expect his response. As someone who knew some of the victims’ families, he connected with the music personally. I had never been so privy to an outpouring of emotion for my music. To say the least, I was moved that he was moved. Luke posted such glowing words on social media and penned a beautiful blog post.

From these early email interactions, Luke was also very determined that the 4 movements of music should be expanded to 35, representing each of his photos in the essay. He then introduced me to Protection International and the amazing work that they do. It was Protection International that partnered with Luke in realizing his photo essay and they have been instrumental in spreading the word of Luke’s work. The good folks at Protection International are also very enthusiastic for my composition. Together, we have sent so many emails back and forth for the past few weeks about potential performance ideas in Thailand, Europe and here in North America. It’s all so overwhelming!

Lisa recently prepared and submitted a grant to the Canada Council to help fund the endeavour of completing this composition. After all, it’s going to take a bit of time to complete 31 2-minute movements of a string quartet…the financial support would be helpful. Other than live performances, the music accompanying each photo would lend itself well to being incorporated in a recorded version for a gallery showing of the pictures. The ideas on how to present this feel endless!

Much to do…when am I going to find the time to compose all this music? What string quartet will want to perform and/or record this mammoth amount of music? How will an audience respond to a 70-minute string quartet?

In some form or another, we will get answers to these questions and get this project done. It has too. Between Luke, Protection International, Lisa and I, it’s almost like we’re all on this mission to use our art and skills to give these victims a voice so no one will ever forget who they were and to hopefully help protect those who are still working in Thailand trying to save their communities and our planet.

What a world we live in where things can change so quickly. When good things happen, you’ve got to seize them before they’re gone. Stay tuned for what happens next as two creative souls who’ve found each other over the Internet look to do some good in the world.

UPDATE NOV 16, 2018
This project has culminated in the release of the album, For Those Who Died Trying, performed by the Mivos Quartet.


  1. 4 Albums, 1 Year – Update #5 - Frank Horvat - October 4, 2016

    […] Frank just got from Protection International to write a 70-minute version of this string quartet, The Thailand HRDs, time is even tighter. Not to mention that Frank will be going into studio soon to record some […]

  2. Great News, But Now What? - Frank Horvat - April 21, 2018

    […] project has come a long way since I first heard about Luke’s photo essay and we first connected. The composition is complete. I was fortunate to receive grants and an award. I’ve had the […]

Leave a Reply