Content warning: Suicide and bullying
This spring, CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the piece My Name is Amanda Todd, written in response to the story of Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager who was bullied by classmates and ultimately died by suicide. In exploring such an important and sensitive topic, musicians spoke with the composer Jocelyn Morlock about the process of writing the piece and her collaboration with Amanda Todd’s family. In addition, students had the opportunity to stay after rehearsal to watch a film about Amanda’s life and participate in a discussion led by a mental health professional. CYSO Social Media Team members Zhihanna Liu and Shirley Xiong wrote about the piece.
My Name is Amanda Todd is a JUNO award-winning orchestral piece composed by Jocelyn Morlock in 2016 for Canada’s National Arts Centre. CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the work during their upcoming spring concert at The Logan Center for the Arts on June 5th. Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance will be the first time the piece has been played by a youth orchestra, making it even more poignant given that the subject matter focuses on teenagers.
My Name is Amanda Todd reflects on the events and experiences that led to 15-year-old Amanda Todd’s death by suicide. Amanda’s story is told through her publicly shared YouTube video, in which she uses flashcards to describe her experience with online bullying and resulting depression. She suffered through months of cyber abuse and harassment at school and died by suicide on October 10th, 2012. Amanda’s final video went viral internationally and spurred dialogue about the risks and responsibilities that come with online social interactions. Amanda is described by her mother, Carol Todd, as a kind and strong young woman who was passionate about singing and art. Carol continues to raise awareness of Amanda’s story, cyberbullying, and internet safety through The Amanda Todd Legacy. She emphasizes the help done by normal people through positivity and support.
As part of their study of My Name is Amanda Todd, Philharmonic Orchestra spoke with composer Jocelyn Morlock to learn more about her composition process and Amanda’s story. Morlock described how each part of the piece interacts with one another to create a whole, and how she worked in close collaboration with Amanda’s mother Carol. Their intention was to avoid portraying Amanda as a victim and instead, honestly show her humanity and struggle.
For example, “wailing” instruments illustrate private anguish. An intensifying cacophony of many instruments represents social media’s compounding negative effects on an increasingly tumultuous inner world. A lonely timpani solo symbolizes Amanda’s feelings of isolation, and a heroic brass line stands for how she asserted herself despite online and in-person bullying. The piece is at first ominous, and gradually becomes more lonely as isolation sets in. Near the end, the piece begins to sound more hopeful and optimistic, though it is subdued. As people become more aware of Amanda’s experiences and bullying in general, they begin to look out for others.
Philharmonic Orchestra students described the piece as “unique” and “enlightening”, and have been able to gain a better understanding of the world around them and the dark side of the internet through studying My Name is Amanda Todd. Percussionist David Stolyarov, when asked about his overall thoughts on the playing and rehearsing the piece, said “It is a really moving work that has grown on me over time. I think it’s wonderful knowing that each instrument and each moment tells a different part of this bigger story.” After understanding the backstory he said, “It has changed me as a musician, as it taught me new ways to approach playing programmatic music such as learning about the purpose of every note and every measure and applying that to my playing. The story and the piece have moved me to adopt the responsibilities needed to stop bullying of all forms, and have pushed me to be hopeful yet also diligent in creating a brighter future for all of us.”
On her website, Jocelyn Morlock describes her music as “inspired by birds, insomnia, nature, fear, other people’s music and art, nocturnal wandering thoughts, lucid dreaming, death, and the liminal times and experiences before and after death.” She completed a Bachelor of Music in piano performance at Brandon University and received both a master’s degree and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of British Columbia. She has won numerous awards and served as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s first female Composer-in-Residence from 2014 to 2019. “With its shimmering sheets of harmonics” (Georgia Straight), Morlock’s compositions are incredibly unique. Her music has been described as “a lyrical wonder, exquisite writing” with “an acute feeling for sonority” by the Vancouver Sun. Some of her other award-winning works include Bird in the Tangled Sky, Lucid Dreams, Exaudi, and Cobalt.
Amanda’s mother, Carol Todd, says that, “speaking up about bullying, cyber abuse, internet safety, and mental health… [these are] the conversations needed to break the cycle of harm to others.”
CYSO’s Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance will raise awareness about Amanda’s story and continue the conversations that help to break these cycles of harm. We hope you can join us at the concert on June 5th. Tickets can be purchased on our website.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. Other important mental health resources: mhresources.carrd.co
ABOUT ZHIHANNA LIU AND SHIRLEY XIONG
Zhihanna Liu is a freshman at York Community High School and a violinist for CYSO’s Concert Orchestra. This is her second season participating in CYSO. Aside from playing the violin, Zhihanna loves to read, cook, and watch movies.
Shirley Xiong is a cellist in Philharmonic Orchestra. Although loving cello, she is (a bit) more of a piano enthusiast. She is currently a junior at New Trier High School. Some of her hobbies include collecting stuffed toys, using Photoshop, and baking.