Healing Bells' Themes & Team
formerly Collaborative Investigative Composing (CIC)
To see HB team members describing our work with specific examples, click here.
For Healing Bells music, see Compositions.
At Healing Bells, award-winning journalists, filmmakers, and composers collaborate to tell underreported stories of social injustices via music and film. Our projects include inequities Mexican immigrants experience, humanitarian crises in Venezuela, democracy dismantled in Belarus, grave misogyny in Mexico, and the aftermath of gun violence in the U.S. We use journalistically sound practices to debunk misinformation; counter censorship; lift up silenced voices; and reveal the agency, resilience and gifts of people who have been marginalized. We tell the stories through artistically engaging live music performances and short documentary films. Through our innovative cross-disciplinary collaboration, we call for public awareness and action.
To learn how we launched Healing Bells, read Tracie Mauriello's article in the Wallace House Journal.
Here’s a list of projects for which we are seeking funding, and biographies of our amazing Healing Bells team members.
With journalist Jet Schouten and composer-performer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra
Bells have long functioned as signals and timekeepers, notifying residents of deaths, commemorations, and celebrations. During the time of the Black Plague, some people believed that bells had powers to ward off the disease. Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra and Jet Schouten composed "Healing Bells" in the Spring of 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in support of scientists and health care workers; to stand with Asian Americans and against social viruses such as racism, homophobia, xenophobia; and to mourn with those who have lost loved ones. Carillonists world-wide (six continents, 14 countries) collaborated to premiere "Healing Bells" on 21 May 2020, the UNESCO World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. See Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra performing "Healing Bells" at the University of Michigan's Baird and Lurie carillons.
"Mother of Exiles: an Oratorio"
With journalist Eileen Truax, filmmaker Diego Sedano, and composer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra
“Mother of Exiles” is a phrase penned by Emma Lazarus at the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty. Her poem continues with, “Give me your tired, Give me your poor.” Although the statue and Lazarus’ poem purportedly welcome immigrants, many U.S. immigration policies and perspectives do not. In “Mother of Exiles,” we document specific stories of Mexican immigrants and adverse effects they experience from U.S. immigration policies. The stories feature Sara and Saúl, who fled Guadalupe after five family members were murdered; Jorge, who experiences the double bias of being gay and undocumented; and Odilia, an indigenous Zapotec who transformed disadvantages she experienced into agency by creating translation services in the U.S. for immigrants. With these diverse stories, we debunk false, dehumanizing, racist, and division-stoking immigration narratives and reveal immigrants’ complex identities and myriad challenges they face. See Doña Sara's story.
[Forthcoming, for chamber orchestra with soloists, choir, narrators.]
Theme: Oppressed Cultures
In our triptych “Landscapes of Crises in Venezuela,” and piece “Zhivi i Kvitney” (“Live and Prosper”), we document immigrants’ stories regarding the effects of oppressive governments in Venezuela and Belarus that strangle democracy and violate human rights through strategic media and military control.
“Landscapes of Crisis in Venezuela”
With journalist Marielba Núñez, composer-performer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, filmmaker Diego Sedano, photographer Luis Morillo, videographer Carmen Victoria Inojosa
Intersecting text, music, and film, we reveal how Venezuela’s corrupt government creates devastating humanitarian and environmental crises. We ensure censored stories are heard, place narratives deep in public consciousness, and call for justice now.
1. “Caminantes:” thousands of migrants have to flee Venezuela’s humanitarian crises on foot, facing a very dangerous trip because of the extreme weather and the violence in the borders between Venezuela and Colombia, and beyond. See our short documentary here! Funding for the "Caminantes" short doc has been made possible by the Puffin Foundation.
2. “Llanto de Tepuyes”/Tears of the Tepuyes Mountains, which overlook the once-protected Canaima region. Canaima’s National Park was a pristine ecosystem now devastated by government-endorsed gold-mining; indigenous Pemón people are displaced. See our short documentary here!
3. “La Boca del Dragón:'' In an attempt to escape Venezuela's humanitarian crisis, asylum-seekers board precarious peñeros (small rickety boats) to reach the neighboring coasts of Trinidad and Tobago. On the way, they must cross turbulent waters named "La Boca del Dragón" (The Mouth of the Dragon) by colonizer Christopher Columbus. In 2019, two peñeros transporting young women departed. In these ominous waters, the young women disappeared. Human trafficking is suspected. "La Boca del Dragón" features Marielba Núñez's gripping poetry narrated over a musical portrayal of the story. The piece concludes with a Venezuelan lullaby to acknowledge the grief and despair of the parents of the missing young women.
[Three versions: Pierrot ensemble with narrators and singer; carillon; organ]
“Zhivi i Kvitney” “Live and Flourish,” from Belarus
With video producer Maria Mikhailova, journalist Tracie Mauriello, composer-performer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, and K., a former Belarusian news anchor
In 1994, Alexander Lukashenko took office as the first president of the newly independent Belarus. Though benevolent at first, Lukashenko quickly found a way to stay in power indefinitely via a rigged referendum. For many Belarusians, this was the beginning of the end. In the 28 years that followed, up to this day, Lukashenko (or "Bazka," as Belarusians call him) has kept a hold on Belarus, its financial and natural resources, and its people. The protagonist of our “Zhivi i Kvitney” story worked as a news anchor from 1995 to 1996, at the beginning of Lukashenko's reign of terror and corruption. She presented evening news on one of the biggest national channels in Belarus. This is the story of her quick rise in the TV industry, the shock of the dictatorial regime gaining power [through every medium from military to media feeds], and her story of immigrating to the U.S. years later.
Theme: Gender & Endemic Misogyny
“Indolencia de género” (“Gender indolence”) in Mexico
With journalist Ana Avila, composer-performer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, filmmaker Brielle Bonetti
1. “Agencia Cresciente”/“Agency Crescendo:”
Ana Avila tells her story of domestic abuse, and the growing agency from obtaining a restraining order to feeling physically safe until emotional freedom and healing came. Ana continued to cultivate this agency as she worked with battered women at GIRÉ, a human rights feminist organization in Mexico City.
2. “Metro Asfixia”/“Metro Asphyxiation:”
The music of "Metro Asfixia" paints the sounds of the moving subway cars. In the overcrowded Mexico City metro, women are routinely sexually harassed and assaulted. Hear how Ana Avila and some friends stood up to the gender violence.
According to Statista, the number of reported femicides in Mexico rose from 411 in 2015 to 939 in 2020. Many more femicides are unreported. The government has made no concerted effort to curb the devastating violence against women.
[Two versions: carillon; organ; forthcoming, chamber ensemble]
Theme: Gun Violence
“Nurturing Healing Love”
With journalist Tracie Mauriello, composer Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, filmmaker Lori Petchers, and Scarlett Lewis, mother of 6-year-old Jesse, who was killed in the Sandy Hook school massacre.
Story of a town’s resiliency: the loss, love and resilience of Scarlett Lewis, mother of Jesse Lewis, a vibrant 6-year-old who died in the Sandy Hook School shooting after he diverted the gunman’s attention from his classmates. After the massacre, Scarlett found a chalk-written message from Jesse that said, "Nurturing Healing Love." She took that message as a mandate to found the Choose Love Movement, which now serves hundreds of thousands of children in 112 countries.
[For carillon; organ.]
Our Healing Bells Team
Ana Avila, Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism at the University of Michigan, is an investigative journalist. Most recently she was the deputy director of the Spanish edition of Newsweek based in Mexico City. Over the last 15 years, she has investigated corruption in political parties and campaigns, congressional lobbying leading to unfair practices in the private sector and the effects on the indigenous communities and environmental affectations due to mining in Mexico and Colombia. From 2010 to 2011, Avila worked for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists investigating the asbestos industry in Latin America. She was the co-winner of the John B. Oakes Award, from Columbia University School of Journalism and the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for the story, “Dangers in the Dust.” Avila holds a B.A. in journalism from Iberoamericana University and an M.A. in social science from the Latin American Faculty of Social Science, both in Mexico City. She was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009–2010 and a Knight-Wallace fellow in 2019–2020. Ana contributes Healing Bells stories about misogyny, physical and psychological violence against women, sexual harassment and abuse, and femicide in Mexico. After her first Healing Bells collaboration, Ana wrote,
“As a journalist, I’m trained to rationalize everything. That’s what I tried to do with the abuse. With Healing Bells, I was able to remove that rationalization, let my emotions happen, and see my emotions transformed into music. One of the best things that could happen in the end is to translate the pain into beauty in order to heal. Many episodes in our lives can be painful. If we can find beauty, we can heal. With a pure connection to emotions and no ego involved, healing occurs–just sound, music, scents. I never realized how healing it could be.”
Filmmaker and photographer Brielle Bonetti is based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Bonetti double majored in Film, TV & Media and International Relations. She hopes to create non-fiction films that shed light and expose problems and victories of our international world. In the summer of 2018, she created short documentaries for the women's empowerment NGO ANKURI in northern India. After sailing around the world in a Semester at Sea, she worked in the video department of the United Nations. Currently, Bonetti serves as a Creative Coordinator at QuickFrame. She hopes to draw from the many people she met while traveling to continue to direct films with stories that showcase a shared human experience across the globe and touch the souls of those watching.
Tracie Mauriello–accountability journalist and communication specialist–has worked for newspapers in Connecticut, Ohio and Pennsylvania, most recently as Washington bureau chief for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she contributed to Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre, and where she published “Undocumented: A Pittsburgh family lives in uncertainty.” As a policy reporter in Washington, D.C., she covered the immigration debate from Congress’s repeated rejection of the DREAM Act to enactment, expansion, and retraction of DACA. She has also reported extensively on other mass shootings including in Newtown, CT and Nickel Mines, PA. As a government accountability reporter, she uncovered a $2 million government corruption scheme that led to 26 arrests in Pennsylvania. She received the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists’ highest prize for investigative reporting and a second-place award from the national Education Writers Association for her investigation into rampant teacher absenteeism in Waterbury, CT. Her work also has been recognized by the Pennsylvania News Media Association, the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania, the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, the New England Association Press News Editors Association, the Associated Press Society of Ohio and the Ohio Professional Writers Association. She was a two-time finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and was a 2019–2020 Knight-Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan. She earned her B.A. in English at Central Connecticut State University and her M.A. in journalism at The Ohio State University. Tracie on Healing Bells:
“I know the power of words. I also know their limitations. I have interviewed people at the highest and lowest points of their lives–at moments when they are unable to verbalize their full experience or to reconcile the relationship between the facts of a story and the visceral reactions they elicit. Healing Bells is the bridge between words and emotion.”
Marielba Núñez is a Venezuelan journalist and writer, with a master's degree in the Science of Communication from the University Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain. Núñez was a 2019–2020 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. Trained in science and health reporting, she investigates forced migration, environmental devastation, and displacement of indigenous cultures due to government corruption and the resulting humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. She was a journalist in residence in the Institute of Tropical Medicine, in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2018, and University of Columbia Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma fellow in 2018 and 2021. Marielba has served as editor of Siete Días for El Nacional in Venezuela and has contributed with media outlets as Scientific American in Spanish and Scidev.Net. Marielba’s experience with censorship and work with multidisciplinary documentary poetry caused her to understand and develop the vast potential of Collaborative Investigative Composing. She joined the University of Michigan Carillon Studio in 2019–2020, and collaborated with Ruiter-Feenstra to contribute two launching Healing Bells pieces to Global Rings: “La Boca del Dragón” and “Llanto de Tepuyes.” Marielba on Healing Bells:
“These stories need to be told because Venezuela is in the midst of an humanitarian emergency. Due to the authoritarian government, journalists are persecuted and censored when they try to tell these stories. Looking for new forms to tell these stories is a way to fight against censorship. Also, some stories are too difficult to tell only in words or in the traditional formats of journalism. Via Healing Bells, we can now find a way to tell these stories in different formats and also put together journalism and art.”
Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra co-founder, coordinator, composer, and performer for Healing Bells. A GRAMMY-nominated international improviser and performer on organ, harpsichord, clavichord, piano, and carillon; a pedagogue, prize-winning composer; and guest conductor, Ruiter-Feenstra is author of seven books: the acclaimed Bach and the Art of Improvisation, Volumes I–II, four books in her Muse series, and Global Rings, a collaborative DEI initiative with the University of Michigan Carillon Studio to diversify carillon repertoire. Ruiter-Feenstra served as Senior Researcher at the Göteborg Organ Art Center in Sweden; Professor, University Organist, and Director of the Collegium Music at Eastern Michigan University; and Adelia Larson Fury Distinguished Professor of Music at Bethany College. A strong diversity, equity, and inclusion advocate, Ruiter-Feenstra devotes much of her current research, compositions, and performances to social justice arts initiatives. Pamela on Healing Bells:
“I have utmost respect for my journalist and filmmaker collaborators, who have a fierce sense of justice and integrity, huge hearts of compassion, and courage to speak up about humanitarian crises worldwide. Weaving these stories into new music compositions is a cathartic way to reveal the visceral experiences of oppressed people, and to work for change through our shared voices in journalism, music, and film. We are energized by our work and know that by working together, we can have far greater impact than any of us could have alone to foster awareness and action to repair these injustices.”
Jet Schouten is an investigative journalist for AVROTROS Public Broadcasting TV, the oldest and most popular public broadcaster in the Netherlands and a member of ICIJ, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Schouten initiated and led the ICIJ Implant Files investigation of the medical device industry, particularly devices that caused long-term health issues for women. This investigation became the inspiration for ICIJ’s “Implant Files,” a global report about safety testing standards for the medical device industry. Schouten won multiple awards for her work on “Implant Files,” including a Scripps Howard Award. She also received Villamedia's Journalist of the Year award in 2018. Previously, she was a radio documentary journalist at IKON Public Broadcast Radio, also based in the Netherlands. Jet has both a B.A. in Hebrew literature and culture and an M.A. in theology and religious studies from the University of Amsterdam. A 2019–2020 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, Jet is a co-founder of Healing Bells. She contributed two collaborative works to Global Rings: “Breaking Through” and “Healing Bells.” Jet on Healing Bells:
“When I met Pamela, I had a story to tell but I wasn’t sure what story it was. Pamela listened with patience and without judgment. I found my story via her. Because this process happened in close cooperation with and through the guidance of Pamela - it makes me think of the Socrates’ midwife (Greek: ‘elenchus’) method. Through Pamela’s questions, my story, this composition, came through and emanated in music. Music offers more nuance than any story I could tell through journalism. Because music appeals to emotions as well, this process was healing and it gave me the confidence to find and express my story.”
Diego Sedano–filmmaker, director, photographer and producer–brings more than 30 years of experience in TV and documentary production in Mexico and the U.S. In 2004, Diego moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for 15 years, and where he founded Malaespina Producciones, a video production company. He has produced documentaries and news stories about the housing crisis in California; the cultural life of immigrant communities; the Dreamers movement; the U.S.–Mexico and the Mexico–Guatemala borders, the immigrant rights movement in the U.S.; the Black Lives Matter movement, and the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, among others. In most of his pieces, Diego likes to do the camera work himself.
Eileen Truax is a Mexican journalist who covers migration, politics, mental health, immigrants and their children. Eileen’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, Spanish editions of The New York Times and Newsweek, and 5W in Spain, among others. She is the author of three books: We Built the Wall: How the US Keeps Out Asylum Seekers from Mexico, Central America and Beyond; Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream; and How Does It Feel to Be Unwanted?: Stories of Resistance and Resilience from Mexicans Living in the United States, and numerous articles, including “Undocuqueers: Coming Out, Twice.” Eileen holds degrees in Social Communication, and Communication and Politics. She has twice received the José Martí Journalism Award from the National Association of Hispanic Publications in the U.S., and the Desalambre Human Rights Journalism Award in Spain. She’s Content Director of the porCausa International Conference on Migration Journalism in Spain. She was a 2019–2020 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. Currently she’s a Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism. She lives in Barcelona. Eileen re: Healing Bells:
“We've never had this kind of platform to tell these stories. After the ‘breaking news' moment, stories continue, but the media rarely follows up. With Healing Bells, we can deliver stories in a different way to reach out to a wider audience. In medieval times, travelers would journey far away, and in every town, they would be received as heroes by people eager to listen to their experiences. That kind of approach, learning about immigrants’ perspective of life and community, the rich gifts they offer, and the tenacity they model, is a good start to challenge the current anti-immigrant narrative."
How Healing Bells began
Asylum-seeking young women in Venezuela disappeared at sea. Foul play and human trafficking is suspected.
A South Korean ferry transporting 250 high school students sank. Ship personnel commanded the students to stay in their cabins. While captain and crew abandoned ship, the students drowned.
Investigative journalists take on tough beats with tight deadlines and often ominous conditions. Burnout is common.
The pristine and protected Canaima region in Venezuela is being devastated by gold-mining greed and excavators, displacing indigenous people, animals, and birds; dirtying waters; and destroying ecosystems. -
How can music build community and offer healing amidst a globally isolating pandemic?
These are stories that award-winning international journalists Marielba Núñez, Jet Schouten, and Kwang Young Shin brought to me in 2019–2020, during their Knight-Wallace Fellowships and my Visiting Carillonist position at the University of Michigan. We co-created music compositions based on their stories, thus launching Healing Bells. We told our first stories from the carillon, a public bell tower instrument. We continue to feature the carillon, and also compose works for organ, piano, small ensembles, chamber orchestra, singers, narrators, and choirs. Here are some reasons why we remain committed to growing Healing Bells.
1. Healing Bells provides an alternative voice to journalists and other story tellers whose written or spoken word is censored, silenced, ignored, or eclipsed.
2. When encountering deep suffering and injustices or hard-earned progress, story tellers might struggle to put the pain or agency into words. Art, music, poetry, dance, and theatre can help create a deeper, visceral awareness of human experiences, and build understanding and compassion. In co-developing Healing Bells, Marielba Núñez observed, “The arts can open up emotion and empathy.”
3. Most written descriptors are visual. Engaging other senses can make a story feel less abstract and reveal human connections. Healing Bells engages the auditory sense, which is proven to create and evoke strong memories.
4. A multidisciplinary combination of investigative journalism or other forms of storytelling with music compositions and performances offers audiences multiple perspectives from which to experience a story.
5. Healing Bells centers diversity, equity, inclusion, collaboration, and community building. A story teller, poet, or journalist who does not read and/or write music can bring a story to a composer who did not know the story. Together, they can co-create a Healing Bells composition that is beyond what either of them could offer alone.
-photos by Elliott Woods, University of Michigan Knight-Wallace Fellow, 2019–2020