British Columbia

Vancouver composer translates Amanda Todd's life into music

"She was so brave," says Vancouver composer Jocelyn Morlock, who adapted the life of Amanda Todd into a piece of orchestral music.

Jocelyn Morlock's 'My Name Is Amanda Todd' aims to empower PoCo teenager who took own life due to bullying

Jocelyn Morlock wanted her composition about the life of Amanda Todd to capture the positive aspects of Todd's life, not just its tragic end. (Fred Cattroll)

When Jocelyn Morlock was approached by the National Arts Centre to write a piece of orchestral music based on the life of Amanda Todd, she wasn't entirely sure it was a good idea.

"I certainly didn't want to write a requiem for a 15-year-old girl who'd been tortured by these people following her, virtually and in reality," said the Vancouver composer.

But after meeting Amanda's mother, Carol Todd, and learning more about the Port Coquitlam teenager who took her own life in 2012 due to ongoing online bullying, Morlock was convinced.

"We talked about how Amanda made this YouTube video, and she stood up for herself on the very platform where people were attacking her," Morlock said.

"She was so brave. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to be a child who's being attacked on all sides, and then have the courage to stand up and tell your own story."

Not a requiem

So, Morlock got to work.

The resulting piece, "My Name Is Amanda Todd," will be performed Thursday at the Centre in downtown Vancouver, as part of a multimedia performance entitled Life Reflected.

The show also features pieces about the lives of three other Canadian women: author Alice Munro, Mi'kmaq poet Rita Joe and astronaut Roberta Bondar.

For Morlock, it was important the piece convey the positive aspects of Todd's life and not just its tragic end.

"She loved music. She was a performer. She was outgoing. She loved the colour purple," Morlock said.

"I wanted to include how bright and wonderful a person she was, rather than just [the idea that] she was a victim, because she was so much more than that."

Little actions add up

In the piece, Morlock uses small, repetitive musical elements to represent the way tiny actions accumulate online — for better or for worse.

"When you retweet something or you like something or you write an emoji, there's these tiny little micro-gestures going on, millions of times, all the time, [and] they can be sort of enticing," Morlock said.

"[But there can be a] negative snowball effect of damaging actions, where every person does some tiny thing, but it ends up being this huge burden on someone who's attacked."

The piece also includes a video element that features some of Todd's own words.

"The most heartbreaking to me is where she apologizes to everyone who was sent the links [to compromising photos of her]," Morlock said.

"Here's a child whose picture was stolen from her, and she's apologizing because this troll is sending her picture to others ... but she asks people to stand with her and help her. And that's the end of her text that we see."

Though it's certainly an emotionally intense story, Morlock hopes it is ultimately uplifting and empowering, rather than sad.

"I feel like, in a way, we're empowering Amanda and other kids like her to speak up for themselves and to be safe," Morlock said.

With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.