Music and film traverse the culture and politics of the coal industry with “The Miners’ Hymns” on Saturday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m. Presented by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, the event includes a pre-performance celebration of local coal mining heritage.

The documentary features rarely seen archival footage of England’s Durham coalfield, depicting the hardship of pit work, increasing mechanization, and trade unions’ fight for workers’ rights. Created by American multimedia artist Bill Morrison with music by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, “The Miners’ Hymns” is told entirely without words, with Jóhannsson’s original score played live by a string quartet and brass section comprised of 18 musicians from throughout the New River and Roanoke Valleys.

The performance will be held in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Moss Arts Center’s Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall. 

Local mining history will be showcased in the Moss Arts Center’s Grand Lobby beginning an hour prior to the performance. The center has partnered with the Coal Mining Heritage Association of Montgomery County, which will present artifacts — including those in their “tailgate museum" — and share stories about the area’s rich coal mining history.

While Jóhannsson will be performing across the country for several dates of “The Miner’s Hymns,” the Center for the Arts’ performance will be his only East Coast appearance for the tour. During his visit, he will speak with students in Virginia Tech’s Honors Residential College during a special engagement opportunity coordinated by the center and University Honors.

The Honors Residential College is a community of Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students who live and learn together in a unique and intentional environment. This program offers university honors students and graduate students with diverse interests interdisciplinary opportunities for learning engagement.

Jóhannsson has a background in avant rock and electronic music, but his work for theatre encouraged him to experiment with combining these elements with classical orchestration. He created a unique blend of chamber music and electronics for his influential album “Englabörn” in 2002 and has since released solo albums on the Touch and 4AD labels. Writing music for plays, dance, and theatrical performances led to work on film soundtracks. Jóhannsson has scored more than a dozen movies, his most recent collaboration being with director Denis Villeneuve on “Prisoner” starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

“The Miners’ Hymns” director Morrison has built a filmography of more than 30 projects, which have been presented worldwide. He has created films to accompany live musical performances by composers including John Adams, Gavin Bryars, Bill Frisell, and Steve Reich. Morrison’s films are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Alpert Award in the Arts, a creativity grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Creative Capital grant, and a fellowship from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. He has received two Bessie awards and an Obie Award for his work with Ridge Theater in New York. In 2011, Morrison’s feature film “Spark of Being” won an award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in the experimental/independent film category.


Tickets are $20-$30 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 years old and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, noon to 6 p.m. on Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Event parking for visitors is $5. Event passes may be purchased in advance through the Center for the Arts box office or when entering the garage on event evenings. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.



Share this story