Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Power of Song

Truce Choir Leader, Janet Swan, reflects on her experiences of the project and working with the choir for their performances at The Rhyme of No Man’s Land and Christmas Truce at ASFC:

truce logo bwIn the summer of 2014 my good friend Iain Broadley asked me to be part of a project that I knew he had been working on and which Mid Pennine Arts had raised funds for. I was thrilled to be asked to lead the singing side of the project. I had sung as part of the Roses and Thorns choir in 2005 in a concert called “Kirstbestand” (Flemish for Christmas Truce) with the acapella trio Coope, Boyes and Simpson. That had been a defining moment for me – in being part of a group of singers that had the power to move, and even change people.

Now I had the opportunity to create something with Iain and other artists and to get more local people involved in learning about the Christmas Truces of 1914. It was also to be a chance to use my skills as a natural voice practitioner – to give the possibility of singing in this choir, to those who don’t read music or don’t consider themselves as singers even.

When Iain had to step back from the project because of illness, I was determined to do justice to his vision and to give it my best. Thus began several months of incredibly hard but very rewarding work, putting together the two concerts in Accrington, getting permissions for songs, learning then teaching the songs, communicating with singers and adding audio files to “the box” – the shared space where those with access to the internet could learn their parts without the need to read music.

My reward for being in this project was the privilege which came from working with all the Mid Pennine Arts’ staff, especially Cath Ford. But also working together with heritage performer John Meredith and Gill Brailey of the county’s Heritage Learning Team which lead to the successful weaving of words and songs around each other to create the magic that was The Rhyme of No Man’s Land.

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Truce choir at Accrington Stanley

What has been the most amazing thing for me was discovering how committed people were to this choir and this project, and how much work they were prepared to put into learning the songs. For that I want to say a really big THANK YOU to the 70 + singers involved. Thanks also go to Ian Enticott, the vicar at St James Church, Accrington, who let us use that very beautiful acoustic space and to Rob Houseman, Director at Accrington Stanley Football Club for his support of the Christmas Truce event happening around and during their important match on 20 December.

To all of you: thank you. We did it together and, as the comments from the audience and participants (The Rhyme of No Man’s Land) testify, we created something really special:

“It was really really good. The choir were great: lovely singing and a good balance, and the music chosen was a really good mix, including the Urdu song which sounded super. Dad was particularly taken with the Sgt but enjoyed the whole event, I am never sure what he thinks of some of the things we go to, but this was a real hit!”

“It was one of the best experiences of my life and one I will treasure. There was such an atmosphere of camaraderie amongst all participants and the audience that somehow reflected the spirit of peace, comradeship and shared humanity that the British and German soldiers demonstrated in such a wonderful and humbling way that Christmas of 1914. My paternal grandfather, who was Scottish, fought in the 1914 war, though fortunately he was not injured. So, like many others taking part, I felt a special bond with the Truce Project.”

“Great performances by all concerned: musical, moving, and the ‘trench humour’ came over too…. Thanks, for a memorable night out.”

“I thought it was absolutely fantastic, especially the choir (the harmonies were lovely) and the actor playing the sergeant who was a great anchor throughout.  I also thought the food parcels were a brilliant idea and if the people around me were anything to go by we all swapped and chatted to strangers!”

Truce choir at The Rhyme of No Man's Land

Truce choir at The Rhyme of No Man’s Land

As several of these comments show and as we all observed – the audience loved it and were engaged throughout, probably because of the power of the performers who were giving it their all. There was no shuffling, yawning or other signs of people falling asleep, and even better there were people who were moved and maybe even changed.

Visit the Truce website for more information.

Truce was funded by: Heritage Lottery Fund, Lancashire County Council Arts Development Team, Granada Foundation & Hyndburn Homes.  It was also supported by Accrington Stanley FC and BBC Radio Lancashire (Up for Arts).

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Truce – Sgt. Meredith’s Story

John Meredith, the creator of Sgt. Meredith, shares his experiences of being involved in the Truce project.truce man cropped

Truce - John Meredith as Sgt Meredith - school workshopSgt. Meredith’s War – The Christmas Truce, a play based on the letters, diaries and anecdotal evidence of the soldiers who found themselves on the Western front at Christmas 1914.

The element of doubt surrounding those events and the fog of mystery that has shrouded the legendary ‘football match’ led to a detailed research exercise.  The piece had to be flexible enough to be performed in a variety of venues to an equally varied audience.  It also had to be historically accurate. The amount of research material available is truly breath taking, websites, biographies, anecdotal collections, archive records and regimental accounts all helped build as accurate a picture as possible of the events that led up to and included the Christmas Truce of 1914.  Yet still the spectre of ‘that’ football match hung in the air.  It would have been easy to shoe horn the play’s central character into a situation that found him involved in the most ‘organised’ of the football stories from that incredible Christmas but in the end I opted to place Sgt. Meredith in the middle of a more informal ‘kick about’. This allowed me to involve more people ‘men of all ranks’, and it also allowed me to include men from all regions on both sides in an attempt to capture the unbridled enthusiasm for a pause in the mayhem on both sides of the line.

Of course the Truce was not universal and it did not last. Both sides recorded casualties on Christmas Day 1914 in the very sectors that ‘The Truce’ broke out. So it became a very localised truce, dependent on the willingness of the soldiers themselves to engage with the enemy in a very different way than they had up to that point. I wanted to show the changes in attitudes amongst the troops from fighting an honourable war, a great adventure to the deadly grind of trench warfare that developed in such a short space of time following the Truce.

SSgt. Meredith - Rhyme of No Man's Landgt. Meredith’s War – The Christmas Truce is therefore a reflective piece. Which sees Sgt. Meredith looking back over two years of war to a time when everything, for a short period of time at least, was so very different.  Performances of Sgt. Meredith’s War to Primary and Secondary school audiences were followed by The Rhyme Of No Man’s Land a collaborative project that saw Sgt. Meredith’s War interwoven with songs, carols, letters and poems performed by a community choir and children from local schools. The result was an atmospheric and often emotional performance to a full house.

Sgt. Meredith’s War was then adapted for an interactive workshop with a Primary School Year 3 group and then evolved again as part of the Truce Centenary Cup an exciting junior football competition. Between games, players, coaches and spectators alike listened to stories of life at The Front line in WW1, the story of the Christmas Truce and of the so called ‘Footballer’ battalions. The attitude and response of all involved was fantastic and the tournament was played in the true spirit of those footballing encounters in No Man’s Land at Christmas 1914.Sgt meredith session at Truce Cup

Sgt. Meredith’s War was then serialised on BBC Radio Lancashire with the final episode broadcasting on Christmas Eve a 100 years to the day that the Truce began.

Writing and performing Sgt. Meredith’s War has been an amazing experience and thanks must go to Mid Pennine Arts for the opportunity and the faith they placed in me to deliver. The process has inspired me to write more adventures for Sgt. Meredith as he marches his way across France and who knows where those roads will lead him?truce logo bw

Visit the Truce webpage for more information on the project.

Read the programme from The Rhyme of No Man’s Land

Truce was funded by: Heritage Lottery Fund, Lancashire County Council Arts Development Team, Granada Foundation & Hyndburn Homes.  It was also supported by Accrington Stanley FC and BBC Radio Lancashire (Up for Arts).