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:
In 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.
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!”
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).