Only one year ago I remained generally ignorant of Commonwealth Day, but this year’s celebration (which, now you know, always falls on the second Monday of March) found me busy as a composer. I didn’t know what to expect when taking my seat at the Westminster Abbey ‘Commonwealth Day Observance’ which is described as the UK’s largest multi-faith service, also attended by a platoon of the royal family, seemingly in cheerful mood. The Abbey staff had earlier told me, ‘anything could happen’ (in a good way, I hope they meant). It turned out they were right – when were you last addressed by a member of the Jain faith, or a Zoroastrian ? The Muslim representative Shayk Ibrahim Mogra left a particularly thoughtful impression.
Above all, it was an inspiration to hear from two remarkable speakers. One was a young man named PJ Cole from Sierra Leone who, having with his father invited child soldiers into his own home to give them more positive things to do, is now helping to fight Ebola. And Nobel prizewinner and child rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi gave a marvellous talk in which he basically said, a great deal of the stuff you buy has been made by children in slavery – the Commonwealth includes 2.2 billion of the world’s population so it must happen amongst us too. It’s high time we worked out what to do about this, was the gist of his remarks.
Hoping I was not adding to the problem, I realised that my two new pieces of music receiving Commonwealth Day premieres relied heavily on the work of children aged 12 and below. One was being performed some distance away, by seventh-graders in the Bahamas (details to follow in a future post). At Westminster Abbey the new work was Truly I Tell You, an anthem assembled very efficiently and with expertise by the incredibly busy Abbey music staff, and their inquisitive, focused (mostly!) boy choristers. Afterwards I felt relief that my work had been deemed ok by these hardworking professionals, of whatever age.