Voices Beyond Divisions


I’ve been reading about various artistic events which were staged on 20th January 2017 so that attendees could avoid the inauguration of the new US President. But surely the perfect way to pass Inauguration Eve was to attend Voices Beyond Divisions, an evening of music in St James’ Church Piccadilly, given under the auspices of the Purcell School, but devised and largely composed by Purcell sixth-former Asha Parkinson. Visiting the School a year or two ago, I had met Asha, who mentioned to me that being in despair about nightly news reports from Syria (I felt just the same way) she was going to try and bring together different religious groups nearer her own home in a piece of music she was going to write for them. While marvelling at her sincere ambition, I felt that it would be a very tricky project. Being a typical older person, a list of likely difficulties formed in my head…

Fast forward two years to this concert. An ensemble of Purcell School singers and instrumentalists (excellent, all through the evening) were joined by three radiant primary school groups. St Peter’s Catholic School in Woolwich had sent some very strong singers whose confidence sailed us through the evening. A thoughtful group attended from Akiva School (a progressive Jewish Primary, founded by the Reform and Liberal communities) and my actual favourite moment was their singing of Hashkiveinu, a Jewish evening prayer, in a beautiful setting with string quartet, again arranged by Asha. Finally, pupils of Iqra Primary School gained our admiration – metaphorically at least they had made a long journey to enter this venue. It was great to learn from a representative of Syria Relief that video messages recorded by these children in the afternoon would be shown to the 16000 displaced Syrian children the charity educates daily, aiming to let them know that they are not forgotten here. (It wasn’t so great to learn that there are three million Syrian children out of school at the moment.)

Asha Parkinson’s new work, an extensive cantata called ‘What War?’, used all these forces and even managed to include a duo of middle eastern instruments, nay and oud, in a convincing way. The piece inspired confidence; putting the primary schoolers’ melodies in the centre of broader, more complex vocal and orchestral textures was exactly the right thing to do. A very inspiring event.

Pictured: In ecumenical mood, Buddha with Christmas Cards (spotted in the Oriental Club, Stratford Place).

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer

© Judith Weir, 2020