Soprano Jane Hanson launched One Day One Choir, a global choral project for peace, in 2014. After a slow start it is now snowballing into an exciting project supported by all kinds of arts, education and social organisations. Last week it was highlighted in The Mayor of London’s culture DO THIS list.
Here she explains how One Day One Choir came about and the role the London Philharmonic Choir played in helping to get it off the ground.
Contributing to making a difference
It was summer 2012 when I first began waking in the middle of the night, worrying about what was going on in the world. On top of general global disasters and challenges, riots had rocked the UK in 2011 and the situation in Syria, a country whose sounds, sights and friendliness I had fallen in love with in 2006, had become untenable and was free-falling into the tragedy we have watched unfolding in front of our eyes.
For the first time in 30 years of teaching, children were openly and increasingly expressing their fears about what was going on in the world. I was constantly being asked, ‘why is this happening and why can’t the grown ups do something to stop it?’ A good question.
I thought intently about this for weeks and wondered if there was anything ‘ordinary people’ could do, if there were small things we could each do that might contribute in some way to making a difference.
One evening after choir practice something led me back into my office later and for some reason I was drawn to the quote under my poster of Leonard Bernstein. ‘Art never stopped a war … he says … art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed because people are changed by art, enriched, ennobled, encouraged – then they act in a way that may change the course of events.’
That’s when it struck me: What if, what if an arts project could be created to give people a platform to do something small about peace themselves?
Everyone and Anyone Singing Together
It would have to be singing of course. Singing has such a unique gift as it can be done by literally everyone and anyone, anywhere. In addition to that it’s free, it’s fun, it connects and uplifts and when we do it together it somehow transforms and transcends.
It’s well documented that our physical, emotional and mental well-being improve when we sing and that by singing together, we feel uplifted and connected. Singing communally has long been a positive part of holding communities together and I was sure it could do more.
I wondered if it was possible to get people singing together for peace, to create ‘one choir’ singing in their communities yet linked together by a global connection of some kind. Not a virtual project where people upload their performances from their isolated computer consoles, but one where they used the real physical and literal power of singing together.
What if one day we could all be ‘one choir’, each making a contribution and perhaps starting a small process of change in our homes, our schools, our communities.
A Choir for Peace is a Great Idea
In his Times article, A Choir for Peace is a Great Idea, Richard Morrison was particularly struck by the fact that “choirs are the literal embodiment of people working together in harmony” and that One Day One Choir was “a brilliantly simple notion,” so that sealed it.
I’d sung in choirs all my life and knew the positive impact they’d had on countless people, including me, and the incredible communities they could build within themselves. I’d run the London Philharmonic Choir as its Chairman and Business Manager, so I knew a bit about organising choirs and events, I’d worked with Voices for Hospices on their Global choirs project for 6 years and had good contacts. More recently I’d seen powerful practical and scientific evidence of the outcomes of communal singing as I’d travelled the world researching and presenting programmes for BBC radio.
Whilst making ‘Peace Rhythms’ and the ‘Power of Music’ series, I’d met and recorded a fantastic array of people in amazingly diverse settings whose lives and communities were being positively impacted by singing together. I’d been in prisons and war zones, playgrounds and palaces, concert halls and community centres, hospitals, homes, offices of state and everyday offices where people had sung together and found themselves feeling happier and more harmonious as a result, I could tap into all of that and use it to help.
The Man in the Slick Black Suit
I must have been contemplating this deeply as I fell asleepone evening because I woke up with a start at 5am with a profoundly clear vision in my mind of a man in a slick black suit (looking remarkably like Maestro Vladimir Jurowski) conducting thousands of people who were standing all over a huge globe and singing. Now what?
I saw Vladimir a few weeks later and remembering the vision, I took a deep breath and jumped in with both feet. I explained what I’d seen and the idea that was forming to create a global choir for peace’. I asked if he would consider being part of it; I knew he had a strong belief in music as a key peacemaking tool, and singing together having a special therapeutic, calming and harmonious socialising power. I stood there on tenterhooks as he processed the suggestion. After only a few moments I heard him say, ‘Yes, if it’s for peace I will help, let’s talk.’
And so began the journey of creating One Day One Choir – a global choral project for peace.
Voices from Around the World
As you might imagine, there have been quite a few ups and downs on the way and when the funding for a launch concert with the LPO and LPC led by Vladimir didn’t materialise I almost gave up, but great supporters who were rapidly coming on board, and friends and fellow singers wouldn’t let me! Fortunately the producer of Radio 3’s The Choir stepped up a couple of months before Peace Day 2014 with the fantastic offer of a funded launch concert and broadcast.
And so it was that 5 widely differing choirs, led by Neville Creed and the LPC, sang a capella in World Piazza outside BBC Portland Place on Sunday 21st September, and were joined by 100,000 other voices around the world who had already heard about the project and wanted to be a part of it.
We had fantastic feedback and by Peace Day last year, inspired by the vision and a love of singing, at least 250,000 people had joined in. This year the plan is to mobilise more than a million singers and by 2018 the aim is to have created the biggest ‘choir’ in the world, singing for peace. That’s where you come in…
How You Can Take Part
Still unfunded, we reach people through social
media and the great efforts of others who love singing and want to live in a more united and peaceful world. We need people to tell others about us and we need to people to create or dedicate events on Peace Day each year.
LPC singers have been great role models for this. As well as being part of the launch events and singing Dona Nobis Pacem on the radio for us last year, lots of members have signed their own groups up and helped in other ways.
– Soprano rep Janey Maxwell has a whole bunch of Maxwell Mini’s under 5‘s singing, bass Paul Fincham has offered to compose a choral piece for peace
– Alto and headteacher Susannah Bellingham brought her entire school on board
– Tenor Tony Masters inspired his friends Mary and Sheldon Bair in Maryland US to get their schools singing
– Bass Rylan Holey does some tweeting for us
– Soprano Katie Milton, who works at Oval House Theatre, has mobilised some of her OAP community groups to sing this year and others have signed signed up their church, school and local community choirs to take part too
– Choir Manager Tessa Bartley and Chairman Ian Frost have been helping behind the scenes
– Former tenor Armando Calado, who now lives in Portugal, fills Lisbon Cathedral for us every year!
Even the choirs who sang with us at the launch are helping. Cheam Common Infant School choir did a Peace Assembly for 450 children last year and brought their partner school in Malawi on board who not only sang but also got the entire village to join in! The Mixed Up Choir – whose motto ‘we believe if we can stand and sing together we can learn to live together’ summarises perfectly what we are about – are singing again this year, and their conductor is creating and leading events for us as is Nav Arles who led the International Youth Gospel Choir.
That’s how it works.
Hearts Beating at the Same Tempo
And it’s not just members who are helping. A few weeks ago I had a totally unexpected call from the LPC’s President, Sir Mark Elder, saying he’d read more about the project, thought it was wonderful and wanted to be a named supporter. He told me how amazed and excited he was when he’d recently discovered that our hearts begin to beat in the same tempo when we sing together and hadn’t realised that was one of the key points of the project.
He also hadn’t realised how easy it was to be a part of and wanted to add his voice to those of others encouraging people to sign up and sing in their communities as he was so aware of the power and importance of singing together.
One Day One Choir is really easy to be a part of it because it’s been created for maximum inclusion and accessiblity.
Singing Focussed on Unity and Peace
One song is enough to join in for example in a school assembly, an office, a care home, a rehearsal or a community event. Groups can also dedicate something they are already singing instead of having to create an event. Tenebrae are dedicating their recording session of Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden on Peace Eve and Coventry Cathedral and York Minster are among a growing number of cathedrals dedicating their choral evensongs to One Day One Choir on the day itself.
Music in Offices have got all their choirs on board, schools around the world are singing in assemblies and playgrounds, the Central London Mosque and Liberal Jewish Synagogue are joining in and massed choirs are already garnering in Truro this year. The only thing that really matters is that we all sing and that the singing and the thoughts around it are focussed on unity and peace.
We want everyone to go out and inspire others in their local or social media communities to come on board, to sign up and sing; maybe even create or lead an event yourself – and remember to let us know.
Of course if you do want to sing something with us on the day, we will be having ‘pop ups for peace’ in The City during the day and a flashmob in Trafalgar Square in the evening so watch this space…
Please join us and help spread the word – sign in at www.onedayonechoir.org, sing in your community, share our Facebook page, tweet using #OneDayOneChoir and let us know of any other ideas or suggestions you have to support and grow the project.
Now more than at any other time in recent history we need unity and peace in our communities, One Day One Choir is a simple and inspiring way to make a contribution towards that.