Thursday 30 January 2014

Songs of No Man's Land

Britten Sinfonia’s Creative Learning team are currently working on Songs of No Man’s Land – a series of family and schools concerts celebrating the centenary of World War I. The schools concerts are now all sold out in Norwich, Peterborough and London, with over 1500 children attending – but there are still tickets available for our Family concerts, this Saturday 1st February at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. 

The concert is based on a fantastic true story called War Game by author and illustrator Michael Foreman. I recommend the book to you, for 7-11 year olds, and their parents. It’s beautifully illustrated and includes lots of real facts, original propaganda and images from the period. The book tells the story of Michael Foreman’s Uncles; William, Frederick,  Billy and Lacy  all of whom died fighting in the Great War, when they were just young men, aged 18 – 24.

In our concert, the Great War is explored from a personal angle - we are placed in the shoes of the four young lads from Suffolk; passionate about football and naively ready to sign up ‘for an adventure’. The story tells us about Christmas in the trenches. It feels funny discussing these events in January, when we’re all sick of Christmas, but the young audience and performers share a poignant moment singing Christmas carols in English and German, and imagining what it would have felt like to be far from home, cold, hungry and scared at Christmas time. We also explore keeping rats as pets, trench foot and eating lice – uurrrrgggh! As well as the carols, the young men shared a game of football in no-man’s land and we hear about this, accompanied by exciting new music composed by Tim Watts. The music and action capture young imaginations and we imagine the pride our heroes felt, playing for ENGLAND!  Finally, the concert depicts the four young men being sent over the top, and gunned down by the opposition.

The children in the audience understand how our hero, Will, died and that lots of people died, but I wonder if any of us can really comprehend the massive loss of life that took place at that time. By the end of the war, over 9 million soldiers had been killed, and another 21 million wounded. Over a million soldiers were killed in the infamous Battle of the Somme alone, including about 30,000 in just one day. Its bigger, and sadder than we adults can get our heads around. Although the children in the audience understand the concept of War, and that people die – in an abstract senses, the real thoughts of loss and the numbers of young men who died, on both sides are incomprehensible to the age group.

I believe our concert explores the war in a sensitive and delicate way, and will hopefully encourage questions and further thought about the reality of war but won’t leave children overwhelmingly sad or confused. It is so important, as we mark 100 years since the start of the first World War, that we continue to remember those who lost their lives, and we have a duty to pass on knowledge of the events of WWI to the next generation.

Click here to find out more about the concert, learn the songs and book tickets.

Isobel Timms
Creative Learning Director

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