An evocative new work: by Gabriel Jackson & Laura-Jane Foley
The Bach Choir set out to commission more new music in a challenging year for musicians, and to allow the Choir to keep singing together virtually. After a brief competition, Soprano and art historian Laura-Jane Foley’s text was given to Gabriel Jackson to compose a new piece to capture the moment we all faced in lockdown.
On the blackest of nights, a starless sky, All light extinguished, all plans abandoned, Still we can trust that the light will return. In darkness there’s hope; the promise of dawn.
His resulting work, The Promise is set in 16 parts. It begins in a minor key and makes use of aleatoric passages (where the singers are given an outline melody and are asked to repeat it at a tempo and rhythm of their choosing for a specified length of time). This creates a feeling of randomness that depicts the darkness of the first half of the poem, moving into a brighter, major key and conventional notation for the words ‘In the darkness there’s hope’.
Gabriel Jackson is one of Britain’s foremost and most celebrated composers, whose music can be heard on over 100 recordings. His latest large-scale work, The World Imagined, a 45-minute oratorio, received its world premiere at this year’s Three Choirs Festival, conducted by David Hill.
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A higher calling: a harmonious future for people and planet
This work has now been transformed by We Dream Films into a powerful environmental call to action. We want to ensure that music and nature are here to nurture the next generation.
The link between singing and human health is well-established. Singing together has a unique power to unite people of all backgrounds improving our health and happiness. The link between the natural world and our health is becoming more widely understood. Humans going into lockdown had a very positive impact on our environment, reducing emissions and giving animals close to extinction a reprise. The challenge now for humanity is to recognise our impact and build a more sustainable future, in which future generations will have the opportunity to be nurtured by both music and nature.
Music has long been a communication tool for societal issues. The Bach Choir commissioned and recorded Richard Blackfords Voices of Exile in 2005, and in 2012 took to the Proms stage for their premiere of Bob Chilcott’s The Angry Planet. Gabriel Jackson’s evocative piece based on words by playwright and choir-member Laura-Jane Foley is the perfect narrative for this next environmental dawn we want to see.
An innovative partnership: The Bach Choir and We Dream Films
This film is an ambitious, technically innovative short piece which acts as a love letter to nature. 100 members of the choir individually recorded their parts at home during the first lockdown. As restrictions were lifted, we partnered with an innovative film maker to record and video a small number of singers in socially distanced groups.
We Dream Films envisioned the bigger purpose for this evocative piece. Shot in Puzzlewood Forest, where scenes from Star Wars & The Secret Garden have been filmed, it brings to life Mother Earth, who inspires our young female hero to take ownership of her relationship with the natural world and commit to regenerating it. It is a visual poem and modern fairy tale of a young girl’s journey into the depths of a magical forest to learn a lesson and make a commitment to look after nature: The Promise.
A premiere performance: a live soundtrack to the film
The first performance of the film took place at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 24 October 2021, where the Choir sang the soundtrack to a live screening for a packed hall. For more information on The Bach Choir concerts click here.
An inspiring legacy; teaching children about music and nature
The Bach Choir’s Vocalise! Programme is now in its 11th year and established as an outstanding example of spreading the skill and enjoyment of singing as widely as possible. Volunteers from The Bach Choir sing with primary school children in London in workshops, rehearsals and performances.
For the 2021/22 season the repertoire aims to build children’s awareness of the environment. We’ve chosen the following pieces on the theme of ‘Our Planet’, reflecting the diversity of the people and all living things with whom we share the Earth. Children tend to have an innate curiosity about the outdoors, a love of animals and a keen interest in safeguarding the natural world. Connecting with nature has been shown to be beneficial for mental health, particularly during COVID-19 lockdowns (Mental Health Foundation, 2021), however, the pandemic has highlighted the inequality of access to green and blue spaces within cities. As well as raising awareness of the climate crisis, this programme offers hope for a sustainable future and a healthy outlet for children to express their feelings about environmental concerns. The repertoire as it stands is:
Simmons: Creatures Of The Deep
Corp: Goin’ Green, On My Bike, Greeting Song, and Playing With The Sun
Arlen/Harburg arr. Carter: Over The Rainbow
Raposo arr. Langford: Bein’ Green
Weiss/Thiele arr. Hayes: What a Wonderful World
Chilcott: Green Rain, Peppermint Freckles, and Yellow Eye (from The Angry Planet)
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A creative call; take action on climate change
Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on our society, on the arts and on our economy. As we rebuild our cultural fabric and our economy we must also an even greater inter-generational challenge: climate change. Failing to act will result in natural catastrophes and changing weather patterns, as well as significant economic damage, supply chain disruption and displacement of populations. Ahead of the UN Climate Conference which takes place in Glasgow this November, the UK has committed to one of the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets in the world.
Having a target is one thing, delivering it will require massive action on a governmental, business and individual level. The whole of society needs to be inspired to participate in the actions which will be needed to deliver on the UK’s promise to the world. The Promise was premiered live just before the UN conference and in the same month the Choir launched its schools’ participation programme on the theme Our Planet.
Our aims are humble, but if we can play a part in inspiring people to take the actions needed, we will have achieved something.