Review by Sam Edwards
Saturday 30 April at 2.30pm in St Paul’s Collegiate School Chapel
Conductor: Kolitha Jayatunge Accompanist: Jonathan Dunlop
The word Anzac, invented to label combined forces from Australia and New Zealand which supported the then Empire during World War I, has since become as much a rallying call for any contest between the two former colonies as it is a label for Allied participants in one of history’s most brutal and barbaric battles. The name is great for publicity, especially when the modern warriors are battlers for possession of a container of compressed air and one hears commentators calling the games with speech filled with terms from the battlefields of the past. The problem is, however, that sport is not war, and that post war competition is a game in which death is not a deliberate act of aggression. War heroes are not sporting heroes, but all who go to war are heroes to be remembered for their sacrifice, and that annual day of recognition and remembrance we call Anzac Day is the most sobering of a community’s memorial acts, even though sobriety is not required of all who attend Dawn Services and reunion get togethers on the day.
Formal commemorative occasions have been part of our existence since humans first acquired speech and so were able to link the effects of past events with their own lives. One of the key ingredients of occasions is music, and former Musical Director Max Stewart and his choir, the same Cantando Choir we heard today, (although with a slightly rotated membership...) benchmarked the process. He developed it in ways which moved with the years and enabled today’s choir, some decades later, to continue the tradition to such an extent that difference was not better or worse, it was simply a habit of excellence. Part of that excellence comes from understanding the background to the event. Part of it is understanding how music enhances that understanding (sic!!). Most of it, however, is to have knowledgeable musicians to choose that music and enable the musicians who perform their parts, both instrumental and vocal, to interpret the occasion for the audience so that when the last bass ambles off the stage, the audience will already be remembering the bits that had such special significance for them. “Memorable!” they will murmur. “Beautiful!!” they will cry, and do, and did today.
I would so like to comment on every element of this concert, but that would quickly become like a film reviewer spending all his or her words telling the tale and ending up making no comment about the work. Instead, here are flecks from the pepperpot. The opening choral sounds were the first few bars from Hymn For Anzac Day (Words: Shirley Erena Murry, Music: Colin Gibson). The choir was perfectly balanced and produced a tone which conveyed the sense of occasion and a gravitas which communicated mood and atmospherics. That sense is rarely, if ever, experienced by most of us and allowed the choir to introduce the intense focus which was to be characteristic of the concert. Constantly, the music relocated us. Few of us have been in the Flanders Fields of John McCrae’s poem, where so many died away from home that the horror cannot be comprehended, especially a century later. Alexander Tilley’s music, however, illuminated by conductor Kolitha Jayatunge’s interpretation and informed musical direction of the choir, took us through an experience which was illuminated by muted sorrow and promised joy, a joining of emotional elements from both ends of the spectrum. The choir, with pianist Dunlop and trumpeter Malcolm Barr closed the first half by changing the musical focus from the romanticism of traditional, nostalgically lyrical songs to a striking combination of words and musical images in Katie Johnson’s evocative Anzac Offering : Part 3 . From the strident trumpet interpreting The Last Post to the choral harmonies which carried the words of war poets, this was a reminder that war is not peace, but peace is the inevitable result. As New Zealand in origin as Max Stewart’s seductive choral arrangement of the traditional waiata, Hine e Hine, one of the world’s most beautiful lullabies, Johnson’s music and the choir’s rendition was a fresh and original take on the range of emotions produced by the tragedy we call war.
The second half was an opportunity for a nostalgic singalong (my laptop just wrote sinalong! ) which was nostalgia unplugged. From It’s a Long Way To Tipperary through Bless ‘em All to the classic We’ll Meet Again, where the music caused lachrymosic overflow in the writer, everyone recognized melodies, most recognized phrases like “Keep the home fires burning” and we sure. knew “My Lily of the lamplight. My own Lily Marlene.”. Some even knew whole songs. For this audience it was also, perhaps, a reminder of the value of a handle in hand to create that feeling of wartime camerarderie, which seemed a little foreign to most.
From the moment the basses hoisted their invisible jugs in the air, however, as they appreciated their own manly interpretation of the sentiments in the first singout Til the Lights of London Shine Again to the final farewell made immortal by Dame Vera Lynn, Cantando brought its audience into a timeless past, and sent us out into the afternoon sunshine of a day we will remember for a long time. In the words of various titles, when Homeward Bound (from) Flanders Fields, There is a Season Over the Rainbow (where) Hine (sleeps) The Lord Bless(es) You and The Road Rises to Meet Us (so that) On This Shining Night (we no longer need to say) Be Still My Soul. Thank you Cantando, and your Conductor Koli, and those men and women who make Anzac Day a reality,. After today, I know We’ll Meet Again… and again, and again.