ZOOM CHOIR FOR PEACE by June Boyce-Tillman
Virtual Musicking around the World
Forming the idea
The idea for this originated in an event done for over nine years in Winchester Cathedral and the university and other faith venues including a Hindu temple in Southampton and St John’s church in Hackney. It was based on creating a piece for peace by chance/choice methods. Each time had different participants from different faith and spiritual traditions with differing responses and outcomes. These participants included a rabbi singing Jewish cantillation, school choirs, community groups, university choirs of different kinds and the Islamic call to prayer. Each participant was free to use the ‘performance’ in whatever way they thought it would contribute to peace. The context draws on Levinas’ and Buber’s notion of the valuing of difference in the Other. It sees performance as process rather than product.
It originally contained a variety of sections but started with a collection of chants that fitted together because they were based on a single chord and a candle lit peace procession on a single note. It was designed to reflect a new model of peace-making based on choice and not overall control. It showed the creativity of a diverse group of people given freedom to exercise their own choices - unity without uniformity.
Faced with the complex time of COVID awareness, with people unable to congregate, I have been examining musicking technologically. There are many virtual ensembles which are usually recorded individually and put together by a single person. The problem with the ZOOM platform is that it is impossible to have a single shared pulse. So this piece explores what can be done musically without a shared pulse, The notion of a shared single note and a set of chants that are based in the same chord might address the problem, combined with the notion of chance/choice.
We have now tried this three times – once in the context of the University of Winchester and twice using international participants under the direction of Neil Valentine , director of the University Music Centre. The last session had 65 participants from 4 continents – a cosmic peace choir, It is highly experimental as it means abandoning a lot of things we have thought central to shared musical performance – the shared pulse being the crucial one. The behaviour of the technology also gives interesting dimensions to whom is heard clearly and who is not. The notion of what is good and what is not is challenged and people have to claim the power by accepting their own contribution as valid. However, it has given people a sense of singing together in an entirely new way. Comments have included:
- You have to abandon everything you have learned
- I became confident in my singing
- It was challenging to work in a new way.
- Timing does not matter – that is the gift.
- Not having to worry about being with anyone else was very liberating.
- I was not required to produce perfection
- Initially it was very weird. I had to listen to my own voice. I thought I am not going to be able to make this but became more self-confident as it went on and then I did not want it to stop. I did more improvisation. I felt connected with the rest of the world. It was a good experience.
- You have created a loom on which the world can weave its music
- I do believe that virtual spaces allow us new ways of listening, not diminished ways of listening, but new ways. This space allows us to create ecosystems of hearing and being together "en-semble" in togetherness, that shows us how to positively use technology in a 'live' way and in a way that brings forth values that are universally applicable in a kaleidoscopic expression of our pluralism
- in this informed isolation comes the opportunity for internalisation of a deeper connection with the natural world
There is a recording of the third event
My thinking about the state of the world at present is that it need a protecting veil of love to enfold it. This modification for Space for Peace – written originally for Winchester cathedral as a musical vigil for peace - is designed for ZOOM choir where the sounds are not synchronised but fit together as we choose to make them.
Movement One - Out of a Loving silence
Sit quietly imagining a lovely hum surrounding the world – the environment, other people, yourself
Movement Two - Peace Procession
An instrument will give you a note D. Sing ‘shalom’ on this note, not as a work but enjoying the different syllables – sash – a- l – o -mm.
An instrument will improvise over the top and if you feel moved do improvise but listen to all the incoming voices and do not get it too excited. It is calm.
Movement Three - Chanting for Peace
The instrument will initiate the first chant and we can all sing it. After that you can return to the original note or move slowly through the succession of chants as far as you like. Move forward or stay put on one chant or a single note as you choose.
Shalom my friends, shalom my friends,
May peace my friends be with you today,
Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, fill our world, fill our universe.
Peace, peace, peace. Peace, peace, peace.
Sing of a place, a flowering field, where divisions end, I’ll meet you there.
Where there is love and joy and peace, where there is love, forgiveness grows
Walk gently, stand tall, for sacred is the earth.
Come, flowing air, serving every part of earth
Bind us together in a unity
As the water with the rock and the air with the sun, may we be drawing nearer with love and respect.
Movement Four: Th Final Chord
The instrument will initiate the last singing of the first chant and we all gradually come to rest on a final chord. Gradually shut it down to a hum and bring it gradually to an end.
Movement Five: Descent into Silence
Listen to the sound dying down and sit in silence contemplating the planet.
This is a musical event with an intention for peace. I hope it will show the creativity of a diverse group of people given freedom to exercise their own choices - unity without uniformity. – all done with the intention of calming a troubled world.
June Boyce-Tillman April 2020