Peace choir and Peace vigil

by June Boyce-Tillman


Faced with the complex time of COVID awareness, with people unable to congregate, I examined musicking technologically. The inability of the ZOOM platform to support a single shared pulse led to using drone as a unifying element. I had composed a set of chants based on the same chord, combined with the notion of chance/choice, as part of an event entitled Space for Peace (Boyce-Tillman, 2012), performed for over nine years in Winchester Cathedral and Winchester University and also in other faith venues including a Hindu temple in Southampton and St John’s church in Hackney. Each event had 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. It saw performance as process rather than product – creating beautiful harmonies by chance/choice methods. Virtual Space for Peace is an adaptation of this by Neil Valentine of the University of Winchester Music Centre. My thinking saw a damaged and struggling world needing a protecting veil of love to enfold it.

The behaviour of the technology 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 their power by accepting their own contribution as valid. It has given people a sense of singing together in an entirely new way with a new awareness of other participants from many cultures. Participants’ comments have included:

  • You have to abandon everything you have learned
  • I became confident in my singing
  • Timing does not matter – that is the gift.
  • 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.

Some people called it a loom on which the world could weave or a cathedral open to the world:

I really enjoyed…[the] presentation of types of selves…through technology and the embodied selves meeting and the qualities of presence within each, the music was beautiful as…the combined energies were tangible [and the] higher harmonic beautiful – the opportunity for internalisation of a deeper connection with the natural world …humanity comes to this place of crossroads. with light and thanks. (Participant comment)

Appreciation arose from various faiths:

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. For indeed, Allah reminds us in the Quran that Allah created us into tribes and nations that we may know one another, that we may know our common origin. (Participant comment)

Recently we did it in association with Levinsky College in Tel-Aviv. Here, with no shared spoken language Arab, Jewish, and people of a variety traditions in the UK improvised together and the music shifted between the cultures of the three participating groups.