At the launch party for our book Stories of the Great Turning, June turned to me and said, “Winchester Cathedral is hosting a series of events on the Future of Capitalism next year, and I am thinking of composing a piece drawing on the themes of the Great Turning. How would you feel about that?”
The Reverend Professor June Boyce Tillman had contributed a chapter to Stories in which she had described her inter-faith work and how she had drawn on different musical traditions to fashion choral compositions for the Cathedral. I knew these were complex musical events, in which the choirs move around the Cathedral and sing from different musical traditions, sometimes simultaneously. “I think that is a wonderful idea,” I replied, although I had very little idea as to what June was actually proposing.
So it was with some excitement that a group of contributors from the Bath area drove down to Winchester, meeting up with others over supper before finding our way into a packed Cathedral to privileged reserved seats near the front. After June had introduced the work, and Stories co-editor Melanie Newman had said a little about the Great Turning, June turned to the orchestra and choirs, raised her baton and led them into her composition.
Into the silent Cathedral came a crash of percussion, rising and falling in complex rhythms, suggesting the Big Bang that started our universe on its evolutionary path. As the cymbals died away the Cathedral was filled with a quieter sound, coming it seemed from all directions: maybe falling rain, maybe tumbling grain, rising and falling. People in the audience were spellbound, looking around, jaws dropped, wide-eyed; what could it be? And then the children were ushered into their places behind the orchestra, each one holding two small stones that they were tapping together. From this beginning we were led through themes of the Great Turning: Act your Age; Gratitude; Encountering the Darkness, Dare to Dream.
The fifth theme of the Great Turning – link arms with others – was integral to the whole piece, which had drawn participants from the wider community around Winchester and the county of Hampshire. The music is composed for eight school choirs, six community and university choirs, and an orchestra. It involved people from the University, the Hampshire Music Service and schoolteachers, the Cathedral itself, and the community choirs.
The music itself was immensely varied, with much of the text was adapted from chapters in Stories. At times the sound was ultra-modern, as with the University choir singing a capella ‘A dark time of uncertainty’. Other parts could have come from a musical, such as the chorus of Economic Growth: “Stuff, stuff, money and stuff. Stuff, stuff, money and stuff” which was energetically delivered by the community choirs in a manner that seemed very subversive. Poet and Stories contributor Helen Moore looked utterly thrilled as her poem Glory be to Gaia rang out from the whole assembly. And at the end, the audience joined the choirs in the hymn ‘We shall go out renewed in our commitment’ to the tune of Danny Boy, after which we all rose to our feet to applaud June and her amazing team.
The whole event was simply astounding. At times I was on the edge of my seat, mouth was wide open in amazement; at other times I was sharing grins of amusement with my neighbours. Goodness knows what some of the audience made of it! I find myself wondering what impact it had on the community choirs and especially the children, to be involved in such a dramatic engagement with the themes of the Great Turning.
Events like that are important parts of work for the Great Turning. They address the challenge of our times with an artistry that reaches groups of people who might not otherwise be involved.
Peter Reason can be reached through his website at http://www.peterreason.eu