Following last October’s 70th anniversary concert, a smaller-scale Singing to Survive event is taking place in Chichester on 17 May 2014. Once again the stunning Chichester Women’s Vocal Orchestra is performing the music first arranged and sung in those Sumatran prison camps back in 1943, while the inestimable Margie Caldicott, daughter of prison camp survivor Shelagh Lea who sang in the original choir, is organising the event. The venue is once again St Paul’s Church, Chichester. The evening promises to be very special indeed. Tickets are available from St Olav’s Trust Christian Bookshop in Chichester (01243 782790).
The 70th anniversary Vocal Orchestra concert – Singing to Survive (St Paul’s Church, Chichester, Saturday 26 October 2013) – was organised by five women who each have a deep and abiding interest in the history of internment in the Far East during World War II:
Dr Bernice Archer PhD, author of The Internment of Western Civilians under the Japanese 1941-1945: A Patchwork of Internment (2005); Margaret Caldicott, flute teacher and daughter and granddaughter of two of the Palembang women; Barbara Coombes (MA), lecturer and biographer of Margaret Dryburgh and Shelagh Lea (Margie’s mother); Meg Parkes MPhil, a researcher in WWII Far East captivity and author of two books based on her father’s Far East POW experiences (2002, 2003) and Lavinia Warner, author of Women Beyond the Wire (1982), which tells the story of the women and Palembang and the creation of the Vocal Orchestra. Lavinia, an independent film and TV producer, created and storylined the hugely successful 1980’s TV series Tenko which gave a fictionalised account of the experiences of the women and children imprisoned by the Japanese.
It was during a Far East POW conference in 2011 that Meg first suggested to Bernice the idea of organising a concert in 2013 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Vocal Orchestra’s creation. Margaret Caldicott, Barbara Coombes and Lavinia Warner eagerly supported the idea. The organisers share the belief that the women of Palembang, and in particular Norah Chambers and Margaret Dryburgh, should be remembered and honoured for their courage, tenacity and creativity. Their example is as vital and life-enhancing today as it was 70 years ago. All felt a duty to bring this history to life for a new generation and to encourage anyone who is inspired by it to mark the 70th anniversary (or any future anniversaries) in their own way.
The Singing to Survive concert – this Saturday – is being professionally filmed in full so that it may be retained as an important record for the Imperial War Museum and other archives.
A documentary about the vocal orchestra incorporating footage of the concert is also in the planning stages which may eventually be made publicly accessible. There are also hopes to feature extracts from the concert on this site, so watch this space.
If you missed it, you can listen to Louise Jameson and Margie Caldicott talking with Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour about the concert and the women interned by the Japanese in Sumatra here.
We look forward to seeing you in Chichester this weekend!
We are delighted to announce the names of the narrators of the Singing to Survive concert. Three well-known and accomplished actresses, Stephanie Cole, Louise Jameson and Veronica Roberts, have all generously agreed to lend their talents to tell the story of the vocal orchestra of the Sumatran camps.
All three are very familiar with the story of the women prisoners of the Japanese having all previously starred in Lavinia Warner’s drama Tenko which is currently airing on the Drama Channel. Stephanie played Dr Beatrice Mason who desperately tried to save as many prisoners as she could from disease and starvation amidst appalling conditions; Louise was mouthy cockney Blanche Simmons whose unruly behaviour led to fearsome punishments; while Veronica Roberts was Dorothy Bennett, a housewife who after losing her husband and child turned to prostitution with the guards.
All three actresses have enjoyed much success post-Tenko. Stephanie Cole (left) has most recently played Sylvia Goodwin in Coronation Street and Evelyn Floodporter in an adaptation of The Lady Vanishes. Other prominent roles have included: Auntie Joan in the Cornwall-set drama Doc Martin; senile Peggy Beare in Keeping Mum; acerbic pensioner Diana Trent in the sitcom Waiting for God; Betty Sillitoe in A Bit of A Do; Muriel in one of Alan Bennett’s acclaimed Talking Heads monologues; Sarah Mincing in the children’s series Return of the Antelope; and Delphine Featherstone ‘The Black Widow’ with Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours. Stephanie can also be heard on the popular Radio 4 series Cabin Pressure and Ed Reardon’s Week.
Louise Jameson (right), like Stephanie Cole, has also recently taken a regular role in Doc Martin, playing Martin Clunes’s unreliable mother-in-law Eleanor Glasson. Other roles have included Susan Young, Jim’s estate agent girlfriend, in Bergerac; Rosa Di Marco in Eastenders, taxi-driver Janet in Rides; Tania Braithwaite in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole; and Dr Anne Reynolds in The Omega Factor. She is perhaps still best known for playing Tom Baker’s leather-clad knife-wielding companion Leela in Doctor Who.
Veronica Roberts (left) has recently been seen on television in Merlin, White Heat, Holby City, and Doctors. Other roles have included: Mrs Goddard in an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma; Mary Cooper in Midsomer Murders; and Gloria in Party Animals. Aside from her role in Tenko she is best remembered for playing vet Laura Elliott in Peak Practice. Veronica now directs as well as acts and recently won an award for directing Louise Jameson in the play My Gay Best Friend.
It is with great sadness that we learned on June 26th 2013 of the death of Roderick (Rod) Suddaby, Keeper of the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum.
It is impossible to over-estimate the contribution that Rod made to the awareness and importance of research into civilian internment in the Far East. As Ron Bridge, ex-chairman of the Association British Civilian Internees Far Eastern Region (ABCIFER) has said, Rod was pivotal in guiding him to look at sources of British Civilian Internees in the Far East. He also culled the manuscript holdings in the IWM for the names of internees enabling Ron to compile a complete list of approximately 20,000.
Rod’s support for others researching in the same area was unfailing. His knowledge and memory for names and places of civilian internment in the Far East was prodigious and he never hesitated to point the researcher to new source material and/or suggest further research. Of equal importance was his understanding of the source material itself. Whether it was the complete bound copies of newspapers from the men’s section of Changi or the smaller diaries, letters and post cards of internees or even the needle left in a birthday card made by a female internee, Rod grasped the value and importance of each and every item. As a result he inspired confidence in ex-internees and their families who knew their donations to the IWM would be treasured and used appropriately.
That integrity and enthusiasm for the vast variety of source material also inspired researchers too. Each of us on the organising committee for this Singing to Survive concert can vouch for Rod’s valued contribution to their work and lives, whether it was support with research sources, encouragement with writing or caring for the donated items of loved ones. His influence has touched us all in so many ways.
Rod supported the idea of this concert from the outset. He wanted very much to attend this performance but, sadly, his untimely death robbed him of the opportunity to do so. It also robbed us and all those connected, however tenuously, with the Second World War in the Far East, of a friend, a champion and a kind and thoughtful guide and mentor.
His death is and will always be an enormous loss to the Far Eastern internee story. We thank him for all he did to raise awareness in and the importance of the POW and Civilian Internee records and experiences and take this opportunity to pay tribute to him.
Rod Suddaby, archivist, friend and champion of Far East internees and POWs.
A biography of Christopher Larley who will conduct the Singing to Survive concert:
Christopher Larley read music at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. From 1996 to 2004 he was a Tenor Lay Vicar of Chichester Cathedral, and from January 2005 he has been Director of Music at St. Paul’s Church, Chichester. Christopher now combines percussion and singing teaching at local schools with solo singing, composing and choral direction. He has conducted London Concertante, the Arun Sinfonia, South Downs Concert Band and the Emerald Ensemble recently.
He has made many recordings, television and radio broadcasts, notably with Llandaff and Chichester Cathedral Choirs, and as a conductor with singer Cathy Burton and for the Women’s World Day of Prayer.
Recent conducting engagements have included Charpentier Te Deum in Chichester Cathedral, and Mozart Requiem in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London.
Recent singing engagements include Montverdi’s Vespers in Ludlow, Handel Messiah in Sussex and London, Haydn Creation in both Southwold and Shropshire, and Mozart Requiem in Chichester Cathedral.
Forthcoming engagements include Handel Messiah, a recital of Wesley songs, conducting workshops on Vivaldi Gloria, Monteverdi Beatus Vir, plus a singing day devoted to English Choral Classics.
Since he took over the position of Director of Music at St. Paul’s, Christopher has founded the biennial St. Paul’s Choral Festival, where he is artistic director. Christopher has previously conducted Bognor Regis Choir, Chichester Chorale and Brighton Chamber Choir. He founded Chantry Quire in 1999, a chamber choir that regularly commissions new works and performs existing choral greats. Christopher’s compositions have been performed by his choir and also by other groups, most recently by St Alban’s Cathedral Choir. He was commissioned to compose a piece for the 2010 Mayfield Festival, Missa Brevis, and is working on a commission for an ordination. His music is published by Chichester Music Press.
When not engaged in professional music making, Christopher plays cricket for the Broadhalfpenny Down Brigands at Hambledon.
When she looked back at the music she helped to create in the camps, former internee Norah Chambers, who came up with the idea of a vocal orchestra, commented: ‘I cannot imagine how we did it all in two short years.’ The vocal orchestra music she arranged in collaboration with Margaret Dryburgh, which was arguably the most significant part of their impressively high output, consisted of the following works:
Bach (Arr. Myra Hess) Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
Barrett Coronach (A Highland Lament)
Beethoven Minuet in G
Beethoven First Movement (from Moonlight Sonata)
Boughton Fairy Song (from The Immortal Hour)
Brahms Waltz No. 15
Chopin Prelude No. 20 (‘Chord’ or ‘Funeral March’ Prelude)
Chopin Prelude No. 6
Chopin Prelude No.15 (‘Raindrop’ Prelude)
Dvořák Largo (from ‘New World’ Symphony)
German Shepherd’s Dance (from Henry VIII Suite)
Godard Berceuse (from Jocelyn)
Grainger Handkerchief Dance (from Country Gardens)
Grieg Morning (from Peer Gynt Suite)
Handel Pastoral Symphony (from Messiah)
MacDowell Sea Song
MacDowell To A Wild Rose
Mendelssohn Song Without Words
Mendelssohn Venetian Gondola Song No.3
Mozart Allegro (from Sonata in C)
Paderewski Menuet à l’Antique
Schubert First Movement (from Unfinished Symphony)
Schumann Träumerei (from Scenes From Childhood)
Traditional Auld Lang Syne
Traditional Londonderry Air
Tschaikovsky Andante Cantabile (from String Quartet No.1 in D)
and a Christmas Medley (Pastoral Symphony from Messiah; Good King Wenceslas; The First Nowell; Away in a Manger; Good Christian Men Rejoice; Cowley Carol; Sleep, Holy Babe; Hark, the Herald Angels Sing).
The vocal orchestra music was published in 1987 by Universal Songs B.V., Holland and is still available to purchase in the United Kingdom under the title ‘Song of Survival’ from: United Music Publishers (Choral Catalogue, page 3). There are 6 volumes as follows: 1) Dvořák ‘s Largo, Captives’ Hymn, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. 2) Christmas Medley. 3) Chopin’s Prelude No 20, Beethoven’s Minuet in G, Bolero, Londonderry Air. 4) To a Wild Rose, Auld Lang Syne, Country Gardens, Fairy Song. 5) Mozart’s Allegro, Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile. 6) Morning from Peer Gynt, Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ Prelude.
An SATB/Keyboard version is also available: Song of Survival, The Captives’ Hymn arranged for SATB a cappella. 312-41787 Theodore Presser Company http://www.presser.com
N.B.1. The vocal orchestra music is for SSAA (Soprano 1 & 2 and Alto 1 & 2).
N.B. 2. See the ‘Music’ PDF on the Educational Resources page for ideas about using the vocal orchestra music in schools.
Advice to Choir Leaders
Choir leaders interested in performing the vocal orchestra music are advised to start with Volumes 3 and 4 above. Norah Chambers herself gave the following advice to choir leaders/conductors in 1986:
‘…I think that any conductor who uses this music should use his or her own ideas as to sounds. I can only give the general idea of how we sang; so much was spoken to the singers by me beforehand, so that they would know what I wanted (such as dynamics – ‘”forte,” “piano,” etc.). Only about six of our thirty women could read music, so a certain amount of teaching and explaining had to be done, and some learned note by note and line by line, which to me was a tremendous achievement by all. I was lucky to find six trained voices from high sopranos to deep altos.’