The Vocal Orchestra Repertoire

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:

Composer                      Work
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
Chaminade                       Aubade
Chopin                              Prelude No. 20   (‘Chord’ or ‘Funeral March’ Prelude)
Chopin                              Prelude No. 6
Chopin                              Prelude No.15   (‘Raindrop’ Prelude)
Debussy                           Rêverie
Dvo?ák                              Humoreske
Dvo?ák                              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
Ravel                                Bolero
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).


Some of the original Palembang Women’s Vocal Orchestra scores belonging to Shelagh Brown (Imperial War Museum)

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) Dvo?ák ‘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

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.’

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