Commonwealth Youth OrchestraPhotos by Victoria Schofield and the CPA.

There was something uplifting about watching a diversity of young faces singing animatedly at St John’s Smith Square, London on Tuesday 12 March – the day after Commonwealth Day.

The event was billed as the Commonwealth Cantata – Believe launch event, hosted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and Choirs. With lyrics and music composed by Major Simon Haw MBE, the Commonwealth’s composer-in-residence, ‘Believe’ – a song to inspire aspiration – was dedicated to Her Majesty The Queen to mark the 70th Anniversary of The Commonwealth in 2019. It was gifted by the composer to the children of the Commonwealth.

As the children’s voices reverberated around the ancient church, the energy and meaning behind the lyrics was infectious:

            Run seek and find who you are.
            There’s nothing you can’t do…

            Follow your dreams don’t give up.
            It’s time to find out how,
            Your life’s before you now…

            You must search your deep ambition,
            You must summon all you may,
            Your life’s greatness lies before you
            And before you lies the way.

By the end of the song, the rows of children were swaying rhythmically,  while the members of the orchestra took from their instruments all they were worth, and Simon Haw’s baton kept the assembled company into a unified whole.

Explaining the involvement of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), the Hon Emilia Monjowa Lifaka, MP, chairperson of the CPA, described how proud she was of the CPA’s association with the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra. The use of music, she said, as a means of international dialogue, accords with the CPA’s aims. Echoing her remarks, the CPA Secretary General, Akbar Khan, described how music plays an important role in reconciliation.

Once the members of the Commonwealth Children’s Choir had left to sit at the back, the programme continued with the Commonwealth Scholar’s Choir singing another inspirational piece of music, also in pursuit of Commonwealth aims, entitled ‘Oceans’; described in the programme as ‘a sensory portrait of mankind’s final earth-bound frontier’, the piece, also composed and written by Simon Haw, was dedicated to all who are working to save our Oceans. Five short movements with accompanying lyrics portrayed the oceans: the Atlantic (‘the giant, angry tumultuous Atlantic sea!…’), the Arctic (‘hear the bitter Arctic wind?…’), the Pacific (‘breathe, breath, breath’), the Indian (‘swim, slide, swoosh, stop, still…’) and finally the Southern Ocean (‘See the vast horizons, trace the vast horizons: seemingly etched, for eternity’).

A solo interlude followed with concert master, British-Taiwanese violist, Eric Hui-Ti Wang, playing Elgar’s Salut d’Amour accompanied by pianist Ricard Rovirosa.

The final piece was ‘Earth Dance’, its six movements representing the six regions of the Commonwealth (Africa, Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and the Pacific). Composed by Haw to mark the Commonwealth Summit  held in London in April 2018, the lyrics were taken from such diverse figures in history as  Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling  and Ovid, and again focused on Commonwealth aspirations: Engage, Unity, Respect, Diversity, Renew. Returning to the theme of ‘Believe’ the last movement was entitled, ‘Empower’ with words by Haw/Shebe (the Executive Producer, Sally Shebe, who had worked tirelessly to make the event the success it was).

Find your voice, share your voice.
With your voice, have a voice…

In his concluding remarks, the President of the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, Alderman Charles Bowman, again emphasised the importance of music as a means of international dialogue which, he said, transcends boundaries and economic divisions.

After such a wonderful abundance of sound, I went home on my bicycle singing.

Victoria Schofield is the Chair of the Editorial Board of The Round Table.


Related articles

Commonwealth Day: A disconnected UK in a connected Commonwealth

The mother of all networks: Britain and the Commonwealth in the 21st century 

The Commonwealth in 2019: Challenges and Opportunities

Does Commonwealth Day matter? – 2016

London Notes: Diary from the Round Table Chair – A CHOGM 2018 diary by Victoria Schofield