The Great Silence

To celebrate the commission of The Great Silence, a new choral work written by composer Samuel Bordoli to commemorate the centenary of World War One and the choristers who fought and died in it, London Music Masters will next year launch a downloadable education project pack – free to schools around the country and beyond – which aims to bring to life this period in history through music and creativity.

In June, London Music Masters ran a pilot version of the project in primary schools in Islington, Westminster and Lambeth with 150 pupils from year 5 and 6. The children started their day by reading and exploring themes in a poem called Song and Pain, which was written during the War by English poet, musician and composer Ivor Gurney. Pupils then listened to Bordoli’s The Great Silence – a musical setting of Song and Pain – before thinking about if and how the music reflected Gurney’s words and emotion. As part of the pilot, Samuel Bordoli visited each school during its project day and pupils had the opportunity to find out why and how he wrote The Great Silence as well as asking lots of excellent, challenging questions about life as a composer.

The next step was for pupils to work in teams to research the lives of choristers who fought and died in the War and present their findings to the rest of their class. Teams were asked to identify the moments that they felt were key in the lives of these young soldiers, before thinking about how one moment or a series of moments could be communicated creatively and emotionally, just as Ivor Gurney penned his feelings through poetry, and as recently Sam Bordoli used music to bring Gurney’s words back to life. The final challenge for participants was to craft and present to their peers their own artistic response, through any method they liked.

Creativity flowed during this exercise, with powerful monologues, thoughtful poems and assured raps, and pupils using acoustic and electronic musical instruments to add sound effects and atmosphere to dramatic scenes. Memorable moments captured including an injured soldier’s dismay at being handed a white feather – the symbol of cowardice, a family’s conflicted feelings at their child leaving for War, and a soldier’s terror in his final moments.

As an example, here is a poem which was written by a year 6 pupil:

To start with it was peaceful. 

There was no hate, no death, no war.

Until that fateful day, when the fighting started. 

War was upon us.

Bombs exploded, bullets were fired, soldiers fell down around me.

Suddenly a searing pain surged through my veins.

Everything blurred….

And then it all went black.

Throughout the pilot, pupils and class teachers were strongly encouraged to give feedback on each activity and suggest ideas for improvement; all of which will be integral to the success of the next step: the creation of the project pack.

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