A recording session captures voices of the present - and prompts voices from the past.


With November 2018 marking one hundred years since the end of the First World War, the NYCGB Fellows were asked to join other singers connected with NYCGB to record Patrick Hawes’ new work ‘The Great War Symphony’ at Abbey Road for a coming CD release. The piece will be performed live at the Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall in October, but in recording it, we were able to experience his fantastic work early.

After battling surprisingly snowy March conditions to reach a morning rehearsal with Ben Parry in which we all got to grips with the notes, Patrick arrived to rehearse us in the afternoon. His work is in four movements, each reflecting a year of the four-year war. The words for each movement are taken from poems, newspaper articles, headstones and obituaries written during the war. It immediately became clear just how passionate he was about expressing the words of those affected through his music, and he very quickly had everyone in the room thinking about what we were singing about. The more we rehearsed, the more it became clear how important having a sense of empathy for the context was to a meaningful performance. Patrick very quickly created a reaction, and after the rehearsals, it was particularly noticeable that we all began talking about the war, questioning what our relatives had done, its impact and really started to ask what it would have been like to have lived then.

After the rehearsal I called my parents to ask what my own great-grandparents had done in the war and was amazed to find out that they had access to their grandparents' discharge papers and memorabilia. I discovered two were wounded in France and the other two were in Egypt (a country I didn’t really realise played a part in the war at all). Finding real connections made it all feel far more real and for me, and changed how I performed the music, which was what Patrick really wanted.

The following two days were at Abbey Road Studios. It was exciting to be working in the same building as musical greats such as Elgar, The Beatles, Queen, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson and a personal favourite, Michael Bublé. The orchestra had already recorded their parts so we recorded the choral lines wearing headphones, singing along to a click track. It was fantastic to work with producer Andrew Sunnucks who was fun and enthusiastic throughout the session, while making sure that everyone was happy with headphone levels, inviting people into the recording room to listen to what we had recorded whenever possible. Nine hours of recording later and we had a completed piece. The whole project has been a really good learning experience for us all, and we’re really excited to hear the finished product and sing the piece again in October in the Royal Albert Hall.