A concert coming up on Nov. 17 will take the audience back to Christmas 1914 in the trenches, and what was a rare moment of peace amidst the carnage.
“Christmas Truce” will tell the story of the unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front during the First World War.
It will be told by actor Greg Malone, interspersed between songs sung by the Atlantic Boychoir.
The 104 boys and young men in the choir will perform songs that tell the story of the truce that happened 104 years ago.
The choir will be joined by the Atlantic String Quartet, members of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, organist Joshua Tamayo and harpist Sarah Veber.
Atlantic Boychoir artistic director and principal conductor, Jakub Martinec, said the show’s message of peace is particularly timely today.
“These days and what’s happening around the world, it’s so important. Leonard Bernstein said once that our response to violence will be that we will make more music more powerful and more meaningful than ever before, and I think that’s exactly what we have to do — we have to sing more, and I always say that people that sing together don’t fight together,” he said.
The Atlantic Boychoir was founded only two years ago but are already known as the “singing ambassadors” of the province, and for their high level of choral excellence.
They range in age from eight to 22 and come from all across the province, trained in a centuries-old European model of boy-choir singing in which younger boys sing soprano and alto, and young men sing tenor and bass.
The choir is especially looking forward to working with renowned German conductor Lucius A. Hemmer as a guest conductor on several songs sung in German during the show, including German carols and one piece by Johann Sebastian Bach.
“What can be better than working on it with a German conductor that grew up on Bach and knows the repertoire so well?” Martinec said excitedly.
Hemmer spoke with The Telegram from Germany.
While he’s looking forward to visiting Newfoundland, he said he’s honoured to be invited as a guest conductor for the concert.
“The Christmas truce is very important, especially to Germans, because German history, especially the 20th century … was quite an inglorious period from the First World War and the Second World War… Germany was always a terrible part of it, so it’s quite an important thing for a German,” he said.
“You see new conflicts coming up, and I think it’s important to remember.”
Hemmer added that “music is the language without words” and, in that way, it can bring people together in peace.
Meanwhile around the province, Martinec said the rehearsals leading up to the performance have been “very powerful” for the boys “to learn about the history through the musical aspect.”
They started rehearsing for “Christmas Truce” back in August. Rehearsals are a complicated task because the choir is spread out all across the island.
Martinec travels for regular weekly rehearsals to four centres in St. John’s, Clarenville, Stephenville and Corner Brook.
The boys come from all over, though, including Bonavista, Botwood, Grand Falls and Lewisporte.
Some of them even rehearse on their own with a local music teacher. The entire choir gets together for long weekends and occasional retreats to sing together as a group.
Martinec said he hopes the choir and their special guests can bring the concert’s message of peace to as many people as possible in St. John’s.
“Christmas Truce” is on stage at the Basilica Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available now at the Holy Heart Theatre box office.
Members of the Atlantic Boychoir reflect on what they learned
while preparing for the “Christmas Truce” concert.
“War is unlike anything that I can imagine as a 14-year-old boy living in Newfoundland today. Many of the soldiers in WW1 were only a couple of years older than me when they witnessed the horrors of war and that is hard to fathom. The story of the Truce shows me that music, however, is more powerful than the weapon of war. The gentle melody of “Stille Nacht” brought soldiers together on that Christmas Day in 1914. At that moment, the music reached their hearts and their souls and took them to a place where peace was possible, even if only for one song. It is the capacity of music to break down barriers that amazes me most. In our world, we only seem to talk about our differences and this story reminds us that with music, there is hope that the impossible can be possible, and there can one day be peace between borders.”
– Jack White, 14
“The songs that I’ve learned with the Atlantic Boychoir have taught me about what happened during the Christmas Truce. On the first Christmas of World War One, the Germans and the Allies started singing Christmas carols in their trenches. One of the soldiers decided to leave his trench and crossed No Man’s Land, over to the other side, to give Christmas greetings. All soldiers then proceeded to take a break from fighting, gifted each other food and other supplies and celebrated Christmas in peace. They even had a few friendly games of soccer. It’s amazing what music was able to do on that historic day, 104 years ago. It promoted peace among soldiers full of conflict and brought them together. Today, music still has an extremely powerful impact on people of all ages and from different backgrounds. It can reach millions and it brings us together as one. Being in the Atlantic Boychoir has taught me this and so much more.”
– Keiran Hamill, 13
“I’ve learned a lot about war while preparing for our performance of the “Christmas Truce.” You can learn a lot from research but music conveys emotions in a way that nothing else can. Through learning this music, I feel that I have a better understanding of how the soldiers felt, going off to war to bravely defend their country. I can better appreciate the sacrifice of the soldiers and how devastating it must have been for all the people waiting at home, to see if their husbands, sons, brothers and cousins and uncles would return home to them or if their names would be added to the long list of the dead. The “Christmas Truce” is particularly meaningful to myself and my family as I had numerous relatives fight in WW1 and WW2. I also recently had the honour of participating in the Trail of the Caribou pilgrimage in France and Belgium where I walked in my relatives’ footsteps where they fought and where one relative George Brocklehurst died in battle. The “Christmas Truce” is a tribute to all those who didn’t return.”
– Evan Natsheh, 14
The Christmas truce; a time of peace and beautiful friendliness, in the midst of one of the bloodiest and most horrific wars in recent history. One beautiful snowy Christmas Eve two sides lay down their guns, climb out of their trenches and have a service. They sing, connect, and are happy. Christmas and song have brought them together. Christmas and song have allowed peace in the most gruesome conflict of all. Now we, 104 years later, join in song to remember this beautiful moment. As we sing in “Flanders Fields” we will remember the cruelty of war. As we sing the Psalm 23 we will remember how “although [we] walk through death’s dark shadowed vale, yet will [we] fear no evil.” We will remember how there are dark times, yet with the right attitude, and in the spirit of song, a light can start to break through the shadows. We will fear no evil. One boy joins with other boys, one man joins with other men. Although times are dark, the songs of the Christmas season can bring us together. We can put away our weapons and sing together.
–William Bruce Robertson
During war, the soldiers had to live in very hard conditions. They had minimal shelter food and water. They did not have their families to comfort them. All they could do to communicate was send little notes home. It is not too comfortable sleeping outside every evening in the cold. Imagine how cold they would be in the wintertime with no blankets. Sleeping would be brutal. Think about how much better their lives would be living in peace and not at war. None of them really wanted to fight. But Christmas Day something magical must have happened. A soldier came out unarmed and said, “Let’s put aside our guns and enjoy Christmas together.” So, they exchanged their little gifts they had and enjoyed Christmas in peace. Imagine if they had peace more often, their lives would be much better. Now think how lucky you are to have shelter, heat, food, water and most importantly peace and to celebrate Christmas with family and friends in peace.
– Jack Thoms, 10
That people in the war got together on Christmas day and it didn’t matter what language they spoke, for many years every Christmas Day they would stop fighting, but when Christmas Day was over they would start the war again. If only every day could be peaceful like Christmas Day. Stopping gunfire creates peace. The words in the song make people feel happy and joyful. These songs bring family and friends together, which creates a peaceful world. Hearing these songs represents Christmas, which gives the world a day to have peace.
– Nash Billard, 10