Sometimes it was outright hilarious, sometimes offputtingly racist and sexist (as one would imagine, going back up to 100 years and dealing with international hostilities and the breakdown of gender norms - particularly through the Second World War when women were asked to move into new roles on the Home Front). Sometimes of course it was heartbreakingly sad, and I do have memories of cursing myself for committing most of a year’s worth of study to such a topic after I broke down crying over a history textbook one afternoon in 2010. The resultant selection of pieces runs the gamut from WWI marching and music hall songs (one of which was sung by our troops on not one but TWO torpedoed ships AS THEY WERE SINKING), through to pieces composed by prisoners of war in Changi POW camp, and contemporary art song by people who lived through WWII, as well as by those who came after.
Afterward I was surprised, but very gratified, when an audience member told me how angry the concert had made him. Obviously I can’t afford to be preaching personal opinions in that context and kept my lecture as historical and neutral as I could, but it was great to know that others were also stirred by the intensity of the propaganda in much of the music before mid-century, and by the tragedy of it all, just as I had been when preparing it.
I was also deeply honoured to have a tall, dignified elderly gentleman come to speak with me afterwards. He was a veteran who had served in Korea, and shook my hand to thank me, saying that he had been moved almost to tears.
You know, I’m sure much of this blog sounds annoyingly, breathlessly earnest and overenthusiastic (in great part because certain parts of oneself need to be censored on the internet). But believe me when I say I am regularly humbled by this job, or rather by the reaction to it. I am not a patriot by any stretch of the definition…..but to be able to be of service to, and do something special for someone who has served our country in that way….. and to be thanked by HIM? Yup, humbled.