November 2010: Eternal Voices

Eternal Voices: Exeter Cathedral, Saturday 20 November 2010

Source: Georgina Foss

STOP PRESS: Extraordinary Gala Concert raises over £20k for the Royal Marines Charities

Exeter Festival Chorus, directed by the inspirational Nigel Perrin and in combination with the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, gave the audience of a packed Exeter Cathedral a finely-balanced programme, conveying both a celebration of the splendour, stature, strength and courage of the “Armed Man” and also his dependence on a power far greater than his own.

The funds raised by the concert (through sponsorship, donations and ticket sales) will be used to help Royal Marines and their families directly, especially with the recovery pathway for those who are injured.

The spark for the concert was a chance meeting between the Principal Director of Music Royal Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Grace, and a member of Exeter Festival Chorus, Nick Toyne.  The central work, commissioned by the Royal Marines Band Service with funds from the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund, was Eternal Voices, with music by Adam Gorb and words by Ben Kaye, written for mezzo soprano solo, boy treble, chorus and wind ensemble.   News bulletins were interposed by Sir Trevor McDonald, giving the piece a sharp immediacy. The narrative follows a Royal Marine who loses his life in the Afghanistan conflict, his grieving wife (sung by Alison Kettlewell) and his young son, sung by Guy Fenton, whose diminutive size and sweet treble were a brave foil for the huge Marines and the rattle of war.  Adam Gorb interweaves the Band's bold brass, woodwind and percussion with the spine-tingling a capella singing of the chorus; Ben Kaye's words incorporate the Marines' urgent cry "Contact!",  their vivid jargon "black on beige is blood on sand" and, poignantly "down the ramp for your last run ashore" which recalls so many newsflashes of a coffin carried from the gaping belly of a Hercules transport plane.   It was a haunting, sobering, and beautiful piece.

The rest of the programme gave us stirring excerpts from Karl Jenkins's The Armed Man (the opening processional, with the Royal Marines' pipes and drums leading the marching singers down the nave), Holst's Mars, and rousing marches from the Royal Marine Band; in contrast, Lux Aeterna set to Elgar's Nimrod, Gorecki's Totus Tuus with its endlessly repeated appeal to "Maria", Stanford's Te Deum - "Oh Lord, in Thee have I trusted, Let me never be confounded" and the Navy's hymn "Eternal Father, strong to save" were a reminder that we need more than courage and weapons in the face of the enemy.  The story of Bunyan's Mr Valiant-for-Truth crossing the river to the sound of trumpets (set to music by Vaughan Williams,) Parry's thundering "I was glad" and Sunset, sounded by the resplendent buglers of the Royal Marines, drew the programme to a close in a huge affirmation of faith and hope.

But that was not quite all. Commandant General Royal Marines, Major General Buster Howes spoke at the end of the music-making, describing it as ‘an extraordinary evening…’  He explained that 40 members of the Royal Marines Band would deploy to Afghanistan in April 2011.  These trumpeters, oboists, percussion players, flautists will be driving ambulances and bearing stretchers in the Theatre of War. He spoke of their self-reliance and their reliance on their comrades: like singers in a choir they must know how their part fits together with the others, how each voice needs the other voices to make an effective whole.  Every single member of that packed Cathedral audience must have focused on the same thought:  Don't let us see your last run ashore.