Before I begin, let us be clear on a few things. Firstly, I am something of a amateur military historian. Secondly, consider the year and the season. Thirdly, for all that my normal listening playlist covers (at a minimum) acid dance, trance, ambient, electrorock, and gothpunk, I love a good choral recital.
So with all that in mind, imagine my reaction on hearing that PUCS was running a one-off recital of christmas carols in three languages as a celebration of the events of December 25, 1914. I had to go.
So this afternoon, I rolled up to Trinity Uniting Church in Perth with Leece (and her mum in tow) to listen to carols in German and French, as well as in English.
What we got was so much more. To begin with, there was a screen with photos from the trenches projected on it, and a brass quartet up in the gallery.
The program opened with a figure standing up in the gallery in greatcoat and scarf, officer's hat on his head, speaking of the cold and horror of the frozen trenches. Then a single, impossibly sweet voice sang out from somewhere unseen, and the choir filed in, singing "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks". The unnamed soldier came down and joined them, and spoke further on the bitterness of that Christmas Eve, and the delight on seeing candles being lit in the German trenches. Carols in French and German followed, and so the recital progressed, with the soldier, now sans cap, relating all that took place that one miraculous day, punctuating the amazing voices of the PUCS choir.
The use of a brass quartet as the sometimes accompaniment for the choir - and once as sound effects for the solider - was genius - and the music of Breanna Evangelista, Fletcher Cox, John Marks, and Chris Martin was ideal for the setting of a war-torn France pausing - just for a day - to remember what it means to be human. Likewise, Jenny Davis' scripting was superb, and Stuart Halusz's delivery as The Soldier was perfect.
Despite this, the real stars were the choir themselves. Forty-two singers, and their conductor, Sarah Mills Menogue, were the centerpiece of the recital, and if the narrative was the glue, then they were the art being held together by it.
And what art.
The whole choir presented the even dozen carols (seven in English, three in French, and two in German) with such ease, grace, and sympathy that it was hard not to be transported to that battered and torn cornfield that was now home, and all too often resting place, of so many soldiers, and that one day of peace in that place. Their delivery of the French and German carols were accompanied by projections of translations of the lyrics for the benefit of the audience, and was so natural in feel, that it was hard to believe that this was an Australian choir singing them. The English language carols were accompanied by photos from the trenches and the small number of them that were taken during the truce. The voices of the choir lifted these sometimes desperate, sometimes joyous images off the screen, and into the hearts of the audience.
The recital ended on two works the audience were invited to join in on - All Ye Faithful, and to close, some parting words from our narrator on the way the all to brief truce was never repeated, and Auld Lang Syne.
The whole event was incredibly moving, and I spent a considerable amount of it with tears streaming from my eyes at the beauty and the tragedy and the wonder of it. And I was far from the only one.
So here I sit, several hours later, writing this review, and every few lines, I stop, as I choke a little, and the tears well anew in my eyes. This is how I know PUCS had delivered a true masterpiece - a magnificent memorial celebration of such an incredible event.
Congratulations to everyone involved, and a special thank-you to Jocelyn for telling us about it.
I look forward to their next recital in May at the Basilica of St Andrew in Fremantle, where they will present Ascension.