Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

The People's Passion

29 Nov 2018 - by Janet Salisbury, A Chorus of Women

The People's Passion is by Glenda Cloughley with musical direction by Johanna McBride

The People’s Passion (previewed by Steve Evans in the Canberra Times on Saturday, 10 November 2018) tells an inspiring 100-year old story told for our time by ACC&C artists in residence, A Chorus of Women. The performance in the Chapel in the late afternoon of Remembrance Day, 11 November 2018 had a cast of 50, with 35 adults and 15 children, vocal soloists Louise Page OAM, AJ America, Jenny Sawer, Maartje Sevenster and Julia Wee, and an instrumental ensemble. It was one of six concerts and numerous other events marking the centenary of the WW1 Armistice, but it proved a popular choice for Canberrans, perhaps looking for a new narrative to that provided by the usual war commemorations. The Chapel was full to overflowing with an audience of some 250 seated in the main hall – spilling out into one of the outside alcoves – and the upstairs gallery.

A Chorus of Women at the performance (photo by Miriam Pickard)

The Passion tells the forgotten story of 1300 women who gathered in 1915 for the only international peace congress of WW1, setting a 100-year agenda for advances in human rights, sounding a feminist perspective on peace and security into the world at a time when most women did not even have the vote. As Jane Addams, who chaired the 1915 Congress and later won a Nobel Peace Prize said ‘Peace is not merely the absence of war, peace is the nurture of human life’.

The People’s Passion started with the ringing of the large bell outside the Chapel to represent the peace bells sounding on 11 December 1918, and ended with the audience joining in singing a citizen’s commitment to peace and, finally, the same bell sounding hope for peace in the future. The story, which continued the 1915 narrative forward to the end of WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles, was told in text spoken by Miriam Pickard, song by Chorus and soloists, and visual images showing the historical and philosophical background to the piece and the song lyrics.

Glenda Cloughley as one of the singing storytellers (photo by Lynnette Audsley)

The performance was attended by the Belgian Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Marc Mullie, the Deputy Head of Mission the Austrian Embassy, Dr Johannes Aigner, and ACC&C Director, Right Revd Stephen Pickard. Audience members were very engaged and moved — rising for an instant and lengthy standing ovation at the end. The WW1 women’s story had a big impact on people – as did the fact that remembering the end of WW1 could encompass this big visionary story of the peaceful world we want for our children.

A former Chorus member in the audience who is a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (founded at the 1915 Congress) said: ‘I congratulate you all on a most professional performance - probably the best of all our efforts.  I did appreciate how the women's stories came to the fore so loudly and clearly. Pity they were so ignored and over-run by the men, as they are to this very day. It was this fact that hit me the hardest.’

Eminent Australian cellist and composer David Pereira, who was in the audience, has written a review of the performance.

A Chorus of Women will repeat The People’s Passion at the end of June 2019, to mark the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  Everyone will again be welcome.