Composer Ross Edwards on carols, trenches and the century old Christmas truce.

I always find it a joy to compose for young voices and if they’re directed by Lyn Williams I know that the music will be brought to life with a special touch of magic. And so, when Lyn invited me to provide a new work for what promises to be a Christmas concert with a difference, I responded with immediate enthusiasm.

My collaborations with Lyn and her choirs include the premiere of my 5th Symphony, The Promised Land, with the Sydney Symphony; Dawn Mantras, in which the Sydney Children’s Choir participated in welcoming the new millennium from the sails and concourse of the Sydney Opera House in a telecast to billions of people around the world; and a more modest sequel, Dawn Canticle, designed for use in the concert hall and commissioned by the Braden family of Sydney. The Bradens and their friends have been kind enough to arrange the commission of my new piece, Miracles.

Each December the Sydney Children’s Choir and members of Gondwana Voices give concerts called Voices of Angels. This year’s focus is on repertoire commemorating the World War I Christmas Truce. It will include songs that were sung in the trenches at Christmas 1914. Lyn’s idea was to combine the children’s voices with those of teenage boys whose voices had broken. She saw their involvement as especially poignant as there were many young soldiers in the trenches.

The Christmas Truce was a series of extraordinary events which took place along the Western Front at Christmas 1914. Allied and German soldiers spontaneously laid down their arms, climbed out of their trenches and fraternized in No Man’s Land, shaking hands and exchanging gifts. Carols were sung by the Germans with the Allies joining in, and the Germans raised Christmas trees decorated with lanterns above their trenches. One of the carols sung was O Tannenbaum (O Christmas Tree), fragments of which punctuate my setting of the mediaeval Christmas text Quem Vidistis, in which shepherds and animals witness the miracle of the newborn in the manger. Such symbols of hope and renewal and the glimpsed possibility of a return to peace and sanity were soon stymied by the respective commanding authorities, safely ensconced some 30 km behind the battle lines, who ordered an immediate return to the slaughter.

To me, the sturdy evergreen tannenbaum (fir tree) represents faith and hope, and the miraculous birth – any birth is a miracle – a return to simple wonderment. Miracles is dedicated to the Braden family and friends who commissioned it for Lyn Williams’ Gondwana Choirs – and to the memory of Peter Sculthorpe, who died as I was completing the score.

WORK Miracles 
COMPOSER Ross Edwards 
COMMISSIONED FOR Gondwana Choirs by Lyn Williams 
PREMIERE City Recital Hall, Sydney, December 15 
PERFORMERS Sydney Children’s Choir