All Is Calm


Haven’t gotten the Christmas choral music fix by way of WCN the past couple (few?) years now, which I sorta missed, but not enough to make a point to find any. Then somehow I heard that All is Calm would be in the Bay Area. This work tells the amazing story of the Christmas truce of 1914 through song and the words of the soldiers. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the event.

The venue was the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, which I’d never been to before, but seemed a very fitting location. Although I’m not religious, many of the songs are obviously celebrating the Christian holiday, but beyond that, the subject of ordinary people being able to see past the labels of enemy and step outside war is appropriate for a space of worship and reverence. I was last-minute in getting a ticket, so the only seats available were in the balcony, but it’s not overly huge, so they were still quite good as far as hearing and seeing the show. The seats are pews, but upholstered, so they were comfortable as well.

The singing was by Cantus, a nine-man vocal ensemble, with three actors from Theatre Latté Da voicing the words from letters, journals and other documents of the day. Cantus came out first, and did a selection of carols as a prelude. They exited, then returned to the stage, this time on the riser, joined by the three actors on stools on the stage level for All is Calm. (Which I keep wanting to write as All is Quiet, I suppose from All Quiet on the Western Front, which I think I did encounter at some point in my education. Like the creator of All is Calm, I don’t recall hearing about the Christmas Truce.) The piece commenced with enlistment, progressed into war, the truce, and then the resumption of hostilities, holding the audience spellbound for the duration.

The power of unaccompanied voice never ceases to amaze me, the arrangements were really wonderful and well done. O Tannenbaum, and then Silent Night at the start of the truce gave me the goosebumps. The singing was beautiful, and evoked the scene of frozen trenches, lonely men far from home. German lyrics to the familiar songs. Mind putting in the English words I grew up with, as many of the troops would have been, yet knowing that German was the original, what I would be singing had an ancestor of mine made a different choice. Those twists of fate, instead of being neighbors you are shooting at each other.

For a day they were able to see that. The common humanity. They came out of the trenches and sang and celebrated together. One can’t help but wonder, if they could stop war for a day, why can’t we stop it forever?

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