Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on – on – and out of sight.
Everone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun;
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away……O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
This famous poem by Siegfried Sassoon was written in 1919 just after the first world war. I find it moving, in part because it brings to mind my uncle — he was a Choral Scholar (a bass) at King’s Cambridge who was killed in 1916 after the battle of the Somme. Obviously I never knew him but I am always inspired by being related to such a singer, and when I sing with young basses, I can really feel the loss of those soldiers in the war that Sassoon knew.
I first met the poem by singing it in a young choir some years ago, but I was reminded of it again only recently when Helen Lee, who is the editor for a wonderful project called Poems in the Waiting Room, brought it back to mind. PitWR has been supplying leaflets with well-chosen poems that are distributed to doctors’ surgeries and help to cheer you up as you wait there – another form of arts therapy. Sadly the complications raised by Covid-19 have brought this project to an end. But swapping thoughts on poetry and music with Helen, she mentioned Everyone Sang as one of her favourites – and so back came the memory of singing it with everyone. A lovely memory but so sad because I‘m not singing anything with anybody now — Covid has knocked out both poetry and music.
Nonetheless the poem tells us about the power of singing — not just our voices but those of birds. And that is so relevant now — during our first lockdown, wasn’t it marvellous how the birds sang! So, when restrictions were lifted during the summer, some of the members of my choir, Women in Harmony, met in small groups out of doors and joined the birds in their singing in the garden. We’ve always had a link with birds – the poster for the choir (done by Tash Murphy who I’ve mentioned before as the artist for our Musical Milestones project) has us as birds singing, and in our warm-ups we often try to copy birds — so I have called our two little garden groups, the Songbirds and the Warblers.
But now, in this second lockdown, there’s no singing anywhere – just hideous squawking from crows. However, nicer birds are still there to be seen, and in this connection, I’d like to mention a project by one of the Warblers, Chrissie, who sings, plays guitar and ukelele, and makes marvellous art works; she is also a keen bird-watcher and so she has made good use of the lockdown by making bird models for sale to raise money for charity, including NYMTC. If you look on NYMTC’s website and Facebook page, you’ll see them – if you donate, everyone will burst out singing.