Who Guides all the Ships?

A very special musical project for Holocaust Memorial Day led by KLS members

We are delighted to share this guest post by KLS members Jane Ward Watts, Sandra Webber and Jo Cohen:

Jane Ward Watts grew up in KLS, where her parents were founder members. She was KLS Musical Director for many years – but eventually moved to work for the BBC in Birmingham. She enjoys taking part in KLS online events from Cheltenham, where nowadays she teaches music in a secondary school. She is also an ABRSM examiner.

Sandra Webber is a lay service-leader at KLS.  She also chairs the Kingston schools Holocaust Memorial Day project which, in a normal year, reaches over 1200 local teenagers.

Jo Cohen is a KLS member and also Lib Dem councillor in the Borough of Richmond.  Three years ago she persuaded the Council to introduce an annual programme of events for Holocaust Memorial Day.

They’d like you to watch this beautiful 4-minute video.  They are very proud of it – as are we all!   There’s a story behind it. 

In the first lockdown, Gareth Malone (from TV’s The Choir) set up the Great British Home Chorus for people to sing online with him for half an hour every day.  He stepped down in the summer but the choir continued under its own steam, with a handful of the singers emerging as leaders including Jane.  Despite being KLS members and both knowing Sandra, Jane and Jo only met through the Great British Home Chorus.

As well as producing a beautiful video we provided Holocaust education for hundreds of adults.

When lockdown returned in the autumn, Jo had the brilliant idea to offer a Holocaust Memorial Day experience to our virtual choir.  These are 99% non-Jewish people from all over the UK and beyond.  Over 200 signed up to take part, we commissioned the renowned Polina Shepherd to teach a Yiddish song and perform as soloist.  We also showed a film Learning From The Past (about the Holocaust and subsequent genocides such as Rwanda) and organised a Zoom talk by a very eloquent Kindertransport refugee who was taken in by a Christian family and became a Church of England vicar.  So, as well as producing this beautiful video we provided Holocaust education for hundreds of adults. 

All the singers appear in the video holding either a candle or the picture of someone who suffered in the Holocaust.  This was also Jo’s creative idea but an organisational challenge in itself.  Although such pictures are available on the internet, we had to identify the copyright owner of each picture and find out if we had permission to use it in a video. (PS if you look carefully, there are 2 further KLS members in the video.)

What were our respective roles in the project?

Jo had all the ideas both creative and educational, and led two Zoom rehearsals – in between her day job, political duties and home-schooling 8-year-old twins!  Sandra introduced participants to the Yiddish language and helped with pronunciation and translation.  Sandra also organised the film and live survivor testimony and researched photo sources.  Jane was our Musical Director. As well as playing the piano for the video, Jane also led Zoom rehearsals in advance of a final workshop with our star Polina Shepherd.  Jane also created individual learning videos for Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Bass voices so people could practise at home – plus recording tracks. You can’t sing as a choir on Zoom as it all becomes out-of-synch.  Everyone can sing at home with the teacher (with their sound muted) but the only way to hear collected voices is for each person to record themselves singing, send in the recording and have them mixed by an expert.  Hence the special recording guide-tracks, so that everyone sings at exactly the same speed and with the same phrasing and dynamic control.

“I’m feeling so proud and privileged to have been part of such amazing project”

The costs of this project (e.g. paying a professional video editor) were met by donations from members of the choir, who showed heart-warming commitment to the project.  Many also wrote personal thank-you letters to the speaker.  There has been wonderful feedback from participants, and we’ll end with a quote: “I’m feeling so proud and privileged to have been part of such amazing project.”

Jane and Sandra both featured in last Summer’s series Our Lockdown Stories which you can read more about here.