It was Summer 2012 when I first began waking in the middle of the night, worrying about what was going on in the world.
On top of general global disasters and challenges, riots had rocked the UK in 2011 and the situation in Syria – a country whose sounds, sights and friendliness I had fallen in love with in 2006 – had become untenable and was free-falling into the tragedy we have watched unfolding in front of our eyes.
For the first time in 30 years of teaching, I heard children openly and increasingly expressing their fears about what was going on in the world. I was constantly being asked, ‘Why is this happening and why can’t the grown ups do something to stop it?’ A good question.
I thought intently about this for weeks and wondered if there was anything ‘ordinary people’ could do, if there might be small things we could each do that might contribute in some way to making a difference.
Inspired by Leonard Bernstein
One evening after choir practice, something led me back into my office and I was drawn to the quote on my poster of Leonard Bernstein.
‘Art never stopped a war’, he says, ‘art cannot change events. But it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed because people are changed by art, enriched, ennobled, encouraged – then they act in a way that may change the course of events.’
That’s when it struck me: What if, what if an arts project could be created to give people a platform to do something about peace themselves? And could I do that?
It would have to be singing of course. Singing has such a unique gift as it can be done by literally everyone and anyone, anywhere. In addition to that it’s free, it’s fun, it connects and uplifts and when we do it together, it somehow transforms and transcends.
It’s well documented that our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing improve when we sing and that by singing together, we feel uplifted and connected. Singing communally has long been a positive part of holding communities together and I was sure it could do more.
A global choral project for peace
I wondered if it was possible to get people singing together for peace, to create ‘one choir’ singing in their communities yet linked together by a global connection of some kind. Not a virtual project where people upload their performances from their isolated computer consoles but one where they used the real physical and literal power of singing together and knew that others around the world were doing that too with the same intent.
I’d sung in choirs all my life and knew the positive impact they’d had on countless people and the incredible communities they could build within themselves. I’d run the London Philharmonic Choir so I knew about organising choirs and events. I’d also worked with Voices for Hospices on their Global Choirs project for six years and more recently, I’d seen powerful, practical and scientific evidence of the outcomes of communal singing as I’d travelled the world researching and presenting programmes for BBC radio. I’d been in prisons and war zones, playgrounds and palaces, concert halls and community centres, hospitals, homes, offices of state and everyday offices where people had sung together and found themselves feeling happier and more harmonious and united as a result; I could tap into all of that and use it to help.
One Day One Choir
And so, began the journey of creating One Day One Choir – a global choral project for peace.
The concept is simple and accessible to everyone as all it asks is for people to:
- engage with others in their community through the inclusive and uplifting act of singing together
- use an event, service, assembly, community singalong or concert to focus on peace
- encourage participants and audiences to think about and do more to help create peace – personally, locally and globally – in their lives and throughout the year
It’s really easy to take part in as one song is enough and you sing where you are. All you need to do is find a few (or a lot of) people to sing with and sign up on our website to tell us that you’re joining in. You can also dedicate something you are already doing – for example, a concert or service if there isn’t time to arrange something new for the day.
I wasn’t sure if this would appeal to people or how I was going to reach them but as the vision was so strong, I had to get on with it. We needed a website of course – quite a challenge when you have no funding and you have to reach out to choirs, schools and the media – and we had to get people to sign up and join in. Amazingly, all kinds of people began to step up to help.
The biggest choir in the world, singing for peace
The result of that help – and a lot of hard work – was that just a few months later, on 21 September 2014, BBC Radio 3 held a special launch concert for One Day One Choir in the BBC’s World Plaza, which was broadcast live and had five very different choirs – from the London Philharmonic Choir to a little infant school group – all singing together for peace.
We also managed to inspire more than 100,000 people to sing with us in that first year. People said they liked it and they wanted to help spread the word and turn the project into a success.
Now here we are four years later and reaching our 2018 target which was to create ‘the biggest choir in the world, singing for peace’. Have we done it? I can’t say exactly but I’m fairly sure we have or at least we’ve done pretty well.
More than a million people had sung with us by last year, we’re supported by all kinds of great arts, education and peace organisations and people and right now, I’m receiving sign ups daily from around the world as well as hearing about lovely concerts people have planned for Peace Day this year.
You can see them all on the global map on our website here.
Schools love this project and it really is perfect for children and teachers as it fits into all aspects of the curriculum as well as social and community development. Thousands and thousands of children around the world will be singing in their schools on 21 September this year under the One Day One Choir umbrella.
Events and concerts
There will also be events and concerts around the world and, here in the UK, there’s a wide variety of events going on.
- Truro in Cornwall will be hosting more than 25 choirs, including the world class Tenebrae
- in Swansea, our supporters, Peace Mala, will be filling Swansea Cathedral with children and local leaders, teachers and dignitaries
- in Levenshume, a ‘unique community concert for peace’ is being held, followed by a candlelit procession and a feast for peace
- children all over Jersey will be singing a fabulous song the music teacher of the year there has written and dedicated to us (you can hear it in our film below and access it for free on our website)
- in Guernsey, there will be a massed choir concert with speeches for peace by well known speakers and a peal of bells for peace across the island
More than 38 British cathedrals now take part – as well as temples and mosques – and a choir for peace has been created for prisoners in HMP Maidstone Prison so they can join in too. In London, we have a special flagship event in the great hall at the British Museum with 10 choirs – including three of our original launch choirs – and all kinds of other events in more local areas in London, around the UK and globally.
Not bad for a project that’s still run unfunded from a spare bedroom and in ‘spare’ time. But then who doesn’t love singing and who doesn’t want peace? And there’s still time for you to join in this year too – so please go on to our website and join in!
‘What a brilliant and inspiring idea. I urge anyone who loves their singing to join in and be a part of this mighty Chorus of Goodwill across the globe; making the unifying voice of song a unifying voice for peace.’
Howard Goodall CBE
‘DO THIS – Sign up and sing for peace with One Day One Choir.’
The Mayor of London’s Culture letter
‘A choir for peace is a brilliant idea.’
Richard Morrison, The Times
‘This is so inspiring – count us in!’
Michelle James, CEO, Sing Up
‘We couldn’t believe the positive and powerful impact our short Peace Assembly had on pupils and the school; the children talked about it for weeks. Last year, we sent music to our partner school in Malawi so they could join in with us. It was so inspiring; not only did 500 pupils sing there but the entire village came out and sang too!’
Val Riziotis, Cheam Common Infants’ School, Surrey, UK
‘We love One Day One Choir, engaging with you has united our global school group more than any project we’ve ever done.
Rachel White-Hunt, BIS Schools Group, Chicago, US
One Day One Choir: http://www.onedayonechoir.org
Header photo: Ganapathy Temple London Peace event for One Day One Choir 2017
About the author
Jane Hanson FRSA is a choral aficionado, project leader, writer and educator, who is passionate about peace and singing.
She has researched, documented and broadcast the positive and powerful impact of singing together for many years for BBC Radio and has put on numerous concerts and events as the Director and Chairman of the London Philharmonic Choir (where she has sung for many years) and also as an events organiser and PR director.
Jane is also a well respected educator and writer and a Director of Women of the Year lunch.