Piece of the week 42: Peace in the World

For much of my composing life I have had links with Colchester Choral Society – they have commissioned several pieces from me, and in 2018 they commissioned a cycle of five unaccompanied songs called ‘Images of Peace’ which they performed and recorded under their director Ian Ray, and which was subsequently published by OUP.

The third movement of that cycle, Peace in the World, was also published separately, and has been sung by a range of choirs including the BBC Singers, directed by Grace Rossiter, whose performance was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 earlier this year.

It is a setting of a few lines attributed to the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu (Laozi), the founder of Taoism, a religion which (though it’s hard to summarise) is focused on living simply, in harmony and peace, and knowing oneself through meditation. The poem sets a simple but meaningful message as relevant today as it was in Lao-Tzu’s lifetime in the 6th century BCE.

For peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations;
For peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities;
For peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbours;
For peace between neighbours, there must be peace in the home;
For peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart.

In my setting I aimed for a feeling of gentle simplicity, usually with a flowing melody in the upper voice and a repeated ‘Peace in the world’ below. There is just one section in which the metre and mood changes, to exhort us all to follow the message of these lines, and then the music returns to the calm opening mood, with the soprano floating over the top. So I hope that I found a good way to communicate this message of love and goodwill to all.

Here’s a link to a recording, sung by Colchester Choral Society, with images of Hilly Fields, Colchester’s lovely open space which stretches almost into the city centre.

The score of Peace in the World is obtainable here and the complete score of Images of Peace is here.