Music and Commemoration the Manchester Together Concert
by Sandra Wood on 27 June 2018
Music is so often associated with shared joy. But it also has a role in marking more difficult events too.
The attack on the Manchester Arena Ariana Grande concert on May 22nd 2017 was devastating for the city with the loss of 22 lives and many others changed forever. What made it even harder to bear was the idea that young people sharing music together was the target.
A year on, and I think many were not looking forward to being reminded of that time, while still feeling the need to mark it. There were many events planned, however the evening Manchester Together concert bringing many choirs together was particularly moving. A great range of groups sang, many young people including the Survivors' Choir drawn from people affected by the bombing.
It was a truly extraordinary experience to be one of the conductors that evening, leading Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus in a medley of Mancunian songs. Given MLGC is an entirely community choir I was really impressed with how they took such a high profile gig in their stride, singing to thousands and facing the ranks of broadcast satellite dishes. The sense of the occasion and the feeling of being part of a healing process carried us forward. We were then planted in the crowd to start a surprise rendition of 'All You Need Is Love'.
The tone was just right, a respectful commemoration, but also uplifting and transformative. This is what voices shared together lifted up can do.
There have been some sour notes in a few corners, both about whether this type of public emotion is overblown and whether this is too 'soft' an approach. All I can say is that the emotion of that evening was real and necessary. And that this route is in fact the hard route. Making the kind of society where young people don't think the best option is to blow themselves up at a concert takes deep, long, engaged work. This is what so many of us who were leading choirs that evening are involved in doing.
Given that, all the political and community leaders who praised Manchester Together need to remember that this work doesn't magically appear out of nowhere. It needs supporting and nurturing. Because the value of it to the community was plain to see - and hear - that evening, transforming shared pain to shared love. We sang on in to the evening while young people danced together.