Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited; when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the State always change with them
– Plato, the Republic
Our choir began the day as nine at South Ken tube, warming up. Without our banner, we appeared for all the world as carol singers with no more agenda than to make merry in the cold December morning. Passers-by looked on approvingly, and then quizzically; we were not singing of Christmases white but green.
A little girl joined our circle to sing, but by the time we arrived at the Science Museum we had lost both camera operators. They were located, but we had lost a further soprano and two altos on the way to the Atmospheres exhibition on the third floor. Activism can be a pretty haphazard affair at the best of times, but losing most of the upper register is careless indeed.
Visitors observed us with no more interest than the computer simulations they prodded, simulating town planning strategies for a London with a rising tidal high. We sang Hark as Greenwash loudly sings, over the recorded message explaining how ’science’ was already helping us solve the problems of global warming. The Atmosphere exhibition would be vile even if it did not carry the hated logo, so plainly is misdirection programmed into the experience of the room. Companies which regularly face criticism buy respectability and social licence with philanthropy. Though Shell has given up on its renewables program entirely, and has been heavily criticised by the UN for the ongoing spills in the Niger Delta, the corporation looks, for all the world, like it is doing something helpful by sponsoring Atmosphere. Shell, along with weapons manufacturer AEDS, sponsor the climate change exhibits downstairs, where we sang next, rejoined by the soprano at least. Punters drifted past towards the flying machines, gazing up at the lights shooting around the great lcd loop on the ceiling.
After a quick tune in front of the V & A, we caught the tube to the Southbank, with spirits high despite a morning of complete indifference. Our purple scarves secreted within our jackets, we milled around, shooting conspiratorial glances at other visitors whose faces betrayed simmering mischief. Cameras in place, when the clock struck three we launched into “Oh Come all ye Hateful, Filthy and Repugnant!”, and distributed our festive poetry amongst the afternoon crowd. By the end of the song we were thirty or more, with a handful of children and a baby – even my mother! Security stopped the tripod-mounted camera, but left the others to their work. An accordion joined us for our some-time conductor’s version of “I saw Three Ships” and some other numbers, and we belted out our songs to a sympathetic crowd.
From our earliest prehistory, large performance spaces have been designed with acoustics in mind, there is no sacred geometry in the Clore Ballroom. There are plenty of speakers, of course, but without amplification we needed to to belt out our tunes to be heard. The acoustics outside by the Nelson Mandela statue were much better, or perhaps it was the spirit of the great resistance fighter and sabateur joining our ranks. Singing was a key weapon in the street movements rallying against apartheid. It is one thing for the police to turn their sticks on a chanting rabble who are expressing forbidden sentiments. Attacking a choir in close harmony is a different thing entirely.
“Music is a great blessing. It has the power to elevate and liberate us. It sets people free to dream. It can unite us to sing with one voice.”
– Nelson Mandela
Our ranks swelled as we sang, handing out song-sheets, explaining a little about Big Oil sponsorship between songs. Passers-by voted first with their feet and then with their voices, joining us as audience, and then as singers. We left many more people smiling than frowning our protest, which is surely a sign of good things to come.