Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Forty minutes spent reflecting on the right of people not to fight.
Down to the depths of darkest Leith (well, the cavernous Out of the Blue Drill Hall, anyway) for the premier of a new work by award winning composer and guitarist Graeme Stephen. Part of this year’s Made in Scotland showpiece, Letters For Peace draws on the testimony and evidence presented in their own defence by a number of Conscientious Objectors (or Conchies, as they were sometimes pejoratively referred to) from World War I.
Stephen composed this haunting, reflective, sombre forty minute piece for guitar, cello, viola and violin to mark the centenary of the Armistice of the war that was supposed to end all wars and was joined on this occasion by string players from the renowned Scottish group, Mr McFall’s Chamber.
Haunting and ethereal perhaps best describe the mood of this piece. Adventurous too, as Stephen’s gripping composition makes the music seem to float around the auditorium, hanging in the rafters, the notes seemingly suspended on some invisible cloud. Jarring chords conveyed the ridicule and opprobrium suffered by those who refused to fight. Calmer passages portrayed the inner peace many of these courageous men no doubt felt.
Some 750,000 refused to enlist and were forced to appear before hastily convened tribunals, peopled by men with no understanding of or sympathy towards the views of those they were dealing with. As the music swirls around us, their story unfolds through a complex multi-media overlay of spoken words (extracts from tribunal testimonies), poetry, photographs of objectors undertaking the wide range of war-related but non-combatant tasks to which they were assigned and evocative footage of the fighting itself.
This combination of music and visual imagery draws the listener into the performance. You feel a part of the music, a part of the story being told. And the denouement was as peaceful as any you could wished for. Forty minutes well spent in terms of reflection on the right of people not to fight.