In early March 2016, six students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance approached the British Pilgrimage Trust for help in devising a Greenwich musical pilgrimage, which connects the holy places of Greenwich along a new pilgrimage route of song.
The group were from Trinity Laban’s CoLab week, in which students from diverse musical backgrounds pursue non-typical musical goals, to build bridges between their disciplines and to encourage out-of-the-practise-room thinking.
This group decided to create and perform a pilgrimage in the landscape surrounding Trinity Laban: a dedicated journey on foot around Greenwich, with the goal of honouring each ‘holy’ place through the gift of a fitting song. The students were happy to work with the BPT’s open definition of ‘holy’, and found it opened the landscape to allow more connection with fewer boundaries.
In the course of doing so, they were challenged to think about music in an entirely new way. Professional musicians rarely sing to a place, in order to give a gift. They are much more usually singing to a defined audience, and pursuing technical perfection. The pilgrimage setting encouraged a fuller appreciation of each song’s history and meaning, and also a more emotionally-charged live delivery of the song, designed to connect with the place itself, with the aim of giving the song as a gift.
To give a clearer example, when researching the potential of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park as a holy place, the group discovered that it housed the original Herschel telescope through which Joseph Haydn once peered in wonder, inspiring him to write “The Creation”. The CoLab pilgrims decided therefore to perform their own newly-arranged choral version of “The Heavens are Telling” (a choral piece within “The Creation”) while standing directly beneath the telescope itself – in order to ‘take the song home’, to honour the telescope and its creator, the music and its writer. Essentially, they were giving the song as a gift, to give thanks for this wonderful conjunction of science, religion and music.
Most of the group had no religious background, and had no idea about what pilgrimage is and does. The results were astonishing. See for yourself in the short video below:
For just the music, please click the soundcloud links below:
And to make this pilgrimage yourself, here are maps:
(Route and video © Will Parsons)