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The importance of keeping the torch of remembrance burning is now a more critical one than ever before. Neil McLennan FRSA shares the experience of #iPlay4Peace and askes Fellows to take part again this year.

‘What do we learn from all of this? This was the question posed by Scotland’s official First World War commemorations – WW100 Scotland – held in 2014 and led by the Scottish Commemorations Panel.  As four years of commemoration activity drew to a close that emotive question drew heavily on me in a world that appeared to be fragmenting and withdrawing to isolationism. 

Whilst the First World War emerged from nationalism and inter-connected alliances, nationalism and isolationism presents new threats today. Traditional commemoration activity reflected those two themes to a certain extent. Whilst there were a small number of set piece events which brought countries together, most were about political leadership or dignitaries with a small number of children involved in cross border cooperation activity. What they had in common was the aim of handing on the torch of remembrance and peace, forward into the next century.

The First World War runs the risk of becoming what the Napoleonic war is in school curricula and in the minds of some children; dusty, removed and forgotten. If collectively we are to keep ‘Lest We Forget’ alive and relevant we must seek new ways to engage young people, who are more globally influenced and connected than ever before.

Just after Remembrance Day 2017 I wrote an article in The Times, reflecting on the two-minute silence that almost never was and asking whether silence should be all we offer after a century of further conflict. I suggested that: “The respectful silence must remain but united voices need to be heard if we really want to end war and live in peace together.”

As the concept of an international concert developed, I connected with my good friend and collaborator Thoren Ferguson, who had played the Wilfred Owen violin (crafted by Steve Burnett) as part of Owen’s Edinburgh 1917-2017 commemoration.  The 18 events associated with remembering the war poet engaged over 11,000 people.  Now working with Thoren again, I wanted one piece of music to be played by musicians across the world at the same time as a symbol of harmony, cross border cooperation, reconciliation and peace.

We did not want to interfere with the Armistice morning’s respectful, reverend remembrance.  Instead our act of unison would take place in the afternoon, at 4pm Central European Time, capitalising on the ‘4’ in the #iPlay4Peace hashtag that would allow us to harvest music videos on the day.

‘Armistice’, a new piece of music scored by Thoren for the event has become iconic across the world. Meanwhile, a new collaborator joined the group; Associate Professor Paul Ferguson of Edinburgh Napier University who was working on a new piece of technology which could complement our project. Low latency technology minimises the delay of sending sound over the internet to virtually zero, which meant we could have musicians playing almost synchronously in various locations.

We shared Thoren’s piece of music with the public on 28 June 2018, the 104th anniversary of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo. We put a call out to the public for musicians to ‘sign up’ to our project and create a global orchestra.

On Sunday 11 November 2018 musicians from 45 locations worldwide played ‘Armistice’. Because the music was scored for many different instruments with various arrangements shared on the growing Facebook community of musicians this could include solo musicians, ensembles and full orchestras of all kinds. The anchor concert took place at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh with pupils from George Watson’s school orchestra. Their playing of ‘Armistice’ was broadcast to the world via youtube, with music director David Elliott’s conducting shown on the screen for those playing elsewhere. Musicians across the world – the US to China and from Scotland to South Africa took part. Turkish school students played from Gallipoli and Belgian students from under the Menin Gate. Together they formed a global orchestra, demonstrating that they could learn from each other’s experience of commemorating the First World War and endeavouring never to repeat it by cooperatively uniting in harmony.

The RSA supported this work by sharing the global orchestra idea with our global network of Fellows, some of whom took part while others watched. This year the orchestra will gather again, this time at 4pm CET (3pm UK) on Sunday 10 November. Again, they will share their music on social media using the hashtag #iPlay4Peace where people can watch, or indeed upload and share their own music.  This time the anchor concert will be shared from Edinburgh Napier University’s Craiglockhart Campus with Alberto Massimo leading the Edinburgh Chamber Orchestra. Musicians joining the commemoration and symbol of cooperation will be able to chose from three pieces of music: Anthony White’s orchestral ‘Battling for Peace’, Paul Anderson’s fiddle composition ‘Winning the Peace’ and Clare Paddi-Salters choral composition ‘The Good Friday Agreement’.

Together the composers, organisers and musicians demonstrate one way in which the RSA can support taking ideas into action. There is no better time for demonstrating cooperation across the world, immediately after we commemorate conflicts of the past.

Find out more about the Play4Peace concert and about the ‘anchor concert’ and how to attend.


Neil McLennan FRSA FSA Scot OSS is Senior Lecturer and Director of Leadership Programmes at University of Aberdeen. He is an RSA Fellow and Fellowship Councillor for Scotland. He founded #iPlay4Peace global orchestra in 2017 after many years involvement in commemoration activity and international education. 

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