Keeping the home fires burning

Saanich Peninsula concert commemorates experiences from the First World War.

Keep the Home Fires Burning on May 8 and 9 will feature memorabilia and artifacts from the First World War, like this display from the Sidney Museum.

Through music and memorabilia, stories and song, step back through time and get a glimpse of what it was like to live through one of the most impacting events in human history.

The Ad Hoc Troubadours and the Canadian Expeditionary Force Commemoration Society are presenting Keep the Home Fires Burning May 8 and 9, paying tribute to the men and women, both military and civilian, who answered the call to action in the First World War, particularly in a local sense.

“It’s stories about the period, specific to the Saanich Peninsula,” says Harry Martin, musical director for the show.

In addition to hearing tales of how the war affected our little corner of the world, the concert will also feature a range of songs that served to help the country as a whole express its hope, and its grief.

In a time when entertainment was often of short supply, music was the one thing that never waned, and the songs often had rich histories themselves.

“We’ve tried to associate the songs with the stories,” says Martin.

Like how Sanford Bennett’s In the Sweet By and By, a simple hymn written in 1868 about finding peace in heaven, became the mourning song of thousands of people 100 years and one day ago.

On May 7, 1915, news of the devastating sinking of the RMS Lusitania rippled through the crowd at a Manhattan train station. Struck by the loss of over 1,200 lives in one fell swoop, the people stopped where they stood and spontaneously began to sing In the Sweet By and By. That grieving solidarity moved American composer Charles Ives who was on the platform, and he later incorporated the hymn into his Orchestral Set No. 2 in a movement called From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose.

The concert will also feature a rendition of Silent Night, in honour of the 1914 Christmas Truce, one of the most remarkable movements of peace in a horrifically violent time in human history.

German and British troops engaged in a series of widespread and unofficial ceasefires throughout the week leading up to Christmas in 1914, exchanging food and souvenirs, swapping prisoners and even playing games of soccer in no man’s land. Helping to make it all possible was the joint singing of Silent Night, which was sung in English and German at the time, says Martin.

The concert at St. Paul’s will also feature many upbeat and cheerful songs as well, with favourites like Alexander’s Ragtime Band, You Made Me Love You, Pack Up Your Troubles, For Me and My Gal and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.

Finding which songs to feature proved to be more of a challenge than Martin was expecting.

“I thought, ‘how hard could it be to find 20 songs?’ Well, there are about 5,000 of them,” he says with a laugh.

Trusting to Google, he narrowed down the choices by finding the two most popular songs from each year, taking the results from the Hit Parade.

With many of the tunes surviving to this day, he’s hoping the audience will know them and sing along.

Refreshments will be available by donation, with proceeds going to the Sidney Lions food bank.

The concert runs at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 8, and 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 9. Please note that previous posters may have listed the Saturday matinee time incorrectly.

Tickets are $15, available at the door, or in advance from St. Paul’s Church office at 2410 Malaview Avenue, Tanner’s Books at 2436 Beacon Avenue, or by emailing your name, phone number and number of requested tickets to komatikmarine1@gmail.com

For more information, email stpauluc@stpauluc.com.

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