On Sunday the 17th March, over 150 musicians performed Karl Jenkins’ ‘The Armed Man,’ as a part of Christ’s Hospital annual Angus Ross Gala Concert. The concert was made possible by the Chapel Choir, Christ’s Hospital Choral society, and an orchestra comprised of students, music teachers, and six guest instrumentalists from the English Chamber Orchestra.

The first half of the concert comprised of solo performances from three highly accomplished musicians in Grecians (year 13). Concertos composed by Grieg, Elgar and Strauss pervaded the packed concert hall, as the pianist, celloist and french hornist played effortlessly for 15 minutes respectively. Whilst sat on stage with the choir, I watched on lightly amused at the relaxed nature all three portrayed despite the anxiety they no doubt experienced. Most notably, the pianist comically trying to blow the hair out of his face, whilst moving his fingers up and down the keyboard at an alarmingly fast rate!  

As the night progressed, the audience were transported to battlefields around the world. The Armed Man, composed in 1999, is essentially an anti-war mass, dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo crisis. The words in Karl Jenkins’ work reflect the incomprehensible amounts of suffering war has brought and continue to bring, in addition to pleading for peace.

Throughout Jenkins’ masterpiece, he has intertwined music from religious sources, such as French renaissance masses, Islamic calls to prayer, psalms and revelations derived from the bible, and Hindu texts from the Mahabharata. In contrast to this, famous words from modern poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Sankichi Toge (a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing) are also performed. The effect of this creates an atmosphere of unity amongst nations and time periods, as music and poetry from starkly different religious and cultural backgrounds coincide with one another.

 The Armed Man begins with a 15th century French liturgical chant, in which the choir describes the warrior marching into battle, accompanied by a piccolo. We are then met by the reflective call to prayer, before going on to ‘The hymn before action.’ It begins with trumpets resounding through the concert hall, before ending in screams of agony from the choir. The last post was then delivered by a Deputy Grecian (year 12 student) from the balcony surveying the concert hall, providing a moment of reflection to the events depicted in the previous movement. Finally, the Armed Man concludes with a similar melody to that of the opening song; instead, singing “better is peace than always war,” derived from Tennyson’s poem ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells,’ and words from revelation 21:4, “God shall wipe away all tears.”

Every year, the Angus Ross concert proves to be an incredible joint effort between professional and amateur musicians, and continues to be dedicated to Old Blue, Alan Ross, whose memorial fund, established immediately after his death, reflects the appreciation for the bountiful amount of musical opportunity he and current CH students experience.