Celebrating 80 Years of the Workers Music Association

P1070760.JPGOn March 1 1936 the Workers’ Music Association (WMA) was set up at a specially convened meeting at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.  In attendance were representatives of various workers’ music organisations including the London Labour Choral Union, the Co-op Education Committees and the Co-op choirs.

In the words of Aubrey Bowman:

“Hitherto, music had been thought of as having to be brought “to” the workers, to elevate them and immerse them in the beauties of song and so alleviate the drudgeries and miseries of work and everyday living. It could, as one 19th century writer cogently put it, help stave off disaffectedness and revolution. But, in the WMA, there was a complete reversal. A revolution, in fact. Instead of music being brought to the workers, it is the music of workers’ struggle, of workers’ battles and of their triumphs which is brought to the musical arena.” Morning Star March 1 2006.

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On Saturday September 24 2016, Birmingham Clarion Singers were proud to take part in an event celebrating 80 years of the WMA, and remembering some of its founders and leading supporters, including Aubrey Bowman and Alan Bush, two of our past presidents. In the very apt and inspiring surroundings of the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell Green, a number of soloists and choral groups performed for an enthusiastic crowd.

Rachel O’Higgins, daughter of Alan Bush, opened the event, with an account of how her father and (mother, Nancy) tirelessly worked to encourage music with social significance.
This was followed by the beautiful voice of Maria Caravanas,  the London- based Strawberry Thieves, and our very own Tim Martin.

 

 

Keith Sparrow. as well as providing a solid accompaniment for the solo singers, also performed a piano composition.

 

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Next to entertain us was Elsa –  “who sang with such great wit, lightness and fun of ‘Riding on Top of the Car’ that you totally believed ‘her music hall’ song.” (Daniel Keeler, Birmingham Clarion Singers).

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Members from Red and Green choir invited us to join in with their energetic performance  thoughtfully providing songsheets for the audience.

 

Marion and Steve Harper gave us a couple of their rousing and cheeky folk tunes, which again had everyone singing along and tapping their feet.

The event was rounded off by Birmingham Clarion Singers, who performed six songs to represent some of the work of the WMA – Bring Out the Banners, The Refugees, A Rebel Song, Comrades in the Dark, Be Moderate and This Path.

A very enjoyable day was had by all, and special thanks must go to Anne Schuman, whose tireless work and commitment ensured the event was a resounding success.

 

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Anne Schuman – WMA Organiser Extraordinaire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Singing for Socialism this Autumn

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Chainmakers Festival 2016

After a brief break, we are now back to our rehearsals each Wednesday evening at All Saints Centre, Kings Heath, starting at 7.30pm.

A busy schedule ahead for the next few weeks:

Saturday 24th September: WMA 80th Anniversary. Birmingham Clarion Singers will be taking a coach down to London to celebrate 80 years of the Workers Music Association.

Sunday 2nd October: National Demonstration at the Tory Conference – Clarion singing some rousing songs to start the march!

Saturday 15th October: All Saints Centre Concert with very special guest!!

Near the end of the month we will be having a celebration of the lives of Alan and Irene Rickman. We are also remembering the great contribution of Maureen “Mo” Powell to Clarion, who sadly died a year ago.

We will be forever in their debt.

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July Activities

After a turbulent few weeks politically and socially, and likely more to come, it is a real boost to join our voices together in unity and socialism. This month, Clarion will be participating in three very different events,  all with a common theme of support and strength, for sisters and brothers, in whatever struggle they are facing.

Friday 1st July: Public Event – Preventing Future Suffering

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11am-1.30pm: The Priory Rooms, 40 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6AF

 Contributions from:
 Lee Barron, Secretary of the Midlands TUC,  and Birmingham Clarion Singers
  Ceremonial Dove Release at 1pm.

 

Saturday 2nd July

Join Birmingham Clarion Singers at this year’s Chainmakers Festival in Cradley Heath – main stage at 11.50am.

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Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th July

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On the weekend of July 9th-10th Birmingham Clarion Singers will be joining other Clarion choirs at Nelson ILP Clarion House in Lancashire, for tea and songs.
Read more about Clarion House

 

Wednesday July 13th

Finally, we will be holding our Annual General Meeting at All Saints Centre at 7.30pm, and then will take a break from rehearsals until the autumn.

Keep a song in your heart, and strength in your convictions.

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Goodnight Irene

Irene Rickman

Irene Rickman, life member of Birmingham Clarion Singers, lifelong member of the Communist Party (Birmingham CPB Branch) and loyal Morning Star supporter, has died at the age of 84.

Just weeks after the birth of Irene Hickie in May 1931, South Birmingham was hit by a tornado, causing severe damage to properties in its path.  This force of nature could have seemed a portentous sign to Irene’s parents, given the indomitable spirit of their daughter in the years to come.

Although in poor health, Irene’s mother was supportive, and made sure her large family had opportunities to develop their talents. In the aftermath of World War 2, and following her evacuation to the Welsh countryside, Irene was enrolled for singing lessons. At the age of 15, she joined the fledgling socialist choir Birmingham Clarion Singers; and as a headstrong, forthright teenager, was drawn to the fight against fascism and the belief in a better world. This political firestorm led her to join the Young Communist League.

Irene very quickly became a leading light in the soprano section of the choir, taking on challenging roles under the tutelage of fellow comrades Elsie Marshall and Katharine Thomson.

This brought her into a world of cultural and political activism, rubbing shoulders with luminaries such as Paul Robeson, Alan Bush, Charles Parker and Pete Seeger, as well as left-wing academic George Thomson. This was a world away from her life as a young typing clerk, performing “Ballad for Americans” at Birmingham Town Hall for Paul Robeson in 1949, and playing Anne Page in “Sir John in Love”, (and meeting composer Ralph Vaughan Williams during rehearsals).

Irene met her life partner Alan Rickman at a Communist Party event, and they married in 1952, the day after her 21st birthday. Alan regularly took Irene to her singing lessons at Elsie Marshall’s on his motorbike. It wasn’t long before Elsie had persuaded Alan to take singing lessons himself, and to join the tenor section of Birmingham Clarion Singers,

In 1952 the choir took its message of peace and socialism to audiences in Romania and in 1957 to Czechoslovakia, funding these cultural exchanges by taking their progressive music to local venues and public houses. The people of Birmingham were treated to the works of Mozart and Vaughan Williams, sung by ordinary working people from the factories and offices in the city.

Irene continued to play a pivotal role in Birmingham Clarion Singers, taking on many roles over several decades of performances, and ensuring her clerical training was fully employed in the role of choir secretary. As she matured, her voice became deeper and richer, and as an adult she ended up with a beautiful alto voice. In the 1970s, she retrained as a nursery nurse, finding a welcome setting for her warmth and generosity of spirit. She took great pleasure in her extensive circle of family and friends, and could always be found at the heart of social events, enjoying a sing-along or a quiet joke and observation.

Irene and Alan had two children, Ruth and Mark, and their family life was full of shared interests, including camping, protection of wildlife, a love of the British countryside and, of course, politics and singing. In 1984 Mark died suddenly and tragically at the age of 19, and Irene demonstrated her unconquerable spirit as the family courageously came to terms with the loss. Together, the Rickmans spent their remaining years supporting working people and the socialist struggle. They weathered the storms of the Party in the 1980s, and continued to give their time and energies to the movement until they could no longer live independently.

 Alan died in April 2015, and, with the recent loss of her elder sister, Audrey, Irene became uncharacteristically melancholy and world weary. In her usual decisive manner, she decided it was time to bow out, from a life lived to the full, leaving a legacy of music and political activism to inspire the next generation.

 

Annie Banham

Secretary

Birmingham Clarion Singers

2016.

 

(With special thanks to Ruth Rickman-Williams and Jane Scott, for their valued contributions)