On 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.
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.
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).
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.