Colin Touchin - CHOOSE THE LIGHT



Children's choirs, SATB chorus, full orchestra

Colin Touchin - CHOOSE THE LIGHT

Other Information

A thirty-five minute ´oratorio´ commissioned by the Coventry Mysteries Festival 2012. First performed at Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, followed by a procession and an open-air repeat performance in a shopping centre. See Colin Touchin´s Composer of the Month feature which is based on this work by clicking here to read more about the work and its genesis.

First performed by Spires Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus with children´s choirs from three Coventry primary schools.

The background to “CHOOSE THE LIGHT”

This is where it all started – the famous ´Doom´ painting in Holy Trinity Church in the centre of Coventry. The church is 800 years old, and the painting by Coventry´s medieval artists dates from about 1435. A hundred or so years later, after Henry VIII´s reign, the mural was whitewashed over because it was felt to be frivolous. For most of its existence, it´s not been visible. It was the new Millennium before the painting was finally restored and preserved. One of the best preserved ´Doom´ paintings in Europe, it´s visited by people from all over the world, and is visible again for all to see. Colin Touchin, composer, conductor and director of Spires Music, saw the Doom painting as a possible centre of an ambitious piece of work. He proposed a piece of orchestral and choral music to the Mysteries Company, based on Coventry school children visiting Holy Trinity Church and writing about the painting. Our project set out to produce music that would be meaningful to the very mixed public audience we anticipated – from young children to ordinary passers-by in the city´s Lower Precinct. We met the Mysteries Companies´ requirements in the course of the project.

THE MUSIC FOR CHOOSE THE LIGHT Colin Touchin (Composer/Conductor)

What´s great about creating new things is you never quite know what´s going to come out! We were all excited by the prospect of what the children would write to inspire the composition of the music. As the writing arrived I was often struck by remarkably telling language and resonant imagination.

Planning the work, I knew we had to allow for different rehearsal times for the various ensembles so the order was school songs first, vocal score for chorus second, finally the orchestral parts. The piece was continuous, approximately 35 minutes long. The school songs needed to come in a sequence that allowed them to make good sense in the finished composition. The beginning and ending would be for everyone – the professional and amateur Spires Philharmonic Orchestra, the Spires Chorus and all the school children together – and there might be a similar full ensemble in the middle; in addition the orchestra´s linking music could establish atmosphere and drama, with impressions of the earthquake and consequent terror.

Each school had to be able to rehearse its song without the orchestra and perform it in their own school if they wished, and I also wanted the different requests from the schools about the sort of music their children liked most to be reflected in the various styles adopted. (A version of the score is available for a complete performance with piano, drums, and bass guitar backing, plus whatever melodic and rhythmic instruments the school can provide to support their choirs.)

For immediate appeal I wanted rhythmically lively sections balancing slower, more thoughtful music, which should also explore themes both of the Coventry Mysteries Week Festival (peace and reconciliation) and the Doom painting of Holy Trinity Church, Coventry. I also hoped that the piece in some way would be true to and belong to Coventry and its people.

There were so many words! Fortunately each school´s offerings provided sufficient pattern and structure for me to choose a song-style and verse/chorus pattern that worked. Inevitably some significant written contributions couldn´t be used, but they are all published in this booklet. For the chorus opening I chose several verses from the Latin Dies Iræ (Day of Wrath/Judgment); for the ending, lines from the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation were particularly apposite; for the central section, one school which didn´t provide a choir had nevertheless provided some of the most telling lines of all. At last the libretto was complete. I must thank Mike Torbe for pointing to the telling phrase which became the work´s title. The working title had been “The Doom”, and the planning team were all mightily relieved with its new name!

I wanted a dark, brooding, threatening opening rising upwards towards the light at the end. The initial children´s appeal ´Choose the Light´, struggling to be heard in the early bars of the whole piece, at last combines with the full chorus to ring out at the end in a calm major key. In the central section, “Transform it” is heard three times in three different keys, acting out the transformation. Motifs recur connecting different musical sections, but also linking the ideas in the different songs. The orchestration includes rewarding parts for the musicians, with piano, bass and drums added for the schools´ songs; the chorus´s contribution moves from dark discords to more pleasing and simpler harmonies, whilst emphasising key words and lines of the text.

Writing Choose the Light has been a challenge and a joy, a privileged opportunity to work with young children´s perceptions of a magnificent old painting and of their present and future world: all who have been involved in this project have been moved and changed by the experience. It was comforting to hear one of our regular singing members opine “Once you get to know it, it´s not as bad as it sounds” and one of the orchestral players teased: “I´d just got the tunes out of my head from the performances when we did the recording and now I´ve got all those melodies dancing around my head again!”


Choose The Light´ is a phrase culled from the young people´s writing. It perfectly expresses the complex moral choices that face all of us, and the importance of seeking peace and reconciliation. Choose the Light begins with words of the medieval hymn, Dies Iræ, the Day of Wrath, and ends with a setting of lines based on the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation written after the Cathedral was bombed in 1940, which we use with the permission of the Cathedral. The shift from the aggressive and forceful music of the Dies Iræ to the tender and merciful Litany maps the move from anger to reconciliation and peace. Between them come the songs of the individual schools. The piece begins with the appeal to ´Choose the Light´ almost overwhelmed by the Dies Iræ, the thirteenth-century Latin hymn describing the Day of Judgement, when the last trumpet will summon souls before the throne of God, the saved will be delivered and the doomed cast into eternal flames.

“Choose the Light” in performance

It´s early on Saturday morning June 16th, in Holy Trinity Church in the centre of Coventry. The church is full of sound. An orchestra of almost 50 musicians, an adult choir of 40 and 70 children and their teachers are preparing for a concert. They rehearse carefully from 9am until 10:30, as people arrive in the church, ready to witness a world premiere.

At 10:50, orchestra and choirs are ready, crammed into the space between the front pews and the choir stalls. The audience grows, until 200 people are waiting. At 11, Colin Touchin, the composer and conductor, appears. He waits, smiles at the musicians and singers in front of him. Silence descends. The baton is raised, comes down, and the opening notes of Choose the Light crash out – four bars of orchestra then a stunning discord as three choirs of children try to make their words ´Choose the Light´ sound as loud as the adult choir´s fierce singing of the Dies Iræ. The piece unfolds, the anger of the opening followed by the reflective sounds of Earlsdon Primary School singing about visiting the painting that´s above the orchestra and choirs, as it has been for 600 years.

Groups of children from five Coventry schools have visited the church during the previous three months, studying the painting, listening to members of the church telling them its story. Then back in their schools they wrote extraordinary words, inspired by the Doom painting and its story. Their words were taken in by Colin Touch and woven into the text of this unusual piece of music that we are hearing.

The other songs, all written by Coventry school children, tell different parts of the story. Sidney Stringer Academy´s pupils imagine themselves into the heads of the people 600 years ago, frightened by the recent earthquake and terrified at the notion of Hell as punishment for their sins and crimes. Bishop Ullathorne Catholic School´s older pupils muse in their writing on the implications of the story for today, and ask searching questions: In terror do we turn to help, they ask, Or run to save the self?

Frederick Bird´s pupils point out another important theme of the work, and of the picture itself – I am warning you what to do: It´s your choice – and Wyken Croft grimly ask which choice we will all make: I have a choice – be good, be bad. The whole piece concludes with a setting of words from the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, and achieves its own peace as choirs and orchestra together triumphantly Choose the Light!

But that isn´t the end, for now the orchestra and choirs form up outside, and led by the hypnotic drumming of Coventry University´s medieval street fair performers, we march in procession down to the Lower Precinct, the children dancing sometimes and clapping their hands as they go. And there we perform the whole work again, in the light and air of the precinct, with the rain cascading down the glass roof above us, and people lining the balconies above the performers, wondering at the sounds and the enthusiasm of the performers. Around us the bustle and business of Saturday afternoon go on, but in this one area, something special is happening that touches even casual passers-by. ´This is the first time I´ve been down in the precinct for years´, an amazed spectator says to his neighbour. ´Is this what usually happens?´

The piece ends. The listening crowd roars its approval, then disperses, chattering about what it´s seen and heard, and then about what it´s going to do now. Musicians and singers pack up, children go to their proud parents and teachers, and everyone drifts away. Nothing left behind but memories. On their way out, a few of the singers are stopped by two young men. ´That was you, wasn´t it?´ they say. Yes, say the singers. ´That was great!´ they say. ´Great!´ and shake the singers´ hands.

Colin Touchin - CHOOSE THE LIGHT

Colin Touchin - CHOOSE THE LIGHT