MORRISBURG – “We’ll meet again/Don’t know where, don’t know when/ But I know we’ll meet again/ Some sunny day.”
For many who attended the outstanding Youth Opportunities in the Arts concerts held at St. James Anglican Church in Morrisburg July 19-20, this classic song, popularized by Vera Lynn, brought back a lot of memories.
From 1939-1945, songs sung in the canteens, the mess halls, on the dance floors, over the airwaves, sometimes even by people hiding from bombing raids in the London Underground, gave hope and inspiration to a generation trapped amidst the horrors of World War II.
The talented YOA cast of 18 local singers, ranging in age from 12 to 24, soon brought this reality home during their concert.
During the years of World War II, “many musical acts tried to reflect the pain people were feeling, while still helping them remain upbeat,” narrators said. “People needed to believe that things really were going to get better tomorrow. These songs kept up people’s spirits.”
We’ll Meet Again was created to honour, and recall, the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
This WWII revue follows on the success of Songs of the Great War, a salute to the music of World War I, a 2018 project also specially created for these young very talented artists.
Chris Coyea, one of the teachers in this unique arts program, and himself a performing artist, pointed out that the young singers had actually requested an opportunity to learn and perform the music of 1939-45, even though “many of the cast had never heard these songs before.”
Coyea explained that for him, one of the real challenges in creating the revue was choosing the final music. He researched popular artists, discovering a wealth of selections. “I ultimately picked a variety of up-tempo pieces, ballads and novelty songs. The strong female voices in the cast led me to Vera Lynn classics. And the comic songs were really enjoyable for them all.”
The music of World War II, Coyea said, offered quite a contrast to the parlour songs popular in the First World War.
“The 1939-45 music was a little more along ‘pop’ music lines. It moved into swing and into the style of groups like the Andrews Sisters,” he said.
Accompanied by local musician/singer/teacher Margaret Whisselle, with James MacKenzie on drums, the YOA singers delivered an exuberant and, often, a deeply moving concert.
With Churchill’s fiery 1940 words “We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be…We shall never surrender…” as a background, the cast satirized the entire Nazi superman philosophy. “We’ll Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line” mocked Nazi war threats, and performer Clifford Bauder’s outstanding delivery of the comically vicious “Der Fuhrer’s Face” reduced Hitler to a caricature. Aria Whisselle, Dallis Campbell and Emily Gardiner created a few misty eyes in the audience with “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square”, “Over the Rainbow” and “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The Senior group belted out the “unofficial” hymn to Pearl Harbour with “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” while the Junior group had the audience roaring with “Three Little Fishies.” The entire production was fast-paced, the cast moving from song to song, whether the number was sentimental, martial or just a bit mad (“Mairzy Doats”), with the ease of seasoned performers. The choreography was ideally suited to the performers: it made good use of the acting space, staging some numbers right in the audience.
By the time the cast invited the audience to join in the singing of a last song, long ago memories had been awakened for some audience members, and new memories created for others. We’ll Meet Again, performed by the talented singers of Youth Opportunities in the Arts, was a concert to remember. And for many, it was truly a “sentimental journey.”