Commemorating all NHS workers who lost their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic
In early 2021, the British Medical Association (BMA) opened applications for a commission that would commemorate the lives lost of those who worked for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Composer Paul K. Joyce was selected, and the new digital-only release, entitled We Will Remember (We Can’t Forget) is the product of this collaboration.
It was Paul’s friend, a doctor, who noticed the open call for submissions and suggested he applied. “You know what it’s like being freelance,” says Paul. “You think, ‘Oh, well, I’ll do it, but I won’t get it,’” he laughs. “I pitched them the idea, I put together a budget that I thought was reasonable, and lo and behold! Rejection emails tend to come on a Friday afternoon, just to ruin your weekend, and I thought this was a rejection just like the others,’ says Paul, but this email was quite the opposite: he’d won the commission.
The recording features text from the poem I Carry Your Heart With Me (I Carry It In) by E.E. Cummings, and is set to music performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Burntwood School Chamber Choir. The words of the poem are also read out during the piece by Drs Nelofer Gafoor, William Mukonoweshuro, and Catherine Western.
The choice of poem came via Paul’s sister. “I think all art is collaborative, really,” he chuckles. Paul talked of his struggle to find a suitable poem to his sister, and she mentioned one of her favourites, the E.E. Cummings.
“The poem had to be inclusive, so I wanted something that transcended feelings of religion and culture, and that would be meaningful to anybody that read it or heard it in a musical setting,” says Paul. In submitting his idea, Paul said that “any music or artistic project should be both inclusive and representative of the NHS, as it is, which is a multiracial, multiethnic organisation. So that was my response to their call.”
Paul got the commission in June, and the delivery date was set for September – an incredibly quick turnaround even to compose the piece, let alone set up the recordings and get everything mixed and mastered, especially with the logistical challenges posed by the pandemic. However, the BMA made it very easy for Paul.
“The BMA left me alone. They said, ‘Give us what you feel is the right piece of music that will be representative of our request.’ It was a job unlike any other I’ve ever been involved with.
“There’s a sting in the tail with commissions, usually. Someone wants to change something fundamentally and you feel you’re serving two masters – yourself and someone else, who’s paying you to create this piece of music that appeals to them as well, so to have this commission, where the BMA were just so supportive […] It was the most rewarding, moving, satisfying experience.”
Paul’s partner is an NHS radiographer, and so this particular commission had a real personal significance for him, and helped him to process what was going on during these turbulent times.
“It did help me, because while obviously I was doing this for the BMA, it felt like this was my opportunity to do something to say thank you to the NHS,” Paul says.
You can see the performance here, and all profits from the downloads and streams go straight to NHS charities.
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We Will Remember (We Can’t Forget)