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The People's Passion: Sasha Johnson Manning

Thursday 5 April 2012, 11:00

Paula McDonnell Paula McDonnell

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Editor's note: Sasha Johnson Manning composed The People's Passion Easter Anthem for BBC Radio 4. Here, she talks about the inspiration behind the project. You can hear

The People's Passion: Afternoon Dramas, Mon 2 April - Fri 6 April, 2.15pm (15mins); The People's Passion: Cathedral Conversations, Mon 2 April - Fri 6 April, 1.45pm (15mins) and Sunday Worship, Sunday 8 April, 8.10am (50 mins). Or downloads are available of all the programmes.

Sasha Johnson Manning composed The People's Passion Easter Anthem for BBC Radio 4.

When I began work on this project, I had little idea of the truly wonderful experiences, both humbling and happy, in store for me. My part in The People's Passion project was to compose the music. I was to set some new words for the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei of the Mass, an Easter anthem and incidental music for five plays to be broadcast one on each day of Holy Week.

I was excited, though at the same time, a little nervous as I had begun to sense that this was going to be an unusual and big project, but I had no idea just exactly HOW far-reaching this project would be! Strange now, to think at this moment, there are choirs in Kenya, America, Switzerland preparing this music for their Easter services and concerts, alongside 140 or so choirs all over Britain. Choirs from schools, churches, cathedrals and choral societies, community choirs and choirs specially come together for this event. What a thought! Perhaps it was just as well I didn't know this when I began to write the music.

I received Michael Symmons Roberts' words one morning in October. I was relieved and thrilled. They were inspirational. Here were words that were fresh and new with boundless energy. Here were words that I felt I could sing from my own heart. This wasn't lofty language from a bygone era, these were words for today with colour and joy and life. A gift to set. I began work immediately, most probably still in my pyjamas!

Another inspirational experience came when I got the chance to read the first 2 plays of the Holy Week sequence by Nick Warburton. I was transported into a cathedral and came across people who either worked there or had associations with the place, and as thieir stories began to unfold, I was hooked. I wanted to be in that busy yet silent place. I found myself genuinely caring for these ordinary yet extrordinary 'you and me' people. Though it wasn't only their story, it was everyone's story. The People's Passion - the people's suffering, the people's yearning for right and inner peace.

It was profound in its simplicity. I learned a lot about people, and me, in those scripts.

So, the music having been written, was now downloadable and freely available to all. This was, for me, a strange feeling. 'Good luck', I thought.

The first time I heard my pieces sung was when the excellent Manchester Chamber Choir came to record them for the website. It's always a scarily exciting moment to hear your music being given, for the first time, the essential dimension of flesh and bone and breath.

After being asked by Aled Jones in my interview with him on his Radio 3 programme, The Choir, if I would be willing to attend choirs' rehearsals if they requested it, I was contacted by some. I loved meeting all these marvellous people. Singers of all ages. The sessions I took part in were full of happiness and humour with an underlying determination to strive for perfection.

I am really looking forward to Easter morning. First stop will be Manchester Cathedral for the Radio 4 Sunday Worship broadcast at 8.10am, then home to my own church for our own service. Some of the congregation have been learning the music and will be joining my choir to perform the pieces which is brilliant.

There's one thing that I really long for out of all this. Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone, somewhere had joined a choir, and finding their voice, discovered a love of singing. There's nothing quite like singing in a choir. You give something of yourself, you try to give your best and what you give becomes part of a whole, part of something created and shared together in that moment with others giving of their best too. A choir soon becomes a family, and a choir family is to be treasured.

Sasha Johnson Manning composed The People's Passion Easter Anthem for BBC Radio 4.

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