Blog: World War One Project


In 2014 the CBSO began an ambitious four year programme commemorating the centenary of the First World War. Working with four primary schools in the Perry Barr area of Birmingham, we will be creating a new ‘War Requiem’ which will be premiered in 2018.

Each year a different primary school acts as the ‘creative school’ with pupils taking a different cultural stimuli to help them develop words and music on theme of World War One. This aspect of the project is delivered by CBSO musicians Oliver Janes (Clarinet) and Charlotte Skinner (Violin) with animateur Claire Henry. The words and music developed by pupils during these workshops are then passed to professional composer Kerry Andrew who turns them into a movement of, what will be, a four movement piece – a new ‘War Requiem’.

St Mary's Academy, Handsworth, are this year's creative school, which means that they will produce the creative material for Kerry Andrew and they are using the visual art, posters and photographs from WW1 as their inspiration. To help pupils really immerse themselves in the visual world of WW1 they visited the Imperial War Museum, London, to give them the opportunity to experience original posters, paintings and photographs.

Emily Jenner
Learning & Participation Intern

After a long coach journey (no thanks to London traffic!) we arrived at the IWM ready to visit the WW1 exhibitions. Firstly, wow, what a museum! Going in and seeing an aeroplane hanging from the ceiling was as much an excitement for me as it was for the children, and the perfect start to the trip.

Imperial War Museum, London.
Imperial War Museum, London.

Once inside the exhibition, we were able to see photos and artwork depicting the horrors, landscapes and pepole of the First World War.  One photo showed a horse bucking and soldiers covering their ears to protect them from the noise of gunfire. When the children were asked to say what they thought the noise would be like and what instruments could best represent this, their answers were very perceptive - 'sudden noise played on a drum' for example. 

We also saw some great paintings by Paul Nash and Christopher  Nevinson. These two paintings are very different - the Nash is very busy and depicts a mule travelling with supplies through the front line whereas the painting by Nevinson shows the horror of the war, and the effects of shell attacks on the environment: enormous crater holes and no soldiers. When the children were asked to describe the differences, their answers were clear: noise and silence. 

There is also a mocked up trench as part of the WW1 exhibition, which provided another great opportunity for the children to think about how those soldiers would have felt 100 years ago, what the conditions were like and the challenges that they would have faced living in such dirty and dangerous conditions. We were also able to explain that in order to keep spirits up, soldiers would often write songs and sing. Some of them found this surprising, but then said it made sense, as they also enjoyed singing! (The coach was in fine voice both to and from London!)

The ideas that the children have created from this visit are truly remarkable and will be developed by the CBSO creative team over the next couple of months through workshops with them. Thank you to the staff and pupils of St Mary's Academy for being so engaged and eager to learn, to the CBSO creative team for leading the children around and to my colleague Lauren Craner (Youth and Ensembles Officer) for organising this trip. An educational experience for us all!