Who We Are

Inn 2018 we won the acco­lade of Hands Up for Trad Com­mu­ni­ty Music Project of the Year. Our sub­mis­sion on being nom­i­nat­ed for that award explains well who we are, what we do, and what moti­vates us.

Hands Up for Trad Com­mu­ni­ty Music Project of the Year

The aim of the Awards is to cel­e­brate music teach­ers, projects, young musi­cians, organ­i­sa­tions and com­posers who make a musi­cal dif­fer­ence to our com­mu­ni­ty.

Tell us more about your­self or your group/organisation

Protest in Har­mo­ny is a rad­i­cal singing group based in Edin­burgh, meet­ing month­ly.  We sing songs of protest: our themes include peace, Pales­tine, the strug­gle against the cuts, anti-racism, sol­i­dar­i­ty with refugees, the attacks on work­ers’ con­di­tions, and dam­age to the envi­ron­ment and the result­ing impact on livesWe approach all our activ­i­ties with great joy, cre­ativ­i­ty and a sense of sol­i­dar­i­ty.

We are not affil­i­at­ed to any polit­i­cal, envi­ron­men­tal or reli­gious group.  Rather, we are an ever-expand­ing and flex­i­ble com­mu­ni­ty of indi­vid­u­als who believe that song can be a pow­er­ful, pos­i­tive force in the world.  We meet once a month and ses­sions are inclu­sive and open to all, whether expe­ri­enced singers or com­plete begin­ners.  We also facil­i­tate occa­sion­al singing and song writ­ing work­shops on var­i­ous themes, for exam­ple with col­lege stu­dents on anti-Islam­o­pho­bia.

What unites us is our belief in the sig­nif­i­cance of the songs and our love of singing them togeth­er in har­mo­ny. The choir is facil­i­tat­ed by three excel­lent and expe­ri­enced song lead­ers who make singing acces­si­ble to every­body who comes along, with no audi­tions and no judge­ments.

We aim to empow­er peo­ple through song, to help peo­ple find a voice and to sing in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oppressed peo­ple and those whose voic­es have been silenced through­out the world. We draw on the rich world­wide reper­toire of polit­i­cal songs includ­ing those of the US Civ­il Rights move­ment, the Anti-Apartheid strug­gle and human rights strug­gles in Latin Amer­i­ca. We also write our own songs about cur­rent issues. We are part of the UK Cam­paign Choirs net­work.

How long have you or your group/organisation been involved in this work and tell us a wee bit about how it all start­ed

Our group start­ed in 2003 after mem­bers had felt sur­prised and dis­ap­point­ed at the lack of singing on the huge ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ march in Glas­gow.  We had a strong belief that, rather than just shout­ing slo­gans, singing in the streets is an inher­ent­ly pos­i­tive thing to do.  When bystanders hear shout­ing in the street they tend to feel wor­ried and even threat­ened; when they hear singing they tend to feel intrigued and are drawn in clos­er.

We have since sung on scores of march­es and demon­stra­tions, at polit­i­cal events and fundrais­ing con­certs, and we have found that singing togeth­er is life-enhanc­ing, and inher­ent­ly wel­com­ing and inclu­sive: at every event mem­bers of the pub­lic step for­ward and join in.  Politi­cians attend­ing demon­stra­tions have also joined in some of our songs, includ­ing the First Min­is­ter of Scot­land, and even attend­ing police offi­cers are some­times roused to sing along too.

What have you or your group/organisation got planned for the next 12 months?

The year of the choir has a rhythm, punc­tu­at­ed by reg­u­lar com­mit­ments: Inter­na­tion­al Con­sci­en­tious Objec­tion Day (15th May), Inter­na­tion­al Work­ers’ Memo­r­i­al Day (28th April), Street Choirs Fes­ti­val (June/July), Cam­paign Against the Arms Trade street stall (Decem­ber), annu­al com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Bhopal dis­as­ter (Decem­ber), Open Shuha­da Street — sol­i­dar­i­ty with Pales­tine, (Feb­ru­ary), and Hiroshi­ma Day (6th August). In addi­tion, we always have a har­mo­nious pres­ence at events which protest against nuclear weapons and aus­ter­i­ty cuts. This year for the first time we are joy­ful­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Pride march in Edin­burgh in June. In Sep­tem­ber we will be coor­di­nat­ing a mass choir to sing at The Nae Nukes Any­where ral­ly at Faslane on 22nd Sep­tem­ber to put pres­sure on the UK Gov­ern­ment to sign the UN Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nuclear Weapons. We plan to run work­shops to increase aware­ness and par­tic­i­pa­tion and to organ­ise a singing event in Glas­gow in addi­tion to the Faslane ral­ly.

We will be singing Free­dom Songs for Nel­son Mandela’s 100th birth­day on Por­to­bel­lo Beach in July around a bon­fire. We are hop­ing that passers-by will join in singing songs that recall the strug­gle against Apartheid.

Over the past year two of our mem­bers made a 50-minute film, Our Voic­es Resound, about Protest in Har­mo­ny. Over the next year we plan to pub­li­cise the film as a way of let­ting more peo­ple know about the choir and the pos­si­bil­i­ties for get­ting involved.

Recent­ly we have sent video clips of the choir singing in sup­port of dif­fer­ent peo­ple and groups — e.g. Free Ahed Tami­ni and the Yoik on the Beach in advance of the Paris cli­mate change talks. We will con­tin­ue to send these mes­sages of sol­i­dar­i­ty to oth­ers around the world.

What has been the high­light of your or your group/organisation’s expe­ri­ence to date?

It is hard to pick just one of the many events, march­es and ral­lies in which we have par­tic­i­pat­ed since the begin­ning. Per­haps the Make Pover­ty His­to­ry march in 2005 rep­re­sents what we are all about:

In 2005 Protest in Har­mo­ny co-ordi­nat­ed massed singing on the Make Pover­ty His­to­ry march in Edin­burgh, when around 250,000 peo­ple demon­strat­ed against the poli­cies of the G8 gov­ern­ments, who were meet­ing in Gle­nea­gles.  PiH con­tact­ed 25+ com­mu­ni­ty choirs from across the UK and inter­na­tion­al­ly.  We devel­oped a joint reper­toire and organ­ised a mass rehearsal of the com­bined groups, totalling about 350+ singers, before singing on the march through the street of the cap­i­tal.  Again, many bystanders, as well as fel­low demon­stra­tors, joined in some of the singing.

A recent event encap­su­lates the pos­i­tive effect protest can have to make changes in the world:

PIH sang songs writ­ten by our own lead­ers in the UN house in Edin­burgh to cel­e­brate the Nobel Peace Prize being award­ed to ICAN, the cam­paign group who brought The Treaty on the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Nuclear Weapons to the Unit­ed Nations for sig­na­ture on the 7th July 2017.

These are two of the expres­sions of our polit­i­cal activism in which we have been involved. They will not be the last!

 How does it feel to be nom­i­nat­ed for this award?*

We have been some­what ambiva­lent about this.

Most of us are cau­tious about the com­pet­i­tive awards cul­ture as it doesn’t always sit eas­i­ly with our belief that singing is a uni­ver­sal, non-com­pet­i­tive and col­lec­tive activ­i­ty. How­ev­er, we would love to be able to bring protest singing to a wider audi­ence, and we realise that this award is pri­mar­i­ly about the pro­mo­tion of com­mu­ni­ty music in all its diverse forms.  There­fore we are delight­ed that this nom­i­na­tion recog­nis­es PiH’s part in build­ing protest singing in Scotland/Edinburgh.

We believe that being nom­i­nat­ed for this award has the poten­tial to remind peo­ple out­side of our “usu­al sus­pects” about the role of rad­i­cal music in bring­ing about change. Our song lead­ers have an enor­mous­ly broad knowl­edge of, and expe­ri­ence in, teach­ing tra­di­tion­al and mod­ern rad­i­cal songs from around the world. These inspire the choir and oth­ers who hear us to think about protest music and its con­tri­bu­tion to a bet­ter world.

We love that we can protest in four-part har­mo­ny about awful things; that the choir helps us find a voice about the issues we real­ly care about; that it brings beau­ty into the fight against injus­tice and oppres­sion, and that it brings non-vio­lent resis­tance into the heart of our lives. And we love that it can be enor­mous fun!

Protest in Har­mo­ny has helped many of us to redis­cov­er our voic­es.  It’s a source of joy to be able to take a stand along­side like-mind­ed peo­ple on the issues we care about in such a non-vio­lent, life-enhanc­ing and uplift­ing way.

We love to share this joy and com­mit­ment with oth­ers. Protest in Har­mo­ny has become a vital way for many of us to express our com­mit­ment to work­ing for change in the world and one that brings so much beau­ty in the face of despair and hard­ship.

What unites us is our belief in the mean­ing of the songs and our love of singing them togeth­er in har­mo­ny.  The sin­gu­lar pow­er of music gives shape, gives voice, gives life to our wider con­cerns.  What unites us is our con­vic­tion that the pow­er of music, our belief in the mean­ing of the songs and our love of singing them togeth­er in har­mo­ny may con­tribute to mak­ing change in the world. There is a bet­ter way!