Henry Nichols
Henry Nichols's remember through music

Gardens of Peace

Remembering goes to the core of The Western Front Association. So many members and so many people who approach The WFA are a son, grandson, or great-grandson, or a more distant relative with a family connection, or a connection through where they live, worship or visit. We are touched in different ways and so often driven to do something: to show the pain that we share for a life lost, or love for a life lived, whether they served and died, or served and survived.

A natural response is to research a soldier’s story, tell it, and visit the place they were buried or the places they are remembered. At other times, someone, or a group, will research all the names from a local memorial, or a Roll of Honour at their school, university or place of work. As well as books, as it suits the medium, there are websites too. The WFA learns about murals on buildings, ‘blue plaques’, poems written and in one instance, a quilt made by a group of women.

Micah Parsons wrote to The WFA with his story.

An undergraduate studying music at the time, Micah visited the final resting place of his great-grandfather Henry Nichols, who was killed on the Somme 11 March 1917. As well as the family connection there is a deeper, emotional tie as both Micah and Henry played in a brass band. From 1905 to 1909 Henry, a dairy farmer from Earlsdon, Coventry, played the cornet in the city’s Salvation Army Brass Band. It was a visit to Henry Nichol’s grave in 2015 that gave Micah the idea to commission a musical tribute to Henry and the men who served and died in the First World War for brass instruments. He spoke to his music professor Steven Mead, of the Royal Northern College of Music who in turn approached Philip Harper, the musical director of The Cory Band, who went on to compose ‘In the Gardens of Peace’.

‘In the Gardens of Peace’ includes a haunting solo for the euphonium that Micah played when the composition was premiered last month (December 2015) in a performance conducted by Stephen Cooper.

Composer Philip Harper said, "The work … is inspired by the unique aura that pervades burial grounds and cemeteries where he [Henry Nichols] and others now lie - the sense of peaceful tranquillity, but also tragedy and loss.”

Micah Parsons graduate last year with a first class degree in Music Performance. His tutor Steven Mead said of ‘Gardens of Peace’ that “Over the centuries musicians and composers have been inspired to write music based on historical events in history, some of them of a national significance, and some much more personal. I have been very moved by the tribute that euphonium player Micah Parsons has been organising for his late great grandfather Henry Nichols. Henry was a cornet player, a member of the brass band fraternity just as Micah is now.” Talking specifically about the composition Steven Mead said, “‘Gardens of Peace’” will be a lasting tribute to Henry Nichols, and its simple poignancy allows it to speak for so many other families who similarly treasure the memories of those long passed. The music is, of course, calm and reflective, but there is a nobility about it which overrides sentimentality so that in these Gardens of Peace there is an elegant beauty that endears a sense of pride that reflects the sacrifice so many made for our freedom.”

Micah Parsons at his great-grandfather's grave
Micah Parsons at his great-grandfather's grave

Talking about his visits to wave graves Micah Parsons evoked the feelings many of us have on such occasions: “As I knelt at Henry’s Grave I felt a unique sense of peace, a feeling I would grow accustomed too over the next five days as we visited various sites on the Somme Battlefields. Upon returning home, I spent quite a lot of time reflecting on the aura surrounding each and every Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and as a musician, this was a moment I wanted to capture and express though the form of music.”

“Since returning home from France, I had spent a lot of time in contact with the talented German Euphonium Player Wolfgang Weichselbaumer, a person I admire greatly. Since 2011 Wolfgang and I had formed a close friendship and we had formed a group entitled PaCo, which is short for the towns in which we live in Passau and Coventry. I had spent many hours discussing my trip to France, and my search for music and the idea formed to commission a new piece of music for Euphonium and Brass Band.”

“Brass Bands are a very English kind of music. I owe my musical development to Henry Nichols who was a cornet player in The Coventry Salvation Army Band and for a short while, I also had the privilege of being a part of this band with its long and proud history.

Both Wolfgang and I had one composer in mind, Philip Harper, who currently conducts the number one ranked brass band in the world, The Cory Band.

The premiere of ‘In Gardens of Peace’ was on 18th December 2015 with the City of Coventry Brass Band at the scenic Braunston Church. Like almost every church across Great Britain, they have their war memorial.

“ As I performed that eventing, Micah says, my thoughts were back with Henry, who 100 years ago would have been enjoying his final Christmas at home with his family.”

“‘Gardens of Peace’”, says conduct Philip Harper, “will be a lasting tribute to Henry Nichols, and its simple poignancy allows it to speak for so many other families who similarly treasure the memories of those long passed.”

Micah’s cherished hope is that a variety of organisations with connections to the First World War will include the music in their tributes.

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