The Fire and the Hammer
Interested in performing The Fire and the Hammer? Find out about joining the FGC Choir.
Overview of The Fire and the Hammer
The piece includes extensive readings from The Journal of George Fox and a letter he wrote to Margaret Fell while in prison. These excerpts provide a vivid first-person experience of Fox speaking directly to the audience. The composers wrote songs based on the readings. Some convey the turmoil of Fox’s own spiritual journey that eventually led him to take a leading role in the new Quaker movement. Others deal with Fox’s prophetic vision on Pendle Hill, the persecution meted out against Friends, and the travels of women and men carrying forth the message of the new movement across England. Some are hauntingly beautiful.
Read more about:
The Historical Setting of the Piece
John Sheldon, Choral Director
Peter Blood-Patterson, Choir Coordinator
2011 Performance at NEYM Annual Sessions
How did The Fire and the Hammer come to be performed at the Gathering?
The first generation of Friends burst forth in England in the time of the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy in the middle of the 17th century. The faith and courage of early Friends shook England to its very core. Thousands of Friends (men, women, and even children) were imprisoned for their faith and hundreds lost their lives as a result.
Tony Biggin and Alec Davison, composers of The Fire and the Hammer, were effectively the founders of the Leaveners. They have collaborated in writing several other major choral works that have been performed by British Friends over the years, often at Britain Yearly Meeting residential sessions. One such work, The Gates of Greenham (on the 1970s nonviolent women’s peace encampment at Greenham Common, the site of a US cruise missile base) was performed at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1985. Tony Biggin was so convinced of the importance of this piece that the hall was booked long before the piece was even finished. It ended up being performed to a sold out audience, the largest gathering of British Friends in the twentieth century.
The Fire and the Hammer has been performed extensively among British Friends. It was also performed on a 2002 U.S. tour by English students from Leighton Park Friends School.
English Quakers have an arts fellowship called The Leaveners. This was founded in 1978 originallyas a traveling dramatic performing troupe of Young Friends. Their mission is to “welcome anyone whether a Friend or not to experience the power of the creative spirit to release energy, vision and a commitment. Through the use of participatory art, especially music and drama, we aim to give expression to contemporary Quaker values and faith and to raise awareness of issues of social injustice, non-violence and spirituality.”
The Leaveners attract the support of a large number of British Friends, including actors such as Judi Dench and Ben Kingsley who are patrons of the organization.
John Sheldon, a choral director and member of Warwick (England) Meeting, has been an active member of the Leaveners from their earliest days. John has frequently led weekend workshops for the Leaveners at Woodbrooke and elsewhere. He has also led choral workshops at the FGC Gathering on several occasions. John edited the songbook Sing in the Spirit for the Leaveners.
Peter Blood-Patterson (Mt Toby Meeting, NEYM) is co-creator of Rise Up Singing, and a member of the Music Selection Working Group for the Quaker hymnal, Worship in Song. Peter coordinated the performance of The Fire and the Hammer at NEYM in 2011.
It had been a long-term dream of John Sheldon and Peter Blood-Patterson to bring The Fire and the Hammer to a broader audience among North American Friends with a volunteer Quaker choir similar to those that have put on performances of Tony and Alec’s works at Britain Yearly Meeting gatherings. This dream finally came to fruition at New England YM 350th annual sessions held last August. A choir of over 30 NEYM Friends was rehearsed by John. Excerpts were performed as part of a special 350th anniversary celebration at the Great Meetinghouse in Newport RI where NEYM sessions were held for many generations. The full performance at sessions was received enthusiastically by NEYM Friends and earned a lengthy standing ovation. The role of George Fox was sung by Mark Conley, a professional tenor and music professor at the University of Rhode Island, who is also clerk of Providence (RI) Meeting. Mark will be singing the part of George Fox again at the FGC Gathering.
At the end of the performance at NEYM, Friends taking part in the choir there felt a strong leading to bring this same musical performance to the FGC Gathering in Rhode Island the following summer. The planning committee for this Gathering enthusiastically embraced this idea.
Many members of 2011 NEYM choir will be joining the 2012 FGC Gathering Choir . The choir is also open to Friends from around the country who have the ability to learn four-part choral works relatively quickly. John Sheldon will be traveling to the US again to rehearse and direct our choir. Mark Conley will also be again joining us to perform George Fox’s role.
Interested in performing The Fire and The Hammer? Find out about joining the FGC Choir.