A choir of 25 local female singers has been formed to perform live as part of a new sound artwork by Irish artist Teresa Dillon in the cinema space at Leicester’s Phoenix Art Centre.
The piece – called Canary Songs – combines a choral performance with a specially composed soundtrack to recreate the sounds and atmosphere of an East Midlands World War One Shelling Factory. Performances will take place at Phoenix on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th April and tickets cost £5.
The title of the piece comes from the term ‘Canary Girls’, a name given to female workers in these factories as their skin and hair would turn yellow and ginger from exposure to the chemicals in the explosives.
As they undertook this hazardous work, the women often sang together to keep up morale and add rhythm to their repetitive labour. Combined with the size of the factory, the mechanical noises of the machinery and number of people working in the space, this created a unique and intense environment, which Canary Songs re-imagines.
The piece focuses on the Chilwell Shelling Factory near Beeston in Nottinghamshire, which was the largest munitions factory in the UK, providing almost 60% of the UK shells used during the war. Within the factory the enormous ‘Great Store’, which covered between seven and nine acres, has been acoustically mapped to form the main soundtrack, over which the choir will sing.
In 1918 a massive explosion at the factory killed 132 people (some accounts say 140), 25 of whom were women. Reflecting this tragedy, the choir will be made up of 25 volunteer non-professional singers, recruited from Leicester and Leicestershire.
There will be three performances of Canary Songs at Phoenix: Two on Saturday 23 April at 4pm and 7pm, and one on Sunday 24 April at 4pm. The piece lasts approximately 45 minutes and tickets are £5.
Canary Songs has been commissioned by Phoenix to commemorate of the ongoing centenary of the First World War. Artist Teresa Dillon has worked with a team of collaborators including choir leader Lyndsey Cockwell, costume designer Mia Morikawa and sound engineer Zora Schärer Kalkandjiev to create the piece.