Singing a Song of Survival

Singing a Song of Survival


Our Autumn Rhapsody concerts on November 19 & 20 highlight a wonderful New York collaboration and an even more fascinating backstory. The program includes our version of an all-female Largo from Dvořák’s New World Symphony.  Melodia is performing and videotaping it in conjunction with the New York Philharmonic’s 175th New World Initiative.

The Philharmonic is celebrating its 175th year by connecting with select members of the music community in New York City.  Largo from Dvořák’s New World Symphony was premiered by the NY Philharmonic in 1893. As a way of recognizing the breadth of music-making in New York today, selected groups were asked to participate by posting an online a recording of their performance of Largo.

Melodia responded to the invitation with verve!  We had a unique perspective to bring to the New World Initiative.

Largo is onsong-of-survival2e of pieces that became part of a historic collection created by Margaret Dryburgh and Nora Chambers. The two were imprisoned in an internment camp in Sumatra in the East Indies during the Second World War, along with hundreds of other women. Held together in horrific conditions, the women prisoners raised their spirits by performing songs in a “vocal orchestra.”  Known as their “songs of survival,” the music became a means of reinforcing their sense of dignity and determination to survive.  Largo was performed by 30 singers of the vocal orchestra in the camp.

After the prisoners were released in September 1945, surviving vocal orchestra members scattered, and the scores were largely forgotten. But, fortunately, one of the surviving singers donated her manuscripts to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California in 1982.  This act eventually led to their publication by Universal Songs Holland in 1986. Read more about the “vocal orchestra” and “songs of survival” here.

Melodia is presenting our choral version of Largo for the Philharmonic 175 as a tribute to the women who sang to survive displacement and imprisonment in 1942 and to those who sing to create a better world everywhere.  Our performance will be posted on a special website created by the Philharmonic for Largo interpretations by invited New York musicians. See Melodia’s New World Initiative Artists Page.

In addition to Largo, our Autumn Rhapsody concerts include a unique selection of other wonderful repertoire, ranging from Vivaldi’s Magnificat – a classical favorite performed in the way it was originally composed – to two U.S. premieres of new work.

Autumn Rhapsody concert Details:autumn-rhapsody-card2

Saturday, November 19 at 7:30 PM, Holy Apostles Church, 296 9th Ave at 28th St., NYC

Sunday, November 20 at 3:00 PM, West End Collegiate Church, 245 West 77th St. at West End Ave, NYC

Tickets & information here.

2017-03-31T20:56:29-05:00October 26th, 2016|


  1. […] Among the highlights was a vocal arrangement of Largo from Dvořák’s New World Symphony, presented as part of the New York Philharmonic’s 175th Anniversary New World Initiative. Our Largo arrangement was created in 1944 by two women, Margaret Dryburgh and Norah Chambers, who were then prisoners in a Japanese internment camp in Sumatra. Held with other women in horrendous conditions, the composers arranged classical orchestral music from memory for a vocal orchestra of women, who sang it as their song of survival. […]

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