But with a cautious smile, I realized that there are no laws against singing, and I found my voice becoming louder, in defiance of this war. In defiance of my right to be heard.
It all starts with a posting nailed to the door of the church. WWII is underway and all the men have reported for duty. But that won’t stop the ladies of Chilbury.
“All the men have gone,” I whispered back, aware of our voices carrying uncomfortably through the funeral crowd. “The Vicar says we can’t have a choir without men.”
Through the personal journal entries of Mrs. Tilling, a widowed nurse with a son at the front, and Kitty Winthrop, the youngest daughter of the wealthy Brigadier, and the letters of Edwina Paltry, an immoral, scheming midwife, and Venetia Winthrop, the flirtatious eldest daughter of the Brigadier, we see a gentler side of war. The women are left to cope in a village stripped of it’s men- their fathers, husbands and brothers. They experience a seismic shift in their daily life and with that they gain a newfound boldness.
I felt like clearing my throat and telling her that she was wrong, and before I knew it, I was saying out loud, “Maybe we’ve been told that women can’t do things so many times that we’ve actually started to believe it. In any case, the natural order of things has been temporarily changed because there are no men around.” I glanced around for inspiration.
Throwing convention to the wind, they reinstate the Chilbury Choir under a new name, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, with a renewed sense of purpose. In a time of uncertainty, these women band together and form a support system of the utmost importance.
The volume swelled with passion and deliberation as we poured our emotions into every darkened corner of the church. Every dusty cloister and crevice reverberated, reaching a crescendo in the final chorus, a vocal unison of thirteen villagers that cold, still night, pouring out our longings, our anxieties, our deepest fears.
Each narrative shines with the personality of the character that pens it and we begin to see to the heart of the village, which for some may be less than honorable. A crime, a bribe, and a potential Nazi spy add a bit of color to the events in Chilbury proving the saying that ‘it takes all sorts’. In tandem, new friendships and romances are forged, shining a bright light during a dark time.
“Music is about passion. It’s about humanity. We need to bring our own passions to our voices.” She wound her baton thoughtfully through the air. “We have to imbue every note, every word, with our own stories. Think of what our members can bring: Kitty’s exuberance, Silvie’s courage, Mrs. Quail’s joviality, Hattie’s gentleness, Mrs. Tilling’s diligence. Even you, Mrs. B., bring a gusto and verve to our singing. Every joy, every pain we are feeling from this war will be put to use in our music.”
When the reality of war comes to England, to the front doors of Chilbury, the women are forced to dig even deeper within themselves to ensure the safety of their homes. They lean heavily on each other where they find strength and courage.
And a new dread crept into our singing, as if we were singing for them, for everyone who had lost someone, or could. By the time we reached the powerful chords toward the end, we were almost crying with our song, louder, more raucous than before, until the final Amen, when we all stood together, firm in the power of our choir to face this war together.
All at once charming and sorrowful, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is an inspiring tale about strength of character and the fierce spirit of women.
Perhaps there is something good that has come from this war: everything has been turned around, all the unfairness made grimly plain. It has given us everyday women a voice— dared us to stand up for ourselves, and to stand up for others.
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A review copy of this title was provided by Crown Publishing via Netgalley.