Biography - War Work

Erik Chisholm in uniform with daughter Fiona

Early on in the War, the BBC commissioned The Adventures of Babar from Chisholm, for Narrator and orchestra. Chisholm wrote the script, which was a humorous, rhyming résumé of the first of the Babar books. He described the work as "introducing several French folk songs - if you like a cross between 'Peter and the Wolf' and 'Hary Janos'!" It was first performed by the BBC London (Symphony) Orchestra under Adrian Bolt.

After a marvellous orchestral imitation od air-raid sirens, enemy aircraft and a bomb dropping, the work continues with a musical pun on the name, using the tune of Ba-Ba Black Sheep.

But despite the commission, money was tight for the Chisholms, and Erik helped to make ends meet by doing work in the family painting firm. He was no doubt relieved when he was employed as a conductor with the Carl Rosa opera company and the Anglo-Polish Ballet, touring Britain and eventually Italy with the latter, for ENSA.

In 1945 ENSA sent him to India to form an orchestra in Bombay. It was a crucial turning point, for there he came into contact with Indian classical music, which had a profound effect upon him. He instinctively felt the connection between Eastern and Celtic music and his Night Song of the Bards is inspired by both, using the tuning for the Rág Sohani (which is performed between midnight and dawn) , to evoke Druidic calm as well as Hebridean Storm, as in the Allegro tempestuoso of the Second Bard.

The Bombay venture proved a failure as regards an orchestra, but Chisholm moved on to Singapore and there performed miracles of organisation and performance, giving lectures with gramophone records to the troops, and gathering an orchestra from many nationalities, finding music (with the help of Lord Mountbatten) and employing copyists to make sets of parts, and even organising the making of music cabinets.

The result was the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, which put on major works, including concertos, and performed to a remarkably high standard. Some of the musicians he met there came to Cape Town to work with him.

Programme for the Anglo-Polish Concert
Programme for the Anglo-Polish Ballet
The Travels of Babar