The Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ under the baton of Sir Dr Peter Low enchants Singapore’s diplomatic community in a jubilant celebration of peace during the Choir’s milestone 50th annual Christmas concert

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (front row, centre) with (from left), Archbishop Marek Zalewski, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong and Mrs Tong, Mrs Ivy Ng, Dr Peter Low and his wife, Linda with ambassadors at the concert on 3rd Dec 2023

THE resplendent Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Queen Street resonated with the angelic voices of the Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ on 3rd December 2023. The ensemble marked its 50th annual diplomatic Christmas concert which was attended by 40 heads of mission in Singapore, a distinguished audience comprising ministers, ambassadors, high commissioners, defence attaches, and the Apostolic Nuncio, representing the Pope.

The guest of honour, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, was the first to light up the Tree of Peace with the founder director of the choir, Sir Dr Peter Low (see following interview below), and his wife, Linda. The heads of foreign delegations next followed in the ceremony, placing ornaments adorned with their respective countries’ flags on the symbolic Tree of Peace.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Mr Edwin Tong and Archbishop Marek Zalewski, the Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore, contributed to the symbolic gesture by placing ornaments featuring the flags of Singapore and Vatican City on the tree.
The audience was treated to a delightful repertoire featuring 23 sacred, classical, pop, and international songs of peace, sung in a harmonious blend of English, Latin, French, German, and Swahili. The concert culminated in a majestic performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

The 78-member strong Cathedral Choir of the Risen Christ, led by Sir Dr Peter Low, was established in 1970, presenting its inaugural Christmas concert in 1973. The choir directed the proceeds from ticket sales of its golden jubilee concert towards the Assisi Hospice.

Interview with Sir Dr Peter Low

IN Diplomacy had the privilege of an interview with Sir Dr Peter Low who provided some background on the Diplomatic Christmas Choir Concert as well as shared his thoughts and feelings about the concert that night

Please share how the tradition of the annual Diplomatic Christmas Choir came about and how it has grown over the years?
It came about by accident and gradually. The Choir presented a Programme of Christmas carols under the title of ‘Yule tidings’. From the start the concerts surprisingly drew a full house of about 800 people (capacity of the Church of the Risen Christ). Gradually, some ‘VIPS’ including members of the diplomatic corps featured among the audience, like Yuksel Soylemez, (Turkey) Francisco Benedicto (Philippines) , and local luminaries like Dr. Lee Suan Yew became regular fans. The number of Ambassadors and High Commissioners gradually increased over the year. In 2002, the Choir was installed at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd as the choir in residence and changed the name of the concert to ‘International Diplomatic Christmas Concert’ as it had by then garnered a following of members of the diplomatic  corps. The papal nuncio took the bold step of co-hosting the series beginning in 1986 and has been the co-host ever since.

On Sunday night more than 40 embassies attended the performance; the heads of missions and representatives consisted of different faiths who all came together to listen to the Choir. Do you feel this year stands out because everyone feels there is now a greater need than ever to spread the message of peace?
Again, the awareness of a meaningful repertoire was gradual . The main themes of Christmas are ‘LOVE’, ‘PEACE ‘ & ‘JOY’. During one particular concert, I witnessed the High Commissioners for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri  Lanka praying in their own fashion when the audience stood for the short bidding prayers at the end of the concert led by the papal Nuncio. That was something very inspiring indeed. This year the call to pray for peace is more urgent – given the present political climate – which has prompted Pope Francis to issue the call for peace – to settle not by force of arms.

What influenced your choice of music and were there any that you had a special story or reason behind choosing them?
Instead of the usual medley of carols to honour each country represented, I decided to dedicate the whole of the second half of the concert to recall the world as it was before men made a mess of it through war and selfish exploitation. And then, a world restored to its original beauty – the ‘what was’ and ‘what can be’. 

The compositions ‘The Heavens Are Telling’  by Haydn and ‘Sheep May Safely Grace’ by Bach portray the world as it was. Man’s destructive activities have reduced it to the mess we witness today ‘From a distance’. The answer is for man to learn to care and to share ‘The Long and Winding Road’ and ‘You Raise Me Up’. These sound rather simplistic – but for those who believe – they are the essence of justice, real love and compassion. We have come a long way. Witness the power of AHIMSA which Martin Luther learnt from Gandhi. Witness the presence of women in government. That is why the participation of the audience could be heard in ‘You Raise Me Up’ could be heard over the singing of the choir.

Reflecting on the performance what did you think went especially well for the audience and the Choir? For yourself what were the most positive moments?
The participation of the people

In the English version of Silent Night. I noticed the participation of many for whom English is not their native tongue and for whom Christianity is not their religion. You must have noticed the silence that prevailed during the final scene of the nativity when the Choir knelt is silence – then the applause.

Since the search for peace is such an important and relevant message for today do you think the organisation of the next event would benefit in being held in a larger venue or streamed or televised live/delayed broadcast etc?
No. The series of Concert began in a church setting. It will remain there. It is not a show but a prayer and must be held in a place for prayer where God is present. It must not go the way of ‘Blackpink’ shows. God does attract hearts that are open to his message of Peace, Love And Joy.