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Project information

D-Day 75: A Musical Documentary

An intergenerational music project involving D-Day veterans, young people, amateur and professional musicians. By capturing eyewitness accounts of the D-Day landings, a WWII turning point, we will create and premiere a new piece of music with local schools for a commemorative concert in June 2019.

October 2018 - June 2019

Charity information: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra logo
  • Need


    75 years on, the last surviving D-Day veterans from this vital landmark in modern history are now in their 90s. We urgently need to capture their memories and stories for posterity before these are lost for good. In addition, as time goes on, new generations understand less of WWII and its lessons. It is important to create awareness among young people of what veterans did 75 years ago, so that they can make informed decisions in the future.


    Bringing together composer James Olsen, 3 D-Day veterans, 100 schoolchildren as a massed choir, amateur and BSO musicians for a collaborative musical performance next June. The children will learn about the Normandy Landings by interviewing veterans, and unleash their creativity producing musical ideas. Working with BSO musicians, James will capture these conversations for posterity and use them in a new musical commission, raising awareness of WWII among children in participating schools.

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    Capture the ‘living history’ of D-Day veterans’ memories as a resource for future generations


    » James and schoolchildren meet and interview three D-Day veterans (2 men, 1 woman) to capture their unique viewpoints, memories and stories
    » Inspired by these conversations, compose a c25 minute choral work for concert band, massed school choir and narrator, embracing all ages/abilities

    What success will look like

    Success will be capturing the memories and stories of D-Day veterans through conversations with schoolchildren, and presenting these musically.

    Aim 2

    Stage a commemorative concert in Portsmouth in June 2019


    » Coaching sessions for teachers of participating schools, to equip them to teach the new piece to their choirs
    » 2 mentoring visits by James to each school during the rehearsal process followed by a joint rehearsal in Portsmouth for all participating schools
    » Professional coaching and 2 specialist workshops for amateur musicians (members of the BSO ‘Rusty musicians’ group) taking part in the project
    » Concert in Portsmouth in June 2019 involving military band, massed school choirs, community musicians, veterans, and BSO musicians

    What success will look like

    Creating and performing the premiere of a new piece of music as part of a high-quality concert involving more than 70 amateur musicians and a 100-strong choir.

    Aim 3

    Document the composition process as a learning resource for participants and aspiring composers


    » Project updates on James Olsen’s YouTube channel and vlog, plus regular updates on social media, shared by the BSO
    » Regular tips from James on the nuts and bolts of the composition process, to inspire and teach others to compose their own music
    » Additional content documenting wider conversations between James, the children, and veterans, recording the stories behind the composition

    What success will look like

    Success is creating a suite of online resources capturing the oral history of the veterans, and the project’s musical journey.

  • Impact


    The project will capture for posterity accounts from the last surviving D-Day veterans, raise awareness of WWII among local young people, strengthen the BSO’s strategic relationship with Portsmouth Council, and inspire amateur musicians, children, and composers to pursue their musical journey. The production of online resources and a high-quality score capturing veterans’ stories will demonstrate success, alongside feedback collected from the schoolchildren and amateur musicians at project end.


    1. We may struggle to recruit 100 children for the choir; however, our contacts in Portsmouth Council and Music Education Hub will help with recruitment.
    2. Sadly, 1 or more of the participating veterans may pass away before June 2019; so we have already begun capturing their stories for inclusion.
    3. Amateur musicians vary in standard, and may affect the concert’s quality; James will write parts with inclusivity in mind, and coaching from BSO musicians at rehearsals should mitigate this risk.


    Big Give donors will receive an end-of-project report featuring pictures and quotes from participants, and James will create an exclusive online update and thank you on his YouTube channel. We will also invite donors who give £250 or more to the concert to meet James, musicians, and the veterans.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £33,004

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      Amount Heading Description
      £3,118 Workshops At schools and Royal Alfred Seafarers' Society
      £16,789 Composition & materials Composition and printing of instrumental parts and vocal scores, production of rehearsal CDs
      £397 Rehearsal (1) Choir rehearsal
      £2,517 Rehearsal (2) Full massed ensemble
      £4,077 Concert costs Including venue hire, porterage, marketing and programmes
      £5,406 Project management Covering the time of Ben Jennings, BSO Participate Programme Manager
      £700 Contingency Contingency is modest but will cover unexpected cost increases e.g. in porterage or marketing

    Current Funding / Pledges

    Source Amount
    Geoffrey Haskins £2,000 Guaranteed
    Portsmouth City Council £8,000 Guaranteed
    James Olsen £5,000 Guaranteed
  • Background


    In June 1944, over 156,000 Allied troops departed from the Hampshire and Dorset coasts to invade Nazi-occupied Europe; Portsmouth’s naval base played a vital role in D-Day. Although located in a wealthy region, today Portsmouth has pockets of deprivation that are amongst the worst in the UK, fuelled by declining jobs in traditional shipbuilding/dockyard industries. Our project will bring together diverse local communities to commemorate and feel pride in the city’s rich heritage through music.


    The veterans will benefit from knowing that their memories are recorded for posterity, and from working with musicians and children. The children will have a unique opportunity to meet veterans, help to shape and perform a new musical composition, learning about history and acquiring musical skills in the process. Amateur musicians will rehearse and perform alongside BSO musicians in the premiere of a new work, while the wider community will come together to celebrate history at the concert.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    As the orchestra of the South and South West, the BSO works across vast swathes of the coastline from which D-Day was launched. We have a proven track record of running collaborative music projects, working with composers to commission new music, and organising ‘massed ensemble’ concerts with amateur musicians and children, e.g. at the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. We have close links with Portsmouth Council via our regular concert series and bespoke Schools’ Concerts at Portsmouth Guildhall.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    James Olsen

    An experienced, imaginative composer and filmmaker who creates compositions and resources for children and musicians of mixed abilities.

    Ben Jennings

    BSO Participate Programme Manager, highly experienced in delivering massed ensemble and community music-making initiatives.

    Geoffrey Haskins

    A veteran (and project donor) who will share his memories of D-Day. In 1944, he collected the D-Day orders for his ship from HMS Belfast.

    Claire Looney

    Partnership & Commissioning Manager at Portsmouth City Council, Claire will help us to involve local schools and other stakeholders.