Remembering war with musical collaboration

Musicians from 40 locations worldwide formed a global orchestra to commemorate the First World War.

Three musicians in a poppy field

Images courtesy of Jane Barlow PA

Images courtesy of Jane Barlow PA

2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the First World War, also known as the Great War. Involving nations across the globe and more than 70 million military recruits, the four-year conflict remains one of the largest in history.

A dedication to peace

As a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the Great War, University of Aberdeen lecturer, Neil McLennan, led an initiative to create a new musical composition as a lasting form of remembrance. On remembering war, Neil said: “World War One was the supposed ‘war to end all wars’ but as conflicts continue to flare around the world, it’s important that we reflect on how we commemorate war and think about peace. Although two-minutes silences are important, I believe we should find more ways to ensure the Great War remains prominent in the public’s consciousness, even after another 100 years have passed.”

As part of the project, Scottish fiddler Thoren Ferguson was commissioned to compose a piece entitled Armistice. A dedication to peace, the composition was scored on the Wilfred Owen violin – an instrument endorsed by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Maxin Vengerov as “an envoy for peace and reconciliation through music.”

Once the composition was complete, Neil McLennan invited a community of musicians from around the world to form a global orchestra at 4pm Central European Time on Sunday 11 November 2018.

Three musicians with Nicola Sturgeon

Steve Burnett, Neil McLennan and Thoren Ferguson with First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon

Steve Burnett, Neil McLennan and Thoren Ferguson with First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon holding the Wilfred Owen violin
Five musicians in a poppy field
Five musicians holding up their instruments in a poppy field

International collaboration

Following significant interest from across the globe, technology was required which would allow many musicians to perform in unison without any time delays. In collaboration with Professor Paul Ferguson’s team at Edinburgh Napier University, Neil and Thoren used new technology called LOw LAtency (LOLA) audio and video streaming, which allowed the performers to interact online in real time for a fully synchronised musical collaboration.

The international orchestra - comprising George Watson’s College orchestra, violinists from Tynecastle High School and many soloists, ensembles and orchestras from countries including Albania, Belgium, China, Luxembourg, Kosovo, Italy, Turkey, Uganda, South Africa, the USA and the UK – performed Armistice at exactly 3pm GMT (4pm CET) on Remembrance Sunday, as a way of promoting international unity and encouraging discussion around conflict and remembrance.

Three musicians holding up their violins in a poppy field
“Music is the international language of all and I believe it’s one of the most powerful ways of encouraging cooperation, peace and reconciliation. Our #iPlay4Peace collaboration helped others to embrace their own interpretation of remembrance and I’m delighted that so many people came together to play in harmony and share the occasion.

I hope this initiative marks the start of a journey that ensures we never forget how the First World War shaped our past and allows us to better understand how it can shape our future.”
Neil McLennan


  • More than 40 countries took part in Play for Peace worldwide
  • Project initiated a global dialogue around attitudes towards remembrance, conflict and peace
  • Armistice has been transposed for many different instruments, creating ‘Champions of Peace’ around the world
  • A video was produced and released widely to mark the occasion and encourage a continued dialogue moving forward

Three musicians in a poppy field