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Paradise Road

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#1 Walt's Daughter

Walt's Daughter

    Otherwise known as "M1"

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 12:41 PM

Two thumbs up for PARADISE ROAD, which Lee and I finally watched thanks to a friend of ours who knows how much we love WWII movies.

One of the most inspiring moments of this true-life tale is how the women form a choir. It's just remarkable and you can read more about it below.

Here's a link related to the movie:

Here's the book Helen Colijn wrote


'Paradise Road' camp prisoners recall the music of survival

By Rod Dreher
Sun-Sentinel, South Florida - (KRT)

They had nothing but suffering, these women, held captive in a Japanese prison camp in Southeast Asia during World War II. They were separated from their parents and husbands, abused by brutal guards, starving, filthy, diseased, with no end to their misery in sight.

But on Christmas 1943, they had music.

Thanks to two prisoners - one a society matron who had been trained at London's Royal Academy of Music, the other a Presbyterian missionary - they had Dvorak, they had Mendelssohn, they had Chopin, Debussy, Brahms. Norah Chambers, the musician, and Margaret Dryburgh, the missionary, transcribed the pieces from memory and taught a choir of English, Dutch and Australian women prisoners to sing the instrumental parts.

Helen Colijn, 76, survived the camps; in her 1995 memoir, ''Song of Survival,'' she describes hearing the first measures of the ''Largo'' from Dvorak's ''New World Symphony,'' the concert's opening song.

''I felt a shiver go down my back. I thought I had never heard anything so beautiful before. The music didn't sound like a women's chorus singing songs. It didn't sound precisely like an orchestra either, although it was close. I could imagine I heard violins and an English horn. The music sounded ethereal, totally unreal in our sordid surroundings.''

The music conveyed beauty, dignity and order in a world of ugliness, ignominy and chaos. Decades later, camp inmate and vocal orchestra member Betty Jeffrey wrote Colijn from her home in Australia to say, ''When I sang that vocal orchestra music, I forgot I was in the camp. I felt free.''

The story of that music and its miraculous provenance forms the basis of ''Paradise Road,'' a new film from writer-director Bruce Beresford. Glenn Close plays Chambers, named Adrienne Pargiter in the film, and Pauline Collins portrays Dryburgh, called Margaret Drummond. Beresford's fictionalized adaptation is based on interviews and recollections with Colijn and other survivors.

Beresford says his interest in the project developed five years ago, when he heard an Australian choir perform a few of the songs done in the prison camp. ''The music was so complicated and unusual I decided I would see where it came about,'' he said.

The Australian director, best known for ''Breaker Morant'' and the Oscar-winning ''Driving Miss Daisy,'' painstakingly researched the Sumatran internment camps where Chambers, Dryburgh, Colijn and others were held. He traveled to England, Holland, Australian and the United States interviewing former inmates and building a dossier.

''I was talking to a real bunch of survivors,'' he remembers. ''They were all old, sort of late '70s and early '80s. A resourceful and intelligent group of people. Very articulate - Helen is quite typical - with a marvelous sense of propriety. That's that older generation, my mother's generation. They were rather a classy bunch.''

In a phone interview from her home in northern California, Colijn explains that the internees kept up the habits of civilization as best they could, to maintain their dignity. The women were the wives and daughters of British, Dutch and Australian colonialists, and generally came from cultivated, educated backgrounds. To stay sane, they observed polite manners, held tea parties with their meager rations, mended and pressed their ragged clothing - and performed concerts.

''It gave them a reason to live, really,'' says Beresford. ''A major reason that the choir was formed was to build their morale, because the women who had the idea for the choir realized that the others were fading away, losing the will to live. Rehearsing alone took up so much time and kept their minds occupied. By the time of their liberation, the choir had 30 pieces in their repertoire.

''They only sang for about a year and a half, and then they didn't have the strength. One of them said to me that if the war had gone on another four months, none of them would have been alive.''

The film shows the cruel Japanese guards responding with gladdened hearts to the women's music. In one scene, camp officers come to a second concert, sit on chairs at the front, and applaud the performance. Despite this favorable reaction, Colijn reports that they weren't treated any better as a result. Still, she doesn't bear any anger or ill feeling toward the Japanese.

''I never had this tremendous hatred for the Japanese, because I felt that it was because of the absurdity of war that we were doing these things to each other,'' she says.

Beresford said this attitude was common among the women he interviewed. ''The Japanese who had behaved badly toward them they took as the bad acts of an individual. They didn't blame the Japanese race. I found that interesting because I had a lot of uncles who fought the Japanese, and they hated them.''

After their liberation, the women dispersed. Colijn and her two sisters, Antoinette and Alette, reunited with their mother (their father died in the camps), and moved to the United States.

In 1980, Antoinette Colijn found a handwritten copy of her vocal scores from the camp days, and donated them to Stanford University. A music archivist there was impressed and suggested a recording. With Helen's participation, a Bay Area woman's chorus learned the music and gave a concert in 1982.

Helen Colijn began working with a documentary crew on a film project about the vocal orchestra, which was broadcast on public television in 1986. Two years ago, Colijn published ''Song of Survival'' (White Cloud Press), her account of the camps and the orchestra. She had begun writing it in the 1940s, but only resumed in 1980, after her sister rediscovered the scores.

Malle Babbe, a Dutch women's choir from Haarlem, recorded the music in 1995; their recording, available on the Sony Classics label, can be heard in ''Paradise Road.''

Colijn isn't a large presence in the film. Beresford created a little-seen Dutch girl named Helen, who can be heard at the moment of liberation saying ''Ik kan het niet geloofen (I cannot believe this).''

She praises the film for its accuracy, but wishes Beresford had focused less on the ensemble drama and more on the music. In any case, she's thrilled that she has lived long enough to see her story - their story - as a major motion picture.

''Now that this film is made,'' Colijn says, ''this tiny little effort in a camp in Sumatra will be known all over the world.''

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon

There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Marion Chard