New Zealand Woman’s Weekly


‘My tribute to Dame Vera Lynn’

- Ciara Pratt

It all started for me in 2015, the year of the Gallipoli 100-year commemorat­ions. Dame Malvina Major, who

I have worked with in the past, was invited to sing at Anzac Cove. So she wrote to Dame Vera Lynn for permission to sing her amazing songs and was given her blessing.

As Dame Vera has always said, ‘As long as someone is singing the songs, these songs will not be forgotten. Also will not be forgotten – the memory of those people who sacrificed their lives.’

I went up to Hamilton to help Dame Malvina pitch the songs into a key she could sing. But when I came back home, I thought how wonderful it is that she is doing that, but what is happening in Palmerston North? What could we do? So I approached the Globe Theatre and decided to put on a free show.

I have a background in social work, but I’ve been doing music since my twenties and went to university, earning a Bachelor of Music. Now I teach piano three times a week to people young and old.

I’ve always felt I had an associatio­n with these tunes through my mother who had Dame Vera’s sheet music and loved her. So it was in my

DNA, anyway! And five packed-out concerts later, I realised there was a real need for this music. That’s when I started doing tours around small towns in New Zealand.

It is such an honour to keep Dame Vera’s legacy going in this small way. After all, she was that well-known entertaini­ng face who did more than what was required of her during the war. She entertaine­d forces in the jungle and on the frontlines, and she was brave and humble. She would sing to 2000 men in the jungle on an old battered piano and her voice would carry. If boys were too sick to go to the concert, she would go to them, hold their hands and

sing to them. It takes someone special to do that! Every word she sung was so she could bring comfort to the boys and their families.

And after meeting her three times now, I can vouch that she is indeed an incredible woman. Dame Vera’s 101 and still completely with it – and she knows about my shows.

Now I’m very certain I never want this to be about me and I don’t impersonat­e Dame Vera in the shows. I feel that I’ve been given a tool and a gift to deliver her songs to people who it means the most to.

By doing what I’m doing, it encourages the audience to keep their legacies alive as well. It’s so important these stories keep getting told! We get people who are in their seventies coming along with their children and they share those stories together. I also get the audience singing, which is a really important part of it.

The show really is a book of memories and it’s all about the people in the room. I play Dame Vera’s music live, but interlude stories of her life and songs at relevant points.

During the interval, I invite the audience to share their memories in a book. I get all kinds of stories from people, from those rememberin­g their aunties baking cakes to send to the frontlines, and all their memories of listening to Dame Vera. There are stories about dangerous missions, people whose families were rounded up by the Nazis and one lady told me that all the songs remind her of her old boyfriends!

I feel I have a role where

I’m sort of the intermedia­ry between their memories and the music. You can see in the audience’s faces, they are miles away, back in time. It’s a very powerful position to be in to be able to do that for people.

During one show, there was a man in a wheelchair in the audience and he had two caregivers with him. The man was a dementia patient and his caregivers said he didn’t talk, but when the music began, his head came up and he sang every word to the songs and blew everyone away!

That’s the power of music. And that’s the magic of what I do, which is why I’ll continue performing these shows to keep these stories alive before time runs out.”

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 ??  ?? Two great dames! With Malvina (left) and Vera (below), who Vicki Lee has met three times.
Vicki ‘s background is in social work but she
also teaches piano.
Two great dames! With Malvina (left) and Vera (below), who Vicki Lee has met three times. Vicki ‘s background is in social work but she also teaches piano.

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