Screen shot from Hand of Hope video
Alexander McCall Smith says: ‘In verse one, I acknowledge the unexpected challenge that the coronavirus issued'

Famous writer pens lyrics for COVID-19 fundraising song

The new release recognises public solidarity and resilience and is a thank you to key workers as well as scientists looking for a solution...

A new song, with lyrics penned by well-known author Alexander McCall Smith and performed by award-winning choir Tenebrae, has been released in support of Oxford University’s COVID-19 research fund.

Hand of Hope and its accompanying video mark the progressive easing of lockdown, while commemorating the lives of those lost to COVID-19.

It is also a thank you to key workers as well as the scientists who continue tirelessly to look for a solution to the crisis.

Creators of the fundraising initiative, Piers Schmidt and Nigel Short, are two friends with a shared background in choral music spanning 35 years, who became inspired by public acts of solidarity and resilience during quarantine.

They were also impressed with Oxford University’s response to the crisis and progress in trying to find a vaccine. Piers explains: ‘On 12 April, I read a poem by Alexander McCall Smith in The Sunday Times and was struck immediately by its message.

‘It perfectly captured the noble vocation of those who care for the sick: skill and courage partnered with empathy and humility.

‘It inspired me to ask the author to write new words set to a well-known and popular melody and I was delighted when Alexander agreed to collaborate with us on the project.’ 

Screen shot from Hand of Hope videoThe project is also a thank you to the key workers who continue tirelessly on our behalf every day

Writer McCall Smith, widely known as the creator of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, also has two daughters who are doctors working within the NHS.

The moving text of his poem has been set to Gustav Holst’s stirring tune Thaxted.

McCall Smith says: ‘In verse one, I acknowledge the unexpected challenge that the coronavirus issued. In the second verse, I wanted to salute the carers that ‘never left our side’ and express our gratitude for the solidarity and compassion that has come to the surface in these trying times. In the final verse, I look forward to a “future victory” when hopefully a vaccine will bring the awful disease back under our control.’

Between verses two and three, McCall Smith penned four additional lines – an in memoriam for the many we have lost. This reflective interlude is sung a capella in a section of eight-part harmony composed by award-winning conductor Nigel Short, the founder and artistic director of chamber choir Tenebrae.

Performed in lockdown

Tenebrae has performed Hand of Hope in a lockdown recording featuring young South African soprano Vuvu Mpofu.

Nigel explains: ‘The 19 singers of Tenebrae put down their individual vocal lines, which were recorded remotely during full lockdown and then mixed with the organ track.’

The solo second verse is sung by Vuvu Mpofu, the 2019 recipient of Glyndebourne’s prestigious John Christie Award, who recorded her contribution in her home city of Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Vuvu added: ‘This is an opportunity I shall always cherish. Like so many throughout this crisis I have found that sometimes I can face the world with great strength and moments later I am hanging on by a thread, but what I have always had is hope.

‘At the moment, it feels brave to consider the future but it is what we must do, all of us together, wherever we may be and wherever we may be from. We stand together with hope in our hearts, working towards and hoping for a brighter future.’

Tenebrae and Vuvu Mpofu will re-record the anthem professionally when UK Government guidelines allow, after which a final version of Hand of Hope will be released as a track for download.

You can watch the lockdown video and recording here

Helen McShane, Professor of Vaccinology, said: 'The Hand of Hope team has made an incredibly moving and fitting tribute to the frontline medical staff working to save lives and the scientists who are working around the clock to understand COVID-19 and find equitable solutions. There is still much more to be done and we are honoured that the anthem, with its beautiful lyrics and accompanying video, is raising funds to support Oxford’s ground-breaking research.’

More than 150 of Oxford’s senior scientists have diverted their efforts towards facing this crisis and driving forward research across a number of key areas including drug development, immune response and antibodies as well as the vaccine itself.

100% of all proceeds from Hand of Hope (donations and monies raised from downloads) will be used by the University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division to fast track this world-class research into understanding and developing tools to treat COVID-19.