Women's Choir Malle Babbe and the music: Song of Survival

Women's Choir Malle Babbe got a reputation,among other things,by the music Song of Survival. This is music which has its origin in World War II in a Japanese prisoner's camp on Sumatra. On odd bits of paper Norah Chambers and Margaret Dryburgh, two very musical women, noted down by heart, music which originally was composed for orchestra. They wrote down four-voice arrangements.

In the end the repertoire consisted of thirty pieces of music. The women used their voices as an instrument and so together they formed the" vocal orchestra". There were thirty members in the choir, Dutch, British and Australian women. September 27th 1943 the vocal orchestra gave its first concert after which many concerts followed.

After the liberation the survivors of the orchestra scattered all over the world. The scraps of papers on which the music was written have been saved and given into custody to Stanford University in California.

One of the survivors of the camp, Helen Colijn, wrote a book about her camp experiences and the vocal orchestra, called:

Song of Survival
How to survive in a women's prisoners'camp

By this book the music got alive again and turned up with Women's Choir Malle Babbe, which resulted in a first concert October 25th 1989. During this concert Helen Colijn read out from her book. On request of Helen Colijn, Women's Choir Malle Babbe recorded the vocal orchestra on a CD in April 1995 called: Song of Survival. The CD and the history behind it got, and still gets, a lot of attention from all over the world.


The Australian director, Bruce Beresfort, used the theme of Helen Colijn's book in 1996 for his film Paradise Road. Leny van Schaik,conductor of Women's Choir Malle Babbe,was active as a musical director at the making of the film - The CD Song of Survival is used as a soundtrack for the film.

The contribution of Malle Babbe to the film produced a lot of reactions in papers and magazines and on radio and television. Still Malle Babbe is invited to sing Song of Survival at memorial services and with every concert Malle Babbe gives there is a piece of Song of Survival on the program.

Nederlandse Versie


Leny van Schaik and Helen Colijn