Opera North to release people’s lullabies for world opera day
Opera North is set to release a series of ‘People’s Lullabies’, featuring participants in its Community Partnerships Scheme, in the form of short films to mark this Friday’s inaugural World Opera Day.
Seeking to open up its performances to people who have barriers that might prevent them from experiencing them, the Leeds-based company currently engages with more than 100 community groups and organisations. Every year, six Community Partners are selected to receive exclusive offers and opportunities to host taster workshops and performances in their own venues.
Each of the five People’s Lullabies is performed by a person who engages with one of Opera North’s current Community Partners in Leeds, Bradford and the surrounding area, including refugee support groups, a bail and probation hostel, a charity supporting vulnerable people, and a day centre for BAME elders.
The process began with workshops at each of the organisations, run by Leeds-based South African singer Thandanani Gumede and pianist, arranger and educator Dave Evans, who performed some of their own music and encouraged everyone who attended to share their favourite songs.
Each song was chosen by the singer for its significance to them, and each performance was filmed at a charity’s premises, or a place of special relevance. A common thread running through all of the films is the power of music to recall distant places, times and loved ones. It’s a theme that resonates with the aim of World Opera Day to celebrate the positive impact and value of music for society, in developing tolerance and understanding, opening minds and connecting people with universal emotions. The five films will be posted on the Company’s website and Youtube channel on Friday 25 October.
Mary, who attends the Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ Conversation Club, was filmed singing a traditional Nigerian song at the charity’s base in historic Mill Hill Chapel, central Leeds. “They understand the needs of refugees and asylum seekers and they help with transportation, employment, medical needs, everything”, Mary says. “You come in, you interact with people, you make friends and if you’re thinking your problem is severe, you talk to other people and you think, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one’.
“When I sing this song it takes me straight back to Auntie Martha. She was more of a nurturing person than my own mother. She was the person we would look up to, and sometimes we would call her ‘Mama’. She was a bubbly woman, and when she sang this song you’d see her moving, moving – even if she was doing something in the kitchen! You would hear her singing, you would see her giggling, and you would call ‘Mama’ and she would come to you.”
Dalton, a former resident of Ripon House Bail and Probation Hostel, sings two Dutch children’s songs that he learned from his mother, who also passed on her love of books, having worked as a head librarian in her native Holland. “I sometimes sang to myself in my cell”, Dalton says, “and I thought to myself, this can get me through anything, just like when she sang to me when I was poorly.
“When my mother was near death I was allowed to talk to her on the phone. Not seeing her, I didn’t know how ill she was, and I said, ‘I’m going to sing you a song because you’re poorly now’, and she laughed. That was the second to last phone call I had with her before I was told that she was gone.”
Dalton explains that he chose Leeds Central Library as the setting for his Lullabies because “when I got out, I came straight down here and joined, and I’ve been coming here pretty much every day since. So in a way that’s her legacy, that’s part of me now, and hopefully you, because you’re listening.”
Thomas, who attends Bradford Immigration and Asylum Seekers Support and Advice Network, sings an Eritrean pop song at the Deaf Centre, Bradford, where BIASAN runs its sessions. He remembers accompanying himself on the song as a child with the krar, the Eritrean lyre.
Caring for Life’s Drama Project Leader Sean, and Paul, a regular attender, perform Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That’s an Irish Lullaby) at Crag House Farm in north Leeds, where the charity runs a restaurant, farm shop, coffee shop and garden nursery where disadvantaged and vulnerable people participate in therapeutic projects. “They’re all nice people, all the staff and people who work here – a nice family”, says Paul. “They were here for me when I had a stroke earlier in the year”.
Virginia Fishley sings Thank You, Jesus in the garden at BAME Health and Wellbeing Hub in Chapeltown, Leeds. “I heard it at church with my Mum when I was young” she says. “I love it and I just keep singing it during the day. When I go to bed I say it as well as my prayer”.
Madeleine Thorne, Head of Community Partnerships, Opera North, comments:
“The People’s Lullabies project was an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with some of the wonderful groups and organisations that engage with our Community Partnerships work, exploring the themes of home, childhood and lullabies through workshops, conversation and performance together. We were honoured that the participants shared so many lovely stories, memories and songs from their childhood with us, and we are absolutely thrilled with the films that were created during the project.”
To see the Lullabies and find out more about Opera North’s Community Partnership Scheme and Access work, visit operanorth.co.uk/about-us/community-partnerships-scheme