Photos: Jolade Olusanya, Charles Newman, Ruby Yeung
Singing Our Lives
A ground-breaking creative process bringing together singers and musicians from refugee, migrant and local UK backgrounds to compose and perform new music together.
Singing Our Lives is a unique project which began in September 2016, when the Mixed Up Chorus received an Arts Council England grant to commission composer Mike Roberts (Head of Electronic Music, Guildhall School of Music & Drama) and librettist Sarah Grange (Improbable) to create a new song cycle with members of the Mixed Up Chorus and clients from Freedom from Torture, Rhyl Primary School and the Islington Refugee Centre. Over several months the groups participated in music and writing workshops, sharing memories, music, stories, life experiences and creating new words and melodies. From the mass of materials created the composer and librettist worked to shape three new songs that captured the essence of the spirit and stories of the project: "Safe Space", "Prayer for Tomorrow" and "Mother's Day" (which has an accompanying animation). The new songs were premiered at a concert at Milton Court Concert Hall at the end of Refugee Week 2017, featuring over 200 performers and sold out to an audience of 600.
Hostred in partnership with IOM- the UN Migration Agency, Freedom from Torture, The Royal Opera House, Improbable and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama Singing Our Lives 2018 reunited the Mixed Up Chorus, the Royal Opera House Thurrock Community Chorus and Freedom from Torture’s Sing for Freedom Choir, as well as featuring new special guests including poet and spoken word performer Zena Edwards, the refugee and asylum seeker choir Woven Gold and the internationally acclaimed vocal ensemble Stile Antico.
Over six months, the four amateur choirs and professional singers and instrumentalists came together in creative workshops and rehearsals, facilitated by Mike Roberts, Sarah Grange, and stage director Phelim McDermott (Improbable), with students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Refining the process developed in Singing Our Lives 2017 and experimenting with new methodologies, the workshops adopted "Open Space Technology" - a collaborative tool which formed a big part of how Improbable works – to enable 150 individuals to contribute to the creation of one song. Over a hundred fragments of music, words, thoughts and moods generated through these workshops have found their way into this year's new composition Sembo! (Justice!). The song responds to the choirs' requests for a multi-lingual work that is a call to action, a transformation and a desire for community, built around a central theme of justice and what that means to the participants.
The new song was premiered in a performance marking the 20th Anniversary of Refugee Week at Milton Court Concert Hall on Sunday 1st July 2018. It was performed by more than 200 singers from the participating choirs and musicians. The concert explored the experiences of refugees and migrants in the UK and celebrated the rich musical diversity this inspires, combining opera, classical, popular and electronic genres with music from around the globe.
Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour' piece:
"The whole Singing Our Lives project has been an amazing journey
for me and it has been fantastic to be involved in something so
positive and full of hope. I loved meeting and working with so many
different people, different cultures, different religions. Performing
on stage last year was for me such an empowering experience and I
was very glad to have the chance to do it. It really is a great pleasure
to be joining everyone again this year."
Rody, Sing for Freedom Choir member
"Singing Our Lives has been the blending of voices, the
opening of hearts, the touching of lives, and the harmony
of souls." Sarah Dod, ROHTCC member "We are very proud to be involved with Singing Our Lives
again this year, a project that holds at its heart the values
of inclusion and togetherness."
Alex Beard, Chief Executive, Royal Opera
"How humbling, soulful and inspirational it's been to collaborate
with people from around the world who've endured unspeakable
heartbreak, pain and suffering. Through Singing Our Lives, I've
met such courageous people."
Debby, Mixed Up Chorus member
"The highlight for me is singing with other choirs ? it
made me realise how powerful collaboration can be." "I learnt that though we may be different, we are all one."
SOL workshop participants
"The Singing Our Lives concert is a wonderful example of how
shared interests can unite us all, regardless of our
backgrounds. With music as the common language, this very
special endeavour aims to bring together local communities,
migrants and refugees to build mutually positive, trusting and
lasting relationships that benefit all."
Dipti Pardeshi, UK Chief of Mission, IOM
Partners and Performing Groups:
Funded by Arts Council England and National Lottery Awards for All
The Thurrock Community Chorus is generously supported by Kim Samuel and Thurrock Borough Council.