As one voice…

Together Productions’ Singing Our Lives concert at Union Chapel was the perfect end to Refugee Week, says Lucy Popescu

Thursday, 7th July — By Lucy Popescu

Union Chapel credit Rachel Cherry

The grand finale of Under the Same Sun by Singing Our Lives brought everyone to their feet. Photo: Rachel Cherry

LOCAL choirs are an excellent way to build a vibrant community, improve mental health and encourage empathy. Choral singing is a big part of the work of Together Productions, a community interest company that produces creative projects with social impact.

Co-founded by Holly Jones and Jeremy Haneman, they use music to break down barriers, reduce isolation and enhance well-being, connecting displaced people and those seeking sanctuary with local communities and professional musicians to compose and perform together.

Their Singing Our Lives project (now in its 6th year) at Union Chapel proved a fitting end to Refugee Week. It was an extraordinary event that celebrated the resilience and creativity of refugees and migrants, in the UK and elsewhere, the power of community and involved several choirs.

The evening ended with the premiere of the song Under the Same Sun bringing hundreds of performers onstage to commemorate Refugee Week’s theme of “Healing”. It was created by the Singing Our Lives company of amateur and professional musicians and singers based in the UK in collaboration with artists in India, the US and South Africa.

The evening was compered by television and radio presenter, Jumoké Fashola, and included Together Productions’ two diverse choirs, the Mixed Up Chorus and Sing for Freedom, both based in Archway. Sing for Freedom (musical director: Gemma Storr; accompanist: Martha Littlehales) presented World on our Shoulders, a rousing eco-anthem composed by John Farnbury, followed by a bespoke setting of the Arabic-English poem Our Hearts Desire written by choir member EE.

The Mixed up Chorus (musical director: Haneman; accompanist: Ashley Beauchamp) sang No-one is Alone, Stephen Sondheim’s comforting ballad, and Nowruz, composed during lockdown by the Singing Our Lives Company. Sung in Farsi and English, and featuring Yannis Madu on djembe, the song celebrates the Persian New Year.

The Ukrainian opera singer Kateryna Bolkunevych gave a powerful rendition of The Stranger. Iryna Ivanchenko’s lyrics were written in response to the war that began in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, with music composed by Olena Lys. Clutching the Ukrainian flag, Bolkunevych’s memorable performance was accompanied by Beauchamp on piano.

Music Connects is a terrific initiative that unites young people raised in Surrey with young displaced people who have recently arrived in the UK. We should have one in every borough. They gave a terrific performance of a song they had composed together, I Will Find My Way, and featured two young dancers.

Enver Solomon, chief executive officer of the Refugee Council, spoke movingly of the importance of combatting the UK’s hostile environment for asylum seekers, observing that there are no “illegal” asylum seekers – the 1951 Refugee Convention recognises that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means in order to escape and claim asylum in another country. Two members of Write to Life, Islington-based Freedom from Torture’s creative writing group for survivors of torture, presented their poems written in response to the concert’s theme: Under the Same Sun.

It was a real treat to hear the superb Orchestra of Syrian Musicians (soloists Basel Saleh and Hamsa Mounif) sing traditional folk songs and perform a set in the style of a classic Arab band. The grand finale of Under the Same Sun by Singing Our Lives brought everyone to their feet and ended the evening on a high. I’m sure there will be many more people joining choirs in the months to come.

• To find out more about the Singing Our Lives project visit: www.togetherproductions.co.uk/singing-our-lives
• To join the Sing for Freedom Choir or Mixed Up Chorus (both based in Islington) visit: www.togetherproductions.co.uk/uk
• Singing Our Lives 2022 is dedicated to the people of Ukraine and to displaced sanctuary seekers worldwide.
It was produced in partnership with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Union Chapel, with generous support from the Arts Council England.

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