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Opening up the world of opera

6 April 2020

The effect of the arts can be long-lasting and far-reaching which is why Welsh National Opera works hard to open up the world of opera to everyone. We want to be able to reach those who can be put off by social and cultural barriers, as they could benefit most from the positive impact that the arts can bring.

Birmingham, which has been considered our second home for many years, is one of the most ethnically diverse regional cities in the UK with a population of 187 different nationalities. It is a key Hub area for WNO where we offer a variety of community projects led by our Birmingham Producer and one of the projects is specifically for refugee families with young children.

For this early years music making project, we have partnered with B’Opera, a local baby opera company who regularly deliver fun and interactive music sessions for families with young children. Zoe Challenor, founder of B’Opera, is a Vocal Leader for our project:

‘Making music with a refugee group of young children and their families at St Chad’s Sanctuary in Birmingham is so rewarding. The weekly workshops allow us to create lasting relationships with the families who regularly attend and there have been so many positive changes since we started.

‘The weekly sessions follow a structure which involves repetition and familiarity for the babies and toddlers; and we work with a theme each week, for example storytelling for World Book Day. We try and make the sessions as interactive as possible, singing hello to everyone and learning their names as well as action songs. Sometimes we sing hello in their languages – one week we sang in seven different languages – and from that I saw sparks of excitement, hilarity and a new level of positive engagement.

‘I have witnessed some great moments in this project.  One of the most striking examples is a little boy of two who would consistently cry and try and leave the room during the first few sessions. Now, he makes eye contact, smiles and communicates with us and at the end of the singing session, he makes a beeline right towards me – ready to play instruments and make-believe games. There is also this little girl of two who has a new love for musical statues. The first time we introduced it, you could hear the screams of laughter from her as we stopped in exaggerated and silly positions. She then started to experiment, showing a new level of confidence, by taking the lead and instigating the stop. The WNO pianist on the project, Melissa Morris, saw her do this and followed… so all the adults were following this little girl’s lead in a game she had only just learned (and having the time of her life).

‘Despite language barriers, we connect and communicate through music, laughter and the crazy and absurd nature of being around small children. Anything can happen in these sessions and I love the spontaneity. I know these children have gained a sense of ownership of music and storytelling and I can’t wait to get back to this project and see them again.’ 

WNO’s Early Years Music Making project is supported by Youth Music.