The Howard Opera Centre will provide an artistic home in the heart of Leeds where everyone can engage with music and performance. Designed as a creative space for the whole community to use, its communal areas will include a welcoming atrium with a bar and restaurant, and a new Education Centre catering for people of all ages.
Reflecting these community aims in the fabric of the building will be an interactive musical trail on the theme of ‘home’. Contributions will be recorded by schools, community groups, Opera North Youth Company members and members of the public through the Writing Home project, with visitors able to listen to the resulting performances as they walk around the building.
To find out more about the impact the new building will have on community engagement, we caught up with the Education team and asked what difference having a purpose-built Education Centre will make to their work.
“I look after ‘lifelong learning’ which basically means encouraging people to engage with music and the arts throughout their lives. We believe you’re never too young to start discovering music or too old to learn to sing, so we already offer all kinds of activities to appeal to different age groups. What the new Education Studio will do is offer us a fantastic space to host everything we do. We’ll finally be able to welcome everyone into our own home, providing Leeds with an inspiring place which is alive with music and creativity.”
– Alex Bradshaw, Lifelong Learning Manager
Green Eggs and Ham being performed at Leeds Central Library © Samantha Toolsie
From the In Harmony Opera North residential project which embeds music at the heart of six schools in Leeds, to special school matinees and events such as Big Sing held across the North of England, the schools programme aims to ensure that pupils have access to live performance throughout the year.
While the Company still plans on running activities on school premises when government guidelines allow, the new building will provide a centre for both rehearsals and final performances, while a music coaching room and breakout spaces will allow more flexibility for school groups and students.
“We are so looking forward to being able to welcome pupils and teachers to our very own Education Centre; we hope that they will feel a real sense of pride and connection with the Opera North family as they now have a wonderful opportunity to share in our space and be inspired by the wonderful artform of opera.”
– Claire Armour, Schools Activity Manager
Timothy Burke conducts the children at the Big Sing: Wonderland Restored together with members of the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North © Tom Arber
Young people keen to further their musical talent outside school will also be catered for in the new building as the Opera North Youth Company, which offers singing development sessions for children from 8 to 19 years old, will now have a much-needed home from which to carry out their work. Crucially, the young people will be rehearsing in the same building as the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North which, it is hoped, will inspire them on their musical journey.
“Being able to rehearse in the same building as the Chorus and Orchestra will make a huge difference. Young people will feel like they are an integral part of Opera North and it will open more opportunities for collaborations with mainstage. The money saved from room hire will be used to develop more programmes, offering additional learning and performing opportunities to children and young people – and it will be wonderful to have a decent piano to use for the first time, as well as having scores and other materials freely available!”
– Marie Lemaire, Youth Company Manager
Being able to host music-making sessions in the Education Centre will likewise benefit young people looking to further their instrument playing and musicianship. With the opportunity to build its programme of orchestral academies, camps and ensembles, the Company is looking to offer even more opportunities for young musicians to play alongside members of the Orchestra, and to feel that they are an integral part of the Opera North family.
“It will be such a proud feeling to welcome participants and their families into our home in Leeds City Centre. A lot of the work I do is helping young people discover the tools to become a professional in our industry. To be able to deliver these programmes in the same room and seats as the Orchestra of Opera North will be amazing and help us to offer the most extraordinary musical experiences to our community.”
– Emma Barnett, Orchestral Activity Manager
The new Education Centre taking shape © Tom Arber
Community will lie at the heart of the Howard Opera Centre with the creativity of the people in Leeds and the wider north valued and celebrated. From embedding music in the walls to providing activities to engage people across the generations, it aims to become an artistic hub which welcomes and inspires everyone.
“The opportunities and experiences that you have given me are among the very best in my life and I will be eternally grateful for that.”
– Theo, ONYC member
We look forward to sharing our new building with you!
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