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People's Lullabies celebrate songs of hope and home

Opera North will release 23 short films this December, documenting songs performed by participants in a four-year People’s Lullabies project.

Celebrating songs, stories and voices of local residents, the People’s Lullabies will be screened in the Henry Moore Lecture Theatre at Leeds Art Gallery for a week from Friday 15 – Friday 22 December, and are now also available to watch online. Drop in to Leeds Art Gallery for a mindful moment to escape the bustle of Christmas shopping, and a chance to reflect on the creativity and resilience of people from many walks of life across the city.

Filmed in churches and parks, on front doorsteps and in back gardens, in a library, a bandstand, and a butterfly house, People’s Lullabies will take you on an emotional musical journey across Leeds.

Each of the 23 People’s Lullabies is performed by a person who has engaged with one of Opera North’s Community Partners in Leeds and the surrounding area. The simple format of the films – a continuous shot of an unaccompanied performance of a song that means something special to the singer – makes for immediate and deeply affecting viewing.

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.

The power of music to sustain hope in adversity is a running theme of the series, which began in 2019. In the tranquil setting of Roundhay Park, Cecilia explains the importance of singing throughout her life, and her gratitude for the support of Mafwa, a community theatre company that brings refugees, asylum seekers and settled communities together with artists and theatre makers in Leeds. As she sings her lullaby in the Ngiemboon language, far from her birthplace in Cameroon, the pull of home is strongly felt.

At Feel Good Factor, a charity dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of its community, Community Wellbeing Worker Esther Bissell, said that the reaction from all the participants was “overwhelming. It had such a positive impact, and it was fantastic to see even a few neighbours up the road join us, having heard the music!” Filmed at the charity’s centre in the Leeds suburb of Chapeltown, Maggie sings Granny’s Hielan’ Hame. Memories of her childhood visits to her grandmother’s house in Scotland charge the sweetly nostalgic lyrics of this standard with a new resonance.

At Armley Helping Hands, a charity for older people in west Leeds, Dave supplies some old-fashioned romance. Dressed in a Rat Pack suit and fedora, he sings I’ve Got You Under My Skin to his wife, Sue, who remembers how he first won her heart with a karaoke rendition of the song.

Filmed in the project’s first year of 2019, Thomas sings an Eritrean song originally recorded by Teame Weledemichael. He became part of the People’s Lullabies project through Opera North’s partnership with Bradford Immigration and Asylum Seekers Support and Advice Network (BIASAN), which provides support, befriending, healthy food, English classes and signposting for asylum seekers and refugees.

Opening up the Company’s work to its local communities in Leeds and removing barriers that might prevent people from experiencing live music and performance, Opera North’s Community Partnerships scheme provides over 70 groups and organisations with free or heavily subsidised tickets to its work in Leeds, plus access to workshops, taster performances and invitations to bespoke events.

Opera North’s People’s Lullabies will be screening on a drop-in basis in the Henry Moore Lecture Theatre at Leeds Art Gallery from Friday 15 December to Friday 22 December. Entry is free.

Watch the People’s Lullabies


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