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Songs of Love and Battle: bringing the generations together

When Songs of Love and Battle premieres this month as part of The Songs of War, it will feature Opera North’s youth ensembles alongside the Orchestra of Opera North in a performance which brings together talented musicians and singers from across the generations. As rehearsals begin, we caught up with some of our newest recruits alongside two of our longest-serving Company members.

Aneeq Chappell and Nathaniel Law share the same birthday and are just 7 years old. Both recently joined the Opera North Children’s Chorus. This will be Nathaniel’s first time performing with the orchestra but Aneeq, who is an In Harmony Opera North pupil at New Bewerley Primary School, has previously performed with them at Morley Town Hall. He auditioned in front of one his teachers to become a member of the Opera North Children’s Chorus and has never looked back:

“It’s amazing. I feel happy singing with the others.”

David Greed in rehearsal © Tom Arber

Seven is also the age when David Greed, Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North, first picked up a violin. Now 63, he was one of the founding members of the Orchestra of Opera North – then known as the English Northern Philharmonia – forty years ago. For him, music has been a mainstay in his life, as it has for another founding member, horn player Bob Ashworth. Bob was a singer up to the age of eleven, when a teacher suggested he try the horn. The rest, as they say, is history. Both he and David are passionate about engaging young people with music. As David comments:

“I find it uplifting and rewarding. It is something that we, as professionals, can give back to our community. It’s also extremely important. Little Listeners, Opera North Orchestra Camp, In Harmony Opera North – all of our education projects are crucial in the fight to save music in schools which has definitely become depleted.”

Bob adds:

“It’s incredibly important – once young people hear stuff up close, they think it’s awesome. They get fired up and become very enthusiastic. And, of course, learning music helps develop so many important skills: counting, listening, spatial awareness, concentration, teamwork, accessing emotions, self control…”

Opera North Children's Chorus in rehearsal © Justin Slee

Aneeq and Nathaniel are certainly enjoying learning Songs of Love and Battle, the new micro-opera composed especially for Opera North’s youth ensembles by Will Todd. Aneeq is a fan of ‘On the Way to Flanders’ and says the whole experience is “very very good”, while Nathaniel particularly likes:

“Number 7 when we sing: ‘it’s alright at home with the blokes away, the cat’s not here so the mice can play, Mum busy working, working all day, the best ever holiday’ – it’s cheeky and good that Mum works all day so I can have a great holiday doing things I want to do!”

Lars Hunter, 8, whose sister is also in the Opera North Children’s Chorus, has found it “exciting, loud and challenging”. He also likes ‘On The Way to Flanders’ and ‘Two Rivers’ as “it sounds good when it splits into two parts”. He says:

“I’m excited because I’ve never been on the stage performing anywhere like the town hall before. I’m looking forward to performing with the orchestra and hearing what we all sound like together. I’m a bit nervous too … But I’m looking forward to wearing my t-shirt!”

Young brass players playing alongside Bob Ashworth from the Orchestra of Opera North at Opera North Orchestra Camp © Opera North

Asked for any advice they would give the young performers, David says:

“Work hard. Become as familiar with the part you’re playing as possible. Engage and feel part of the team. Enjoy the moment.”

Bob has five Top Tips for all aspiring musicians:

  1. Listen – to lots of music, to your teacher, to your section, to your tuning
  2. Sing
  3. Practise slowly, practise well, practise often (daily), practise sensibly, practise scales
  4. Make a good sound
  5. Have fun at the same time!

Songs of Love and Battle depicts the conflicting emotions of war through the words and poems of Maggie Gottlieb. For The Songs of War, it will be partnered with Górecki’s third symphony, known as his ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’. Richard Farnes conducts. After its premiere at Huddersfield Town Hall on Thursday 22 November, it will be performed at Leeds Town Hall on Saturday 1 December as part of the city’s Armistice 100 commemorations marking the centenary of the end of the First World War.

The next auditions for Opera North Children’s Chorus will be held in the new year and are open to any young singers from around 8 years old. Enthusiasm and potential are more important than experience with all welcome to apply. If you would like to be kept informed, please express an interest.


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