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Writing Home: songwriting for the Howard Opera Centre

Opera North today launches Writing Home, a community songwriting project which will help create an innovative arts installation as part of the Howard Opera Centre, the Company’s redeveloped home in Leeds due to open later this year.

The Howard Opera Centre has been designed as a creative space for the whole community to use, and we aim to embody that purpose in the fabric of the building by creating 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, with visitors able to listen to the resulting performances as they walk around the building.

Work on the former shop units beneath the Howard Assembly Room on New Briggate © Tom Arber

As part of the project, a six-week course of free Writing Home workshops will be held online from late February.

Led by professional musicians Thandanani Gumede and Dave Evans, participants will be asked to explore what ‘home’ means to them through a variety of musical genres before creating their own compositions. A selection of these will be featured as part of the final trail. Everyone is welcome to join. No previous musical experience is necessary, just the willingness to try something new.

Thanda Gumede and Dave Evans perform at an Arts Together/Opera North event, 2019 ©Tom Arber.

Jacqui Cameron, Education Director, said:

“We will be embedding the voices of the people in Leeds and the North in the very walls of the Howard Opera Centre to create a sense of ownership and to encourage the whole community to see it as their artistic home.

“We hope this project will also provide a boost at a time when we are aware how much people are missing their usual evening meet-ups. Thanda is looking forward to finding the inner composer in everyone, helping them create something that will provide a great testament to the creativity of the people of Leeds in our new building.”

New music studio taken from the gallery in the Howard Opera Centre © Tom Arber

As well as providing new rehearsal facilities for the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, a costume and wigs workshop, and administrative offices, the Howard Opera Centre will include several public areas, including a new, flexible Education Centre which will enable audiences of all ages and backgrounds to come together to learn about, and participate in, music making.  Anyone accessing the Education Centre will use the same entrance as the artists and staff in a bid to inspire the younger generation and to encourage a feeling of parity and belonging.

Other public spaces will include a fully accessible atrium and a new restaurant and bar which will replace a row of previously vacant shop units. The Company’s eclectic performance venue, the Howard Assembly Room, is also due to reopen with an enhanced programme of musical and spoken word events. The work is being delivered by Sheffield-based contractors Henry Boot Construction with the first phase due to open in the late spring, with final completion in the autumn.

The new restaurant and bar with mesh in place ready for the concrete floor to be poured © Tom Arber

Richard Mantle, General Director, commented:

“When The Howard Opera Centre opens in Leeds, we aim for it to provide extraordinary musical experiences for the wider community every day. We very much hope that people will see it as their artistic home in the city, with Writing Home marking the first step in ensuring they feel a part of the building and everything it represents.”

The overall target for the Music Works fundraising campaign is £18 million. Opera North is very grateful to all the individuals, trusts and organisations that have helped it raised over £17 million to date. The Company has recently launched the Play Your Part campaign seeking support from Patrons, Friends and audience members, as well as continuing to attract funding from the business community in Leeds and further charitable trusts and foundations as it looks to raise the £500,000 still needed for the project.

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