Writing Home

The Howard Opera Centre is not just home to Opera North, it belongs to the many people in schools and communities across the North with whom we make music.

It is a place created for everyone to sing, play, learn, participate and collaborate. We wanted the voice of those people to run through the fabric of the building, so to mark its opening in 2021, we worked with school children, community groups and members of the public to write songs inspired by the theme of home. Led by professional musicians and composers, people came together to share ideas about what home meant to them.

The ten original songs created now come together in an interactive musical trail around the Howard Opera Centre. Below you can find out more and listen to the tracks crafted from the ideas of over 400 people during 2021.

Home For Me

Opera North Children’s Chorus, 2020

Young singers aged 8-11 got creative online during lockdown with singer songwriter Christella Litras and director Gitika Buttoo. Participants reflected on what home means to them, and they created a song full of energy and positivity.

“Home for me is what home and family means to all of us” – Agatha 

“I liked how everyone put ideas into it and then it was kind of personal to all of us” – Clara 

Hambanaye

Opera North Youth Chorus, 2020

Young singers aged 11-15 worked online with South African singer songwriter Thandanani Gumede to explore the theme of home and how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted them in their own homes. ‘Hambanaye’ includes an African song about sadness and separation, a pop song about love and loss, and a jazz/gospel arrangement of a Zulu Afro-pop song.

“We have learned a lot about different cultures, especially African culture.” – Blossom 

“While we are all different, with different musical backgrounds, the experience of the 2020 pandemic was something global” – Thandanani 

Home is Where the Heart Is

Bravo Club members (2021)

Six members of our Bravo Club community scheme came together over several sessions at The Holbeck, to craft a song with Christella Litras and Leroy Johnson. They chatted about how home means something different to everyone: from homeless people to busy happy families; from people who live on their own and often feel lonely to those who see it as a space to relax and switch off. Each verse contains lines from every person, and the chorus brings it all together with the line ‘Cos home is different for everyone’, finishing with the final couplet ‘Cos home is where the heart is, and the home’s heart is me’.

“Thank you to all of you. This workshop has improved my confidence to sing again.” – Sitara

“I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing a song as a group. The sessions have been very inspiring and enjoyable.” – Celia

Home is a Feeling

The Refugee Council (2021)

A group of men from the Refugee Council worked with musicians Christella Litras and Leroy Johnson over three sessions exploring what the word ‘Home’ meant to them. The lyrics centre on the idea of Home not being a structure or place, but more the feeling of being around people who love you: ‘Home is a Feeling’ became the central hook.

Many of the group members’ languages can be heard in the piece including Kurdish, Arabic, Serakhulle and Amharic. The sessions were full of laughter and games, and the song developed naturally from the thoughts and words everyone contributed.

“Thanks to everyone for adding positives to our life!” – Participant 

“When I started the workshop I felt very down and after attending my mood completely changed. At home we use music to mediate and think and this made me feel like that.” – Participant

It’s A Place Where I Call Home

Black Health Initiative (2021)

A mixed generational group of women from Black Health Initiative worked with Christella Litras and Leroy Johnson over three sessions at Roscoe Methodist Church, to create this lovely hymn-like song. It talks of how home is an ‘anchor for the heart’, a place where memories are stored, and remembers times past when things were simple and we all had enough. The younger members contributed thoughts on how home can be a sanctuary but also a place to hide. The simple melodic structure lets the words speak for themselves and leaves us with a question to ponder…

“We’ve all shared memories and written lines that mean a lot to us. It’s been really good.” – Tessa

“It’s been inspiring. It’s good to be back into my singing. And I might end up writing something.” – Bridget

In My Grandmother’s House

Part of the public ‘Writing Home’ songwriting courses carried out online during lockdown (2021)

The song revolves around a spoken word poem written by one of the participants, who looks back with real fondness and affection to his childhood memories of his grandmother’s house. The mood of the piece is one of remembrance and reminiscence. There’s a gentle melancholy underpinning the song.

This piece was formed from a collection of original ideas created by participants who took part in online workshops, under the guidance of musicians Dave Evans and Thandanani Gumede. Participants used a programme called Soundtrap to collaborate, document and develop their ideas.

“The collaborative aspect of the project has also been lovely, especially after Covid. It’s been great to share ideas and work out how we can include everyone and write something together.” – Participant

When I think Of Home

Part of the public ‘Writing Home’ songwriting courses carried out online during lockdown (2021)

This piece embodies many ideas from the participants but focuses on two main ideas: Phil’s ‘I’m on my way home’ and Griet’s ‘When I think of home’. The narrator tells us ‘home is where the heart story begins’.

The challenge here was to create unity and coherence to the piece – both melodies have their own distinct character. This piece has a kind of house groove – with a cut up double bass line that holds it together.

This piece was formed from a collection of original ideas created by participants who took part in online workshops, under the guidance of musicians Dave Evans and Thandanani Gumede. Participants used a programme called Soundtrap to collaborate, document and develop their ideas.

“This was by far (arguably) the most complex yet incredibly rewarding project I have done to date. It was of paramount importance to facilitate genuine input and contributions from everyone involved” – Thandanani 

Guide Me Home

Part of the public ‘Writing Home’ songwriting courses carried out online during lockdown (2021)

This piece has a very different feel – there are echoes of Portishead trip hop in places. The double bass, Dave’s Wurlitzer harmony, along with Thandanani’s chant motif, add a jazz sensibility to the song.

The piece ends with the spoken word reflections on what home meant to one of the characters.

This piece was formed from a collection of original ideas created by participants who took part in online workshops, under the guidance of musicians Dave Evans and Thandanani Gumede. Participants used a programme called Soundtrap to collaborate, document and develop their ideas.

“An amazing project that I thoroughly enjoyed and which helped me feel like part of a community and to be creative during a difficult period.” – Participant 

The Journey

Part of the public ‘Writing Home’ songwriting courses carried out online during lockdown (2021) 

Participants of our fourth public songwriting course were led by composer and musician Sarah Freestone and looked at forms that took them away from more traditional song structures of verses and choruses.

“This song will take you on a journey through a year of lockdowns, isolation, reflection and relationships. Our reconnection with nature: the daily and seasonal passing of time replacing timetables; the dawn chorus replacing the alarm call; our digital world becoming the portal for work, pleasure and the outside world; our phones enabling us to record and relay our experiences, to beckon us into the world of field recordings which have influenced so many composers and artists over the years. To breathe, to breathe in. To hold our breath, to hold on, to be on hold. Finally, to come together and hold. To come home.” – Sarah Freestone 

“It feels very fortunate indeed to have this opportunity to learn more. To be able to collaborate with others in these lonely days of pandemic isolation feels fantastic. So for all this, very many thanks indeed to you and to beloved Opera North.” – Participant

Support us

You can help us to bring our new home to life with music. From bold and innovative opera to creative projects for all ages; by supporting us with a donation today you can help make our home for everyone, now and in the future.

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