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European Youth Music Refugee Choir stuns audience in Leicester Cathedral

Friday 3rd August 2018 will be a date that I will never be able to forget for all the right reasons. 32 young refugees, now living in England, joined forces with a symphony orchestra made up of young musicians from all over the world. They performed a specially-commissioned piece of choral music Ubi Bene Ibi Patria (Where there is kindness there is my home). A solo soprano begins the piece with the harrowing words ‘I can’t speak, I can’t speak about the horrors that I’ve witnessed’. The song reaches a beautiful climax finishing with the words ‘Given time new roots will start to grow’.

‘I can’t stop crying, this is so emotional. Three days ago I didn’t know these guys and now it breaks my heart to hear what they went through’ – orchestra participant on the first performance of Ubi

The 32 young people made up the ‘European Youth Music Refugee Choir’; some of these young people had been rehearsing in Bristol, Leicester and Birmingham and some had turned up as the academic year had finished and they wanted a new challenge.   The idea for the European Youth Music Refugee Choir was born at an annual music course, called European Youth Music Week. EYMW grew out of a post-World War 2 initiative by the then British and German governments to build international friendship through music.  This week brings together young, talented musicians from all over the world, they spend a structured week playing challenging repertoire that they might not otherwise play. The course is managed and funded by Young Orchestras (and the German counterparts, IAM). Two years ago, whilst on the Music Week, a Director of Young Orchestras mused about how they wished they could be doing more to make refugees living in England feel more welcomed into the community. Two years later that dream came true and we brought young refugees on the music course who spent a week rehearsing repertoire, carrying out Arts Award sessions (resulting in an accreditation) and English improvement sessions.

The choir and orchestra came together on the Wednesday night for the first time to play and sing Ubi together. Choir participants, orchestral player and spectators were all in tears. European Youth Music Refugee Choir had defied all the horrific stories in the media, had showcased their talents and brought together nations, races and cultures from all over the world and collided them together. Not only had the choir participants learnt about the cultures fromcountries including Spain, Italy and America, but the young refugees had spoken about their journey to get to England and the terror they were fleeing from.

‘That was the best moment of my life, I will never forget that moment for as long as I live’ – choir participant 

The concert took place that Friday evening at Leicester Cathedral underneath an art instillation by Arabella Dorman that took abandoned clothes from the island of Lesbos that refugees had had to leave. Understandably, this upset many choir members, bringing back haunting memories. All but one of the choir members decided to perform, staring straight into harrowing memories whilst singing defiantly about making a new life for themselves.

After the concert the celebration was taken back to Oakham School, where the course had taken place, and the atmosphere was electric as we’ve achieved something phenomenal. My final memory from that night was at 3am, where a mix of young musicians from the orchestra and participants from the choir were dancing and singing together as if they had known each other their whole lives.

 ‘I’ve cried more since finishing the course than I have since I moved here. I miss my new friends!’– choir participant after the course

The choir will be performing at TEDx Leicester Salon: Porous Borders on Saturday 15th September. Further information can be found here.

Below are some options for those who would like to know more about the project:

Find out more about European Youth Music.

Support us on our JustGiving page

Watch the final performance here.

Follow us on social media – @EYMRefugeeChoir on Twitter

Author – Sarah Pickstone – Director of Fundraising and Social Media – Young Orchestras