Encore! Students inspired to write and perform their own music through opera workshop project

Encore! Students inspired to write and perform their own music through opera workshop project

Students at New City College had the chance to write, work and perform with professional opera singers as part of the English National Opera’s Finish This programme, which aims to develop language skills, creativity and confidence.

Around 50 16-18-year-old students, who are all on ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses at the college’s campuses in Redbridge, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, benefited from the exciting five-week collaboration between the college and the English National Opera (ENO) – which culminated in a wonderful performance and show where students shared the work they had created with their friends, family and invited guests.

The Finish This programme brings classical music into the classroom in a meaningful way to support English language learning through drama, singing and song-writing. It is also a way of engaging with young people from diverse backgrounds who don’t normally get to experience opera.

During the project students visited the ENO’s London Coliseum Theatre in the West End, where they watched part of a stage rehearsal of the opera Boheme, and were able to find out about the different professional roles within the industry.

Back at college, they were treated to Opera Pop-Up sessions where they heard professional singers up close and enjoyed some spontaneous and powerful performances.

During sessions with the ENO they worked together to create a piece of original music called No One Can Hold Us. They were inspired to produce this through drama and song-writing workshops where they explored the themes of an unfinished opera called Under the Same Sky, using it as a springboard to create their own song.

The story centred on a woman who stood up to authority and stepped away from a crowd of people who were all living their lives in the same way. The Finish This project tasked the students with creating music to tell what happened next.

One student said: “The woman is fighting to be free and she wants to follow her destiny. She wanted justice and to be independent. The crowd try to stop her but in the end they change their minds and there is peace. I have never heard opera singing before, but it is really cool and their voices are incredible.”

Another student said: “Singing makes me feel better. It was enjoyable and created a special feeling between us all. We felt strong and proud of our song because we wrote it ourselves.”

The three groups came together to perform their work in a final show which was held in the Box Theatre at Redbridge campus. The show also involved Media students who worked as lighting engineers and photographers, and Catering students who prepared and presented home-made refreshments for the audience.

New City College Group Curriculum Director for ESOL, Jennie Turner, said: “The project was brilliant for the students on many levels and I am sure they will remember this experience for years to come. It has helped develop their self-esteem and has brought real joy to what has been a very difficult time for many. After the successful show, they carried on singing all the way home!”

ENO Programme Manager, Poppy Harrison, said: “The show was such a joyful day and was a fitting end to a fantastic collaboration. The project has definitely helped students with their understanding, pronunciation and confidence in speaking the English language and has opened up opera to young people who would not otherwise have had the chance to engage with the ENO.”

The ENO professional performers were: Aga Serugo-Lugo (workshop leader); Sioned Gwen-Davies (singer); Jon Brigg (piano) and Zwakele Tshabalala (singer).