Displaced Voices – Orchestra of St John's | Taking classical music out into the community

Displaced Voices

Displaced Voices
Amplifying the Voices of Young Refugees Through Music

‘This was a lovely, powerful and thought-provoking evening. It was a privilege to be part of it.’
Audience member, King’s Place, January 2019

A co-creative composition and performance project, Displaced Voices (2019) amplified the voices and experiences of young refugees and migrants in the UK, breaking down barriers to orchestral music and building cultural bridges in our communities.

Displaced Voices built on the Oxford Spires Academy award winning poetry programme developed by writer Kate Clanchy, which over the past decade, has supported young migrants and refugees as they develop English language skills and process their extraordinary journeys.

In their own words: Oxford Spires Academy collaboration

Associate Conductor Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey and composer Toby Young worked with four talented refugees from the Oxford Spires Academy to assist them with creating original orchestral ‘backing tracks’ for live performances of their own poetry. Young poets Halema Malak, Merzia Qahramany, Timileyin Amusan, and Ftoun Abou Kerech performed their poems in concert with the live accompaniment of OSJ’s strings and their bespoke soundtracks. Concerts took place at Dorchester Abbey, Somerville College and King’s Place.

Read here about composer Toby Young’s experience working on the project.

Dr Jackie Watson, Head of Sixth Form at the Oxford Spires Academy talks about the impact of the project on the students here in her open letter.


Displaced Voices Song Cycle

In addition to the ‘backing tracks’ for the students’ performances of their own poems, three new songs were commissioned for mezzo soprano, Charlotte Tetley and strings from composers Sadie Harrison, Shirley Thompson and Toby Young. The texts were selected by the composers from England: Poems from a School, an anthology of poems from students at the Oxford Spires Academy, edited by Kate Clanchy and published by Picador.

My Hazara People
Text, Shukria Reazei
Music, Sadie Harrison

Sadie Harrison, Bella West Photography

Text, Mukahang Limbu
Music, Shirley Thompson

Shirley Thompson

Doves of Damascus
Text, Ftoun Abou Kerech
Music, Toby Young

Toby Young

The Audience Experience

‘How brilliantly the music expresses the emotions in the young poets’ words!’
‘Humanised the struggles I would only otherwise hear or read about on the news.’
‘Very strong stuff. Really made me think.’
‘So moved and impressed. Want to give involved…’
‘A marvellous evening I shall take with me in my heart…’
‘A massive THANK YOU! I loved that through art there is a chance to make the world a better place. Please keep going strong.’
‘We need more events like this!’

Partners and Support

Oxford Spires Academy
Oxford Poetry Library
Refugee Resource Women’s Group
Somerville College
Open House Oxford
Play for Progress

This project was been made possible by generous support from Arts Council England, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, the University of Oxford’s Community Grants Fund, the Derrill Allatt Foundation, St Michael’s Northgate, Doris Field Charitable Trust, Sir Christopher and Lady Wendy Ball, and Robin and Jeanne Stainer.

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