Music can be at the heart of rebuilding lives

Toby PurserTue 5th November 2019

Streetwise Opera and The Passage show the powerful impact of art and creativity

Dr Oliver Sacks, a British neurologist stated, ‘Music imprints itself in the brain deeper than any other human experience…Music brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.’

There are very few of us who are not affected by music in some way. It can lift a mood, accentuate a feeling, provide comfort, provide joy and stir emotions that we might struggle to find words for. For those most ardent believers in the power of music, its potential is virtually limitless. The Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Palestinian-American academic Edward Saïd for example, founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 with the aim of promoting understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. I myself am Artistic Director of the Peace and Prosperity Trust, for which I have been involved in furthering cultural collaboration between the UK and the Middle East through a range of initiatives including relaunching the Beirut Orpheus Choir, and taking music and instruments to Syrian children in the refugee camps on the Lebanese/Syrian border.  

Closer to home, music – and specifically singing – is being harnessed as a tool to help those who find themselves living on the streets rediscover a sense of worth and purpose as they try to rebuild their lives.

I would safely bet that pretty much everyone reading this article will never have experienced a night out on the streets – and I hope it remains that way. But for too many people in this country, this has become their reality. The mental and physical toll taken on these individuals is massive: re-integrating them into the community takes more than putting a roof over their heads.  

Through my work with London-based homelessness charity The Passage, I have developed a huge admiration for the people that dedicate themselves to helping those that have fallen on hard times get back on their feet. And I have seen first-hand the role that music can play in helping them succeed. 

I have no greater example to give than Streetwise Opera who will perform this year alongside international stars from the opera world at The Passage’s annual concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Streetwise is a chorus made up entirely of those who are either homeless or who have been homeless. Having had the opportunity to meet and work with these people, I have witnessed directly how coming together to make music shows them that not all is lost and that they still have the possibility to be part of something, to create something and to be valued for their effort and achievement. This quote says it all, ‘At the time that I have nothing, I still have my artistry. I still have my creativity. I still have my talent. And if that’s going to get me from homelessness to where I need to be, then I’m going to hone that.’ 

As someone whose life is pretty much all about music-making, I don’t need to be convinced about the ability of music to bring people together and provide positive emotions and energy. But every example like this needs to be valued and supported. So please, whether you’re an opera regular or a complete beginner, come along to the Royal Festival Hall this evening and experience it for yourself.  

Night Under the Stars: The Magic of Italian Opera takes place tonight at London's Royal Festival Hall in aid of homelessness charity The Passage - buy tickets; to learn more about The Passage and to support its work, click here.  

Toby Purser's picture

Toby Purser

Conductor Toby Purser will conduct this year's Night Under the Stars concert, in aid of homeless charity The Passage.

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