Daily Bow: Opera and the Homeless

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Opera Project in Cardiff Gives Homeless People a Voice

With all of the trouble going on with orchestras striking and struggling to save their seasons, I find it’s helpful to take a step back and think about why music is important. Through all of the bitter contract disputes, it helps to remember the reason that these organizations started in the first place: to bring music to others. Orchestras represent a belief that music is important to society and that having regular access to music is beneficial for the audience. Large scale musical productions like orchestras and opera remind us of music’s transformative powers, of its relevance to our daily lives.

One great example of the value of music to people’s lives comes from Cardiff in the United Kingdom. The Welsh National Opera recently partnered with the group Streetwise Opera to give weekly singing workshops to the homeless, eventually culminating in performances at the WNO and a London performance in 2013. Streetwise Opera, whose motto is “giving homeless people a voice,” is an organization that helps the homeless and formerly homeless to gain confidence, self-esteem, and practice building a skill through weekly music workshop programs. Every two years, they put on a full-scale production that gives participants the opportunity to take on a role in live productions like the one at the WNO. The workshops are both rigorous and inspiring, offering participants a multitude of opportunities beyond just music such as trips and work placement. Take a look for yourself!

The quotes from Streetwise’s homepage are particularly heart-warming: “Now I feel I have a fire burning inside of me again… to live, to create, to have fun and to experience life CLEAN!!!”; “Being homeless means that for many people, I don’t exist. With Streetwise Opera I do more than exist, I live.” What Streetwise Opera does illustrates the true value of musical organizations to society at large. Opera is not just for an aging elite who want to spend hundreds of dollars on box seats. It can having a lasting effect on everyone; with the participants who take part in Streetwise, it transforms lives. Learning to perform opera has given past clients the confidence they needed to pick themselves up and try to return to work or back to their families. By learning that they have innate talents and that they can demand a professional standard from themselves, they build self-esteem. So even among the fighting between orchestral musicians and their management, let’s all take a moment to reflect on what music means, and  how important it is to our entire society. It’s more than just entertainment and business. Streetwise Opera has shown us why.

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