Art has the power to transform the world - a blog about our performance at Manchester Art Gallery

Streetwise Opera performer Anita Ferguson writes about her experience taking part in our recent performance The World Is My Song at Manchester Art Gallery:

I love singing our workshops at Manchester Art Gallery. We pass stunning artworks as we go in, and I'm already energised and full of anticipation. At this term's first rehearsal, there was great excitement: "We have windows! We have sunlight!" We've been lucky to have several tours in the gallery from curators and also dabbled in a bit of art for ourselves. 

We named our performance The World Is My Song. It is the perfect title. We gathered in our usual room for rehearsal. The floor is spattered with paint and we sing amongst half-finished works of art, so there's a dynamic, creative vibe. The rehearsal went well. We sampled the lovely refreshments provided by the gallery; so thoughtful of them. The superior cheese rolls with toasted seeds went down particularly well. Many thanks! There was anticipation and excitement bubbling away, slowly building.

We are standing in the centre of a large gallery room, surrounded by stunning paintings and ceramics. There's that special hush, as though the room is waiting for us. There is a sizeable audience - in fact they run out of chairs; it's standing room only. I see Mark, Matt & Marigold, who have travelled from London to listen; that always means such a lot to us.

We begin with Tamino's aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, 'Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön'. He sings to an image of Pamina and, as this is opera, falls in love immediately! We sing the David Owen Lewis translation: "This picture Is so beautiful...". It is easy to get inside the music, while gazing at the beautiful images all around us. Before each piece of music, we give a little preamble.

Next we sing two Spirituals: 'Soon I Will Be Done with the Troubles of the World', with lots of movement and singing in three parts, full of energy and rage. Then we sing 'Steal Away'. Andy and Phil each have a line and do a grand job. I adore these songs. Joy and despair are entwined; the music is sublime and so moving. For me, they certainly crystallise the exhibition's theme, Speech Acts. We sing in the voices of those that have been silenced.

We sing our own composition. It was created by all of us, in the workshops with Sarah. We sing of ourselves and our own unique identity, and of our feelings about each other and Streetwise Opera. I've never listened to the words properly until now :

"I am me; I am me..
We are like family
Living in harmony...
We are together;
We are as one.
We are Streetwise!"

I feel overcome by the feelings that we all express. Some of us spontaneously link arms and sing to each other. We raise our arms at the end and I see all the faces bursting with joy and pride.

We move to form an arrow shape, with our very tall Gareth as Moses at the central point, holding his staff. We sing 'The Prayer', from Mosè in Egitto by Gioachino Rossini. I have been concerned that his staff would be too short to part the Red Sea, but it seems to work! The singing is sensitive; we observe the changing dynamics clearly, adding to the drama, especially in the piano phrases. We have been working on harmonies this term and our work pays off, especially in this piece. I love the way Jonathan nudges us gently along to the next challenge; we get a great sense of achievement. Our confidence and skills grow and grow. 

For our finale, we sing Jonathan's favourite: 'Sunday', from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George. We are inside Georges Seurat's famous painting, 'A Sunday Afternoon'. We all come forward, expressing the emotions inspired by art and we think of some wonderful words. I feel serene and am enjoying a delightful wander by the Seine. The song is enchanting, breath-taking. We all love to sing this one and it shows. I have a lump in my throat and it's an effort to sing. Four of us sing a descant, which I absolutely relish. What is it about singing high and giving it some welly? At fortissimo we make a triumphant explosion of sound, arms raised: "Sunday!" Amazing! Joyful!

What a splendid show! The programme varied, the setting beautiful and inspiring. It is true: art has the power to transform the world. It has certainly transformed mine. For me, music is my solace and my joy.

Many thanks to Manchester Art Gallery for giving us this beautiful place to sing. Sincere thanks to Streetwise Opera, especially our leaders: Jonathan, David, Sarah, Gavin and Jenny; also thanks to Sally and Gavin, who always look after us so well. Do keep it up!

On a personal note, I was very unwell for several weeks this term. I'd like to thank Streetwise Opera staff and my friends in the group for their support. Without them, I wouldn't have been singing tonight.

So, what's next?! Bring on the next challenge! 



Photo: Louise Thompson