Tony Haynes, composer/director of the Grand Union Orchestra, tells the inside story of his music for the orchestra, its musicians and colourful history.
What is it about?
Over a two-week period, the Grand Union Orchestra – in association with many partners from the worlds of culture, education and academia – is hosting a series of events across several well-known East London venues. They will present work which could not have been imagined if we did not live in a society in which migrants past and present have been a vital force. Using this work as illustrative examples, there will also be an opportunity to debate artistic practice and wider issues, including the extent to which we engage, take inspiration from, and cater for the tastes and aspirations of, migrant communities.
The actual content of each event, and the structure of the Forum, is still being developed. Here are the main dates and venues:
There will also be many informal events, practical workshops and open rehearsals.
Who is it for?
The broad aim of the programme is to affirm the value and importance of working creatively with the UK’s migrant and migrant-descended communities. It should appeal to and involve artists or companies whose work fulfils all or most of these basic criteria:
While focussing principally on artistic concerns, the Forum will also naturally touch on contemporary social and political issues – particularly the question of immigration and anti-European sentiment (sharpened no doubt by the General Election that follows in May 2015). It will also provide an opportunity to discuss whether all Britain’s ever-widening demographic gets fair access to cultural activities, and to arts funding and promotion.
What are you trying to achieve?
Almost every day there are new statistics on how quickly the UK population is changing – unleashing at the same time, of course, ferocious arguments about immigration. But British identity has been shaped by migration for centuries, and the country has usually been generous to migrants – within living memory to pre-war Jewish refugees, those from the Caribbean and South Asia who helped rebuild post-war Britain, political exiles from Chile and South Africa, people fleeing war-torn regions of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. They too have contributed to the uniqueness of British culture, not least in music.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in East London today. Yet what do we give back to migrants and migrant-descended communities; how much do we involve them in appropriate cultural or educational activities; and what opportunities do their artists have to collaborate with their peers from the host community and from other cultural backgrounds?
The Isle is Full of Noises addresses these questions in a wholly practical way. It is not just a talking shop, nor is it a showcase for individual cultural traditions or art-forms; instead it revolves around a series of public performances and presentations where musicians from different traditions worldwide can perform together, collaborate with artists from other disciplines, share and exchange ideas and ways of working – and above all create exciting new work which would only be possible with such cross-fertilisation in a diverse society.
Meanwhile, the vast majority of arts funding – certainly in London – goes to building-based and state institutions. They are often national in their reach rather than simply local, their audiences are predominantly white, mostly older and generally well-off, and their programming is inevitably relatively conventional.
However, the population is hugely mixed, most people have limited means, and many have a taste for art different from that programmed by mainstream venues and institutions. It is therefore important to create new and original work which reflects this ever-widening demographic, involves otherwise marginalised communities in appropriate and challenging participatory activities, and is produced in the neighbourhoods where they actually live.
The potential artistic benefits of engaging with this large and growing constituency are immense – unleashing the power of a range of musical styles, stories, myths and performance techniques from other cultures; discovering remarkable musicians, actors, dancers and writers hidden among them; building new audiences; even providing the means to help schools meet the needs of children poorly served by the education system.
Why are you doing it now?
The Isle is Full of Noises concludes a two-year project, supported by the European Union Culture Fund, in which Grand Union has been working with like-minded partner companies in France and Portugal, and helps fulfil our obligation to report and disseminate information about this project, its success, the lessons learnt and its legacy. We have been exploring the history of migration past and present in each region, and the UK strand culminated in three performances of our highly-acclaimed show Undream’d Shores at the Hackney Empire in November 2014. It expressed vividly and dramatically the ideas set out above, and will be presented as a ‘case study’ at the Forum. Recordings and videos are available and reports are regularly posted on the GUO website www.grandunion.org.uk and in GUO composer/director Tony Haynes’s monthly blog www.tonyhaynesmusic.wordpress.com.
Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices… – Caliban (The Tempest)