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Revealing the power of communal singing in Direct Provision Centres

6 min read

Revealing the power of communal singing in Direct Provision Centres

6 min read


Revealing the power of communal singing in Direct Provision Centres

On the 24th September 2020 the research findings of the Song Seeking project was launched by Dr Ailbhe Kenny. This unique and timely project sought to enhance music participation for people within Ireland’s Direct Provision service and make connections with other singing communities.

“The communal room is full of women and young children. One child is playing on Mary’s keyboard and another is walking up a slide backwards. Several others are engaged in running, catching, pushing and the general business of play. They are aged between two and seven years. Most of the women have small babies in slings or in their arms.

There is a clear leader in the group, Anna, who welcomes me first, shakes my hand and introduces me to the other women. She also announces it is too cold in this room (it is!) and that we should go upstairs.

Mary wonders if it might be too small but Anna assures her it will be fine. We all climb the stairs to a small but warmer room. All the women start gathering up the chairs and assembling them into a circle. Slowly, others start arriving.

Mary begins by playing on the keyboard without verbal announcement and people join in singing a warm up as they settle in their seats. As the room is small, there is not a seat for everyone and several hang by the door, popping their heads in to sing or just observe. Some men have now joined. Mary continues in this way through three songs and praises them for remembering the tunes from last time.

One song involves a partner song with ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. During this the African participants continue with this song only, and begin singing in harmony, going through all the verses.

The atmosphere changes in the room, becomes solemn and passionate. One lady adds a descant improvisation. All of the children recognise the seriousness and sit transfixed, joining in on the chorus. Several singers close their eyes. Mary takes a background role, adding keyboard chords softly in the background.”

Observations at Song Seeking workshop at the Direct Provision Centre Emo, County Laois

They remain talking and in between the chats, they hum, sing and clap; lingering on in the space.

The Song Seeking Songbook

Open Video

Song Seeking was cross-agency collaboration between Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Sing Ireland (SI) and the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) and represented a firm commitment to harness collective expertise, share resources, expand networks, connect with multiple stakeholders, reach new audiences, as well as ensure knowledge exchange across varied sectors.

The Song Seeking project was distinctive in a number of ways:

A team of 4 choral facilitators with the project lead, designed, developed and implemented a unique intergenerational group singing project in 6 direct provision centres around the country. 60 singing sessions took place over the course of the project across 6 direct provision centres from January to June 2019. 10 sessions in each centre were led by a choral facilitator and each singing group developed in distinctive ways. Overall, approximately 100 singers living in direct provision engaged with the project, representing 21 different countries: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Cameroon, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Iraq, Ireland, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Swaziland, The Gambia, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe.

The Song Seeking project team worked alongside contemporary composer, Dr Seán Doherty. His ‘Song Seeking Songbook’ is a telling legacy of the project and evolved from his experiences and interactions with the singers living in direct provision and now

‘SingIn’ events at the direct provision centres linked those living in the Direct Provision Centres choirs and other singing groups from the local areas to share songs, perform for each other and socialise. The project culminated in ‘Big Sing’ which was hosted by the National Concert Hall.

To read more about the finding and recommendations of this important research project please click here

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