Songs of Arrival is a performance of songs based on the stories of Jewish refugees arriving in Cheetham from Manchester Jewish Museum’s oral history collection as well as contemporary stories of migration to Manchester. Carmel Thomason talks to Baritone, Peter Brathwaite of the Museum’s Song-writing group to find out more.
What is the story behind the Jewish refugees arriving in Cheetham Hill?
Peter: “Cheetham Hill was a place of refuge for Jews escaping Nazi occupied Europe in the 30s and 40s. It became the home of Manchester’s Jewish community. Those displaced came from all walks of life and brought with them the rich traditions of their former homes. Manchester Jewish Museum is lucky enough to have oral histories which tell the diverse stories of this community”.
Who are Manchester Jewish Museum’s song writing group?
Peter: “The song writing group is made up of past and current residents of Cheetham Hill. Whilst none of them are related to the refugees whose stories we are telling, all have a strong connection to the local area. One of the group has never lived in Cheetham Hill, but courted his wife in the cinemas that used to line the high street!”
What was the idea behind Songs of Arrival?
Peter: “The idea is to share stories that would otherwise remain untold. It’s important for us to be able to elevate marginalised voices of the past and present them alongside more contemporary stories of migration. Cheetham Hill remains one of the most diverse areas of the country and that richness should be celebrated”.
Are all the songs original?
Peter: “In addition to new songs written by the song writing group and composer Na’ama Zisser, the performance will also include music by Jewish composers who were also forced to flee Nazi occupied Europe – composers such as Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and Arnold Schoenberg”.
How were the songs developed?
Peter: “The songs have been developed through weekly song writing sessions led by composer Joe Steele. The lyrics have been generated from oral histories held in the Museum’s collection. It seems that these stories are endowed with intrinsic melody or underlying rhythm. Given the emotional depth of the histories, it’s felt very natural to translate these words into music”.
Do you tell the stories of real people or are the songs an amalgamation of true stories?
Peter: “They’re the stories of Cheetham Hill residents from the past. We’ve taken these stories and interpreted them from a contemporary standpoint. Through engaging with local community groups, we’ve also managed to translate sections of the original histories into some of many languages spoken in Cheetham Hill today”.
What is special about telling history through songs?
Peter: “Singing is such a natural form of expression and is the perfect way to capture the emotional depths of these historical accounts”.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the first Festival of Belonging?
Peter: “It’s an opportunity to give voice to those who haven’t been heard in the past or struggle to find a voice today”.
What do you hope people will take form the event?
Peter: “I hope people will come away feeling that they’ve not only made a connection to the past, but also that the event encourages active engagement with those living on the margins of society today”.
What will happen to the songs after the performance? Will a recording be kept in the museum?
Peter: “We’re going to create more songs based on the oral histories! When the Manchester Jewish Museum reopens next year they’ll be permanently installed for all to enjoy”.
Songs of Arrival with Peter Brathwaite, Na’ama Zisser, Joe Steele and MJM’s Song-writing Group is at on Thursday 12 March 2020 at Manchester Central Library as part of Manchester Jewish Museum’s first Festival of Belonging from March 7-14, featuring one off events and nights of comedy, theatre, storytelling, films and visual arts to examine how we assimilate in new places, explore what makes us feel that we belong and question what happens when we don’t. Visit website for full festival details.