As Trustee Board Member of Hear Me Out (HMO), long-time mobilities researcher, as well as failed former music child prodigy-wannabe (had I succeeded in the audition aged 15 for a place at Royal College of Music, would I have led a life of ballgowns and 8-hour finger exercises as a classical pianist??), I am delighted to participate in a workshop as part of Music, Migration and Mobility at Royal College of Music with HMO Artistic Director Gini Simpson on 27 January 2023 in London. Music, Migration and Mobility is a £900,000 AHRC project led by the RCM’s Norbert Meyn, with co-investigators Peter Adey, Professor of Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London and Nils Grosch, Professor of Music History at Salzburg University. Project partners include Glyndebourne, the German Historical Institute (GHI), the Migration Museum Project, Senate House Library, the Austrian Cultural Forum London, the Leo Baeck Institute and the Manx Museum. The project involves RCM students and staff as performers, coaches and music editors. There is an accompanying exhibition January-April 2023. At the workshop, my main ask as HMO representative was around how we could formally archive our 16-year archive of co-created music – watch this space regarding following up with the MMM project to discuss another two M’s, of a mobile museum. The workshop featured amongst others:

  • Benjamin Busenze Balagadde (Assistant Curator of Musical Collections and Cultures, Horniman Museum) and Mimi Waitzman (Acting Principal Curator of Musical Collections & Cultures, Horniman Museum), who presented the hope-giving, sector-leading work of the Horniman (which has inspired me for a course in collaboration with Manchester Art Gallery on museums and keeping that I have been invited to teach).
  • Dr Maria Castrillo (Head of Collections Access & Research, Imperial War Museum);
  • Dr Giada Peterlee (Director of the Museum of Geography, University of Padua);
  • Prof. Gabriele Rossi Rognoni (RCM Curator & Chair of Music & Material Culture, Royal College of Music);
  • Dr Domenico Sergi (Senior Curator (Curating London), Museum of London).

Above: Tweet on 27th January in reference to how oppression is systemic, as sadly demonstrated by government’s parade of Rishi Sunak/Suella Braverman/Priti Patel/Kemi Badenoch and other stooges in paradoxical posts (equalities! home office!) to cause maximum optical confusion; the misogyny and anti-feminism of the government and the Met police as internalised by Thatcher, Dick and more; and the tragic death of Tyre Nichol in the hands of black police in Memphis (long eloquently pointed out by Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name of [1992], in reference to another case of police brutality, the beating of Rodney King, with the lyrics ‘some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses‘). 

  • I raised a few points throughout the day, including by challenging the heteronormative colonial archetypes that seem to have been foregrounded – surely a missed opportunity given the holocaust theme and how the project sought to complicate the ‘Royal’ behind Royal College of Music, especially given the radical and advanced premise of the campaign of mobilities research. I asked about the the need to not duplicate dominant / normative approaches that intensify inequity, and questioned the laziness to only apply data crunching approaches instead of paying attention to ‘bad data’ and outliers (which would be the norm for often precarious bodies on the move), I pointed out the need to refer to counter-mapping tactics in the project’s efforts to Geographic Information Systems mapping, and asked if sufficient credit has been paid to LGBTQIA+ and non-white composers or, for that matter, the often creative women ‘behind’ the male composers.
  • All in all, it was a luxury to have a day out to exercise the mind with such engaged bodies and minds across career stages and backgrounds. The food sent me into a comatose. The exhibition featured a well-edited audioguide, with RCM students prefacing their performances with their own reflections) and the project which will have valuable outcomes for RCM and others. 
  • It was also fantastic to learn about the Principal Investigator Norbert Meyn’s previous engagement with Sue Curtis and Hear Me Out when it was Music in Detention.  
  • Other participants came up to tell me about the following efforts that resonate with HMO’s work:
    • Good Vibrations, which supports people in challenging circumstances through communal music-making 
    • A researcher shared ZUMU, a community-based mobile museum, which moves throughout Israel (not music specifically but looks interesting) 
    • They also shared the work of Alfred Haberkorn which brings art (including music) into prison spaces (in some ways similar to the work of Koestler Arts)
  • Last but not least, I also learnt about alien listening and an intergalactic music theory of everything!
  • Music, Migration and Mobility: The Legacy of Migrant Musicians from Nazi-Europe in Britain is a performance-led and multi-disciplinary project that seeks to better understand the significance of migration and mobility for music.
  • Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) with a grant of £900,000, it brings together an international team of musicians, archival researchers, musicologists and geographers for one of the biggest musicological research projects at the Royal College of Music to date. Researchers: Norbert Meyn, Nils Grosch (Salzburg University), Peter Adey (Royal Holloway).
  • This three year interdisciplinary project (2019-2022) will study the mobile lives, artistic products and impact on British culture of musicians who came from Nazi-ruled Europe during the 1930s and ’40s. Many of them went on to make major contributions to art music in the ensuing decades as performers, composers, arrangers, conductors, broadcasters and teachers.  
  • The project will also probe the practical challenges of performing and mediating the largely unknown body of works by these musicians, composed after they had settled in Britain but defined by trans-national influences and traditions, doing so through a series of open rehearsal workshops, public performances and recordings.
  • An ambitious programme of archival research in the UK, Germany, Austria and on the Isle of Man will shed new light on their experiences and contributions to national cultural renewal after the war and inform the practical investigations. Based on the archival research, the project will create online story maps that visualise where these musicians came from as well as where and with whom they worked, aiming both to understand and display the artistic relationships they formed with their British colleagues and with each other. The maps will also highlight their connections with some of Britain’s most important classical music institutions, including Glyndebourne, the BBC and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
  • The project’s outcomes include an online resource which will feature interactive story maps, biographies, recordings and oral history interviews, free to download music editions, peer-reviewed articles and data sets as well as a series of concerts and an international conference hosted by the RCM and the GHI.
  • Hear Me Out (formerly Music In Detention) is a UK charity (Company no 5943893 Charity no. 1119049). See HMO website here and 2023 Guardian article here.
  • HMO’s primary purpose is to bring people living in immigration detention centres together with professional musicians and people living in the community, to create and perform powerful artistic work, and convey it to new audiences through live and recorded performance, thereby increasing wellbeing and empathy, and helping change attitudes to migrants.
  • Set up in 2005, the charity brings music-making to some of the 28,000 immigration detainees kept in immigration detention centres like Dover Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), Gosport/Haslar IRC, Oxford/Campsfield House IRC and Portland/The Verne IRC.
  • HMO help people to express their humanity through music, and help everyone outside to hear their music and voices. It brings detainees together with professional musicians and local communities to share, create and enjoy music, enabling often-ignored voices to be heard in new ways.
  • Each year it involves around 2,500 detainees and 200 community participants, in over 200 workshops and produce <8 CDs of new music. 
  • To date, HMO has worked with 26,436 workshop participants (95% of whom share that they feel better afterward) and recorded 642 songs. There are 9 staff, 34 artists and 11 trustee board members.
  • HMO remains the only organisation in the UK focused on arts provision in immigration detention, and have pioneered the use of music-making to connect detainees to excluded and stigmatised groups in the community, enabling them to create and exchange music and lyrics with each other and build empathy and solidarity. HMO meets their urgent need for self-expression, bring them the joy of creativity and help them to find how much they have in common.
  • HMO’s story: Helen Tetlow (1951-2002) was a teacher, musician and activist. Helen spent her life standing up for and empowering refugees. Helen died suddenly and young. Her partner Peter wanted to use the money she left behind to help the most disadvantaged migrants in the UK. So he gathered Helen’s friends and family, myself included, to start a project which has become HMO. HMO remains inspired by Katia Chornik’s research into the music made by Chilean political prisoners during the dictatorship of Pinochet (academic paper here). HMO were struck by how music was a way to process, remember, forget or transcend difficult experiences.
  • HMO Director: John Speyer (whose leadership is informed by his background as a descendent of Polish, Dutch, Spanish and Moroccan Jews). Artistic Director: Gini Simpson (who has a formidable portfolio in the arts with leadership and advisory roles at The Sick of the Fringe, Un-Age, Media and Networked Arts Organisation, Live Art Development Agency. Queen Mary University of London’s Media Arts and Technology Doctoral Training Centre, and previously Phakama and Barbican). Board Chair: Sue Lukes (a well-known specialist in migration, equalities and service provision who has worked with refugees since 1976).
  • After responding to a call out and being interviewed, I was appointed HMO Trustee Board Member in 23/08/2019.
  • As a Company Director alongside other Board Members, I hold overall responsibility for HMO’s work and resources to ensure that it is effective and true to its purpose, looking after its interests and set its goals and plans, working together as a group with other board members.
  • My legal duties include ensuring that HMO is carrying out the purposes for which it is set up, and that it complies with its governing document and the law.
  • Working with other board members, I help to set HMO’s strategic aims and plans, review progress against these, and ensure that immigration detainees are always at the centre of HMO’s work.
  • I am an active contributor at Board meetings (which I attend a few times a year), as well as in the Co-Creation and Anti-Racism working groups. I have helped to push for policy and training in anti-racism, disability, and co-creation. I also helped to shape the content and communications of the core narrative, to counter ‘white-saviour’ approaches.
  • Furthermore, I am helping to decolonise the trustee board membership and approaches to include more former detainees. I advocate and support processes to make them more equitable. This includes streamlining processes to improve access for people with English as second language, and compensating participants to attend board meetings.