By Jan Hunter

My Great Folk, an event in Middlesbrough Town Hall, was a celebration of the town, inspired by the industrial history of Middlesbrough and the migration of people into this area. In recent years Middlesbrough has become a place where asylum seekers are sent to forge a new life for themselves.

Led by professional opera singers, Emily Smith and David Pisaro, and funded by several sponsors, this celebratory event was a collaboration between North East Opera, Methodist Asylum Project (MAP), the Middlesbrough Community Choir, and performing arts students from Middlesbrough College.

People poured into the gothic-style concert hall which completed its refurbishment in 2018, outnumbering the 150 performers on the stage, made up of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and nationalities, who shared their songs and stories to bring music and singers together from around the world.

More poignant was that some of the performers had escaped from certain death or torture in their own countries, and this was evident in the passion and pride in which they sang the songs of their homeland, backed by the choirs, which created beautiful harmonies and melodies. The arrangements of the songs must be credited to the genius of David Pisaro.

Yohannes Eyob escaped from Eritrea, leaving behind his career as a top athlete, and singer/songwriter, and everything he owned. Missing his kirar (Eritrean harp) he managed to built one out of old pieces of furniture using brake wires as strings. His playing and singing was even more poignant and moving because of his back story.

Two young people dressed in the traditional costumes of Ukraine took to the stage. One a prima ballerina, Alla Troitsky, and soprano Svitlana Sanina. The combination of the pure voice of Svitlana and the graceful dancing, was stunning and brought a roar of approval and support from the audience.

Many of the songs from the countries of Africa and beyond, were upbeat and uplifting and made you want to dance along to them , the soloist's voices filling the room with such power.

Credit must got to the band, led by Emily on piano, special mention to Emma Fisk on violin, and conductor David Pisaro.

Talking about the workshops with the refugees and asylum seekers which led to this community event, Emily said:

"These workshops are to empower people, to give a voice to the voiceless, to stand proud and strong in the face of adversity."