Creative Multilingualism at The Assembly House

It’s Thursday July 4th, the kick-off of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival, and I’m at our first event: ‘Creative Multilingualism’, an evening of song written in multiple languages, performed by the young people who created it. It’s held in the Assembly House, a beautiful old building dating back to Georgian times, and we’re in the music room – which has impressively high ceilings and big windows.

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Introducing the event is Lucy Farrant, director of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival. From her, we find out that there are around 130 languages spoken in Norfolk; around 100 of these are spoken in Norwich. As a county, we’re often considered to be lacking in diversity – a reputation that is not necessarily well-deserved, the evening points out. We hear from other people involved – teachers, composers, even a visit from the deputy Lord Mayor – and what is common in each of them is the passion they have for this project. 

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CREATIVEMULTILINGUALISM09CREATIVEMULTILINGUALISM10The event promises a “celebration of language, culture & creativity”, and we are not disappointed. Students from Catton Grove, Colman Junior and City College, from many different countries, representing four continents, come together to create a beautifully unique and colourful performance. There is movement, song and – a first in this project – British SignLanguage (BSL), which is taught as the Modern Foreign Language at Colman Junior. The chorus is catchy, uplifting, a sea of children signing while singing. There is a silent section of BSL, four students stood together on the stage, their peers sitting down, a handy translation in the programme telling me that this is about feeling proud to sign. 

I was really struck by the enthusiasm and the energy for the project that everyone showed. It looks like it was a fantastic project to be part of, and I feel fortunate that I got to see the end result.

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In the closing twenty minutes, we were treated by some solo vocal performances by three female artists from Hellesdon High, as well as a duo on vocals and guitar, performing covers of well-known songs. As everyone was beginning to head out, the City College students (who speak little to no English) started an impromptu jamming session, lead by Laura, conducting them through gesture and facial expression. The whole event was a perfect demonstration of the universality of music as a language, transcending barriers, allowing collaboration across continents to happen.

The project was supported by Norfolk Music Hub and inspired by a Multilingual Concert for primary schools organised last June by the Oxford-led research project Creative Multilingualism (https://www.creativeml.ox.ac.uk).

Part of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival 2019

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