For more than twenty years we have been working to empower people who are or who have been homeless through music-making. We transform day centres through performances of classical repertoire, and then invite people to join us to create and perform their own music.
The Connection at St Martin’s
During winter and spring, Academy musicians deliver workshops for people at The Connection at St Martin’s, introducing composition and improvisation techniques with the aim of increasing people’s confidence and musicianship. We have found that people are often affected by experiences of addiction or mental illness, and the personal, social and therapeutic benefits of music-making alleviate daily pressures and enable individuals to make long-lasting changes to their personal circumstances. In the words of one of our participants, ‘the music group is really wonderful for everyone’s spirit. When you’re homeless you can end up so low and the music group is one of the main things that changes how I feel and gives me some motivation.’
Never Failed Me Yet (2019)
On 12-13 April 2019 the Academy brought to life a new version of Gavin Bryars’ iconic work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – a piece centred upon an unknown homeless man’s vocal refrain.
The performance involved professional musicians and people with experience of homelessness performing together throughout the night at Tate Modern: it was the most accessible concert we have ever done, and more than one thousand people attended it.
Watch the film
This project was a collaboration with Streetwise Opera, who formed the choir for the performance; and Gavin Bryars’ ensemble and Southbank Sinfonia, who played alongside members of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, West London Mission and The Connection at St Martin’s. We worked with more than sixty people with experience of homelessness and engaged them with over fifty hours of singing and music making at The Connection at St Martin’s and the West London Mission.
“Having the opportunity to perform is very important, because it allows us to rebuild our self-esteem. Problems and trials in life knock you down all the time and being able to perform has allowed me to recover and to have the confidence to speak my mind.” Germaine Nyack, performer with Streetwise Opera.
“It’s such a privilege to be part of this, you have no idea how it’s made me feel. I haven’t done anything else with meaning since having kids, who I don’t see.” (Workshop participant).
During the project we worked with the international arts and homelessness movement With One Voice (WOV), an initiative connecting and strengthening arts and homelessness projects worldwide, and the Museum of Homelessness (MoH), an organisation created by people with direct experience of homelessness to collect and share the art, history and culture of homelessness and housing. WOV and MoH are piloting cultural spaces and organisational training to support venues being open and inclusive to all, ensuring meaningful engagement and equity for people who are or have been homeless.
Reviews and feedback
The performance was an incredible experience for performers and audience members alike:
‘Just emerged from Gavin Bryars’ ever extraordinary Never Failed Me Yet at Tate Modern – performed over 12 hours by Academy of St Martin in the Fields and others. Last hour spellbinding, moving, uplifting.’ @domcavendish (Theatre Critic, The Telegraph)
‘This powerful piece, loaded with meaning and question and emotion – it was a performance and an artistic statement and an homage and a call to action and a salute and a cradle and a hand outstretched all at once.’ Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan
‘None of us were homeless last night. Instead we were welcomed and royally entertained as special guests of one of the city’s most glamorous and sophisticated palaces of art!’ Gerry Slamon
Project credits & thank yous
Never Failed Me Yet was produced by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in partnership with Gavin Bryars, Streetwise Opera, Tate Modern, Southbank Sinfonia, The West London Mission and The Connection at St Martin’s
Generously supported by Arts Council England, The Big Give, Jerusalem Trust, Patrick & Helena Frost Foundation, Sir Neville Marriner Fund and Albert Hunt Trust.