A Breath of Sound was part of a community engagement programme City Arts developed for World Event Young Artists. WEYA was Nottingham’s flagship Cultural Olympiad Festival, bringing over 1,000 artists from across the world for ten days to exhibit, perform, display, play, collaborate and share.

This programme brought together local community choirs to work with the internationally renowned composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven. Merlijn worked with 8 choirs, 12 soloists, 12 music leaders and the South African Choir Medhu, who were part of the WEYA Festival. We also involved over 100 school children to help build the atmosphere. We developed an innovative performance piece that was showcased at Nottingham’s Royal Centre.

Two singers from Nottingham helped to recruit participants. We set up singing workshops, started researching choirs and music groups, went on the radio to promote the event, and ultimately held a sharing day for groups and individuals. We recruited eight choirs for this day, with each group sharing their work and playing with exercises and elements constructed by Merlijn.

Merlijn came to Nottingham for rehearsals a week before the festival opened. He designed the piece to fall into place over a period of a week. It was structured around three tiers of participant – lead soloists, group leaders and choirs. The structure of the piece was based around synchronised stop-watches, with each group being given a breakdown of their part, in minute by minute sections. Within this structure, groups could improvise and be playful. The piece was predominantly performed off the stage and choirs were placed around the theatre, each with a soloist and group leader.

Around 300 voices filled the space – bringing it together in song.  This was a unique chance for the performers to use the Royal Centre, one of the best acoustic spaces in the country, as an enormous sound box.  For the audience and performers alike it was a one-off sonic experience.