Walking Home: Sound Journeys for Lockdown, a series of five sound journeys commissioned by Opera North and composed and recorded by musicians during lockdown, is now available for download, the opera company has announced.

Five artists – spanning jazz, folk, Middle Eastern and African traditions, classical and contemporary music – created the new works to be listened to on headphones while walking, as part of BBC Arts and Arts Council England’s Culture in Quarantine initiative, bringing arts and culture to the nation under lockdown. Each piece has been made with a particular place or time in mind, offering the listener the chance to renew their own connections with their environment.

South African cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe’s lockdown base in the Peak District inspired his work Ulibambe, which is intended to accompany a walk at the end of the day. “I’ve enjoyed the different soundscapes as I walk out, thinking about the light in the sky, and how everything glimmers in a very different way,” he commented.

“The title comes from a Zulu saying meaning ‘Hold the sun, so it may not set’. In this piece of music the phrase takes on a new meaning and becomes a way to soothe your worries towards the end of the day. We often over-fill our day and feel overwhelmed, but instead we can live and work by embracing our instincts and knowing when we have done enough, or when there is a need for change.”

Born and raised in Damascus, Maya Youssef is a virtuoso of the qanun, the Arabic zither. Her contribution to the series is Silver Lining. She said: “When I was approached to take part in Walking Home, the first thing that came to mind was walking in nature, and the different lines of thought and feelings that stream through me.

“Because of that, there are different voices in this piece, all of which the qanun performs. I’ve never worked like that before, so it was a very interesting process. I know a lot of people are going through a lot of grief at the moment, and I wanted this music to give them a whisper of hope.”

Syrian-born Iraqi oud player and composer Khyam Allami’s sound walk Al-Mayasan takes a cinematic approach to the unsettling atmosphere of urban spaces in the Covid-era. “I’ve spent the entirety of the lockdown alone in Berlin, and through it I’ve learned that we tend to forget how much our day-to-day interactions with people allow us to have a different perspective on what we do and how we think”, he said.

“Music, especially when married to picture, can influence our emotional engagement and relationship with whatever we are seeing. I would like to encourage listeners to consider who you can see around you and the environment that you’re experiencing through the perspective of one of the other people that you have seen or encountered on this short journey with me.”

Accordionist, composer and one-third of exploratory folk band Lau, Martin Green brings together field recordings, dialogue and the trumpet and tenor horn of Laura Jurd on his mini-opus A Place of Crisps and Pianos.

“I’d been getting up earlier and earlier and really enjoying that special period when it feels like there are very few people awake. I recorded a few walks at sunrise, one with my daughter, and the snippets of conversation that got caught became the starting point,” he said.

“I’d been yearning for ensemble music and I’d been very keen to find a project to do with Laura for a while – and the sound of the sun makes me think of brass”.

He honed the final cut by listening to it repeatedly on walks out from his home in Midlothian: “You hear things differently when you’re walking, and things have a different effect,” he added.

Vocalist, violinist and pianist Alice Zawadzki’s My Boy of the Birds is written for “that very special time of day that’s neither nighttime or daytime, that strange liminal, luminous place where the birds are singing and we’re on the precipice of something new.

“The piece reflects all of the changes that we navigate with people close to us. There’s a tension between two keys, but there’s also a gentle pulsing all the way through which doesn’t change, and I suppose that’s the thing that you hold onto, a kind of rudder in these weird seas! I really hope that anybody listening to it will find beauty and consolation in it.”

The commissions are part of the BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative and each of the pieces was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 6 Music. They are all available to download for free from Opera North. The company is asking those who can afford it to pay what they feel is fair.

Jonty Claypole, director of BBC Arts, commented: “BBC Arts has been working with artists and arts organisations throughout lockdown to ensure their work reaches a UK-wide audience during this challenging time. These new commissions display a wealth of creative vision, expressing many of the emotions provoked by lockdown: anxiety and loneliness as well as love and joy. I am overwhelmed by the brilliance of what the artists have achieved, many of whom are more used to making work in theatres and live spaces, adapting their craft to tell their stories in a new way.”



Qanun virtuoso Maya Youssef performs her sound journey Silver Lining for Opera North’s Walking Home series (Tim Dunk).