Byline: Terry Grimley
Why would a group of school students from Aston take a research trip to Whitehaven in Cumbria?
Because, like Bristol and Liverpool, it played a significant role in the history of the slave trade and its abolition. Unlike the two major ports its association is little known, though it is commemorated in a local museum called The Rum Story.
That research trip earlier this year was part of an ambitious project by Kajans, a community arts and education organisation based in Aston. With funding from the Heritage Lottery's Youth Roots programme it has worked with students from Holte School, Dartmouth High School, Aston Manor and Alcester Grammar to explore the story of gospel music from the time of slavery to the present day.
The research will be presented as an exhibition at Birmingham Central Library, which also supported the project. But, gospel being very much a living form of expression, it has also inspired a musical drama, Gospel Now & Then, which has its premiere at Symphony Hall on Sunday.
About 80 young people are taking part in the show alongside some guests from the local gospel scene - Joyous Symphony, Abigail Kelly, Witness and Yaz Alexander. With the addition of volunteers recruited from the local community a total of nearly 300 young people between the ages of eight and 19 have participated in the project.
"This has always been a bold, adventurous organisation," says Valerie Earle, Kajans' acting manager of youth arts and education.
"It became a tradition to have an international summer school where you would have teachers and artists from other countries, from Africa or other parts of Europe. Most of the artistic work culminates in some sort of production."
For Gospel Now & Then the children worked with voice coaches in school before the summer holiday, learning traditional songs and writing new ones. During the holiday they have worked all day on Thursdays at Albert Hall, the imposing 19th century building on Witton Road in which Kajans is based. …