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Making Manchester interview 5 - Jo Yee Cheung, Producer (Director of Olympias Music)

Jo is a British-Chinese pianist, music educator and PhD researcher based at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she specialises in the role of parental support in musical development. Since graduating from Cambridge University in 2014 with a degree in Music, Jo has gone onto found the Olympias Music Foundation in 2015 – a multi-award-winning music education charity which aims to increase access to music education in Manchester and encourage community integration through music. Jo will be overseeing the production of Making Manchester, including managing the project.

What interested you about Making Manchester, and why did you decide to get involved?

I met Claire and Sundeep from Our Migration Story at the Community Integration Awards in 2017 and was instantly drawn in by their project and its aims. When we met again in Manchester, I was absolutely set on Olympias Music collaborating with Our Migration Story – combining our shared aims of increasing access to music and encouraging community integration through some kind of musical work. As a child of Chinese immigrants (my parents’ story would’ve been called ‘From Hong Kong to Rotherham’), this project is particularly close to my heart. At a time when migrants’ experiences are still often mis-portrayed and/or underrepresented, and access to affordable music education is becoming increasingly scarce, I think this project is a really important one in highlighting the problems created by an ‘us and them’ mentality.

How do you see Making Manchester being different from other projects you've been involved in?

As a music education charity, Olympias Music’s work has predominantly focused on increasing participation in music-making amongst deprived groups through regular music lessons and choirs. Making Manchester is the first time Olympias Music has commissioned new music and produced a performance in collaboration with musicians, academics and artists from other disciplines (poetry, physical theatre etc). In true keeping with the charity’s spirit though, the entire work is rooted in experiences and music created by the people we work with – in this case, the 60 pupils from DTA.

What are you most excited about, as part of Making Manchester?

We have an absolutely stellar team of musicians and artists involved in helping us put the final performances together. Kabantu are long-time friends of Olympias Music from RNCM, and the Vonnegut Collective are similarly well-known faces from within the Manchester music scene. For me, the most exciting part of Making Manchester will be watching pupils from DTA (a school which doesn’t offer music as a subject) engage with these incredible musicians and see their creative/musical ideas realised on stage. If we can get the audience excited about the music we make too, that would be a bonus!

What do you hope to achieve in your role as part of the project?

More than anything else, I hope that Making Manchester will draw attention to the reality of migrants’ experiences to a wider audience, in a moving and relatable way. These aren’t hypothetical situations, these are real-life accounts from the mouths of young people! Music is such a powerful tool for communication, and crosses so many boundaries. This project has been such a journey. I really hope the pupils from DTA, whose stories make up the work, will be proud of the final result – maybe they’ll even be inspired to pursue music in the future!

Two performances of Making Manchester will take place on 27/28th June at Niamos Radical Arts Centre. Tickets for are £5 and available from Skiddle, Tickets For Good or on the door.

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