York U initiative amplifies voices of refugee youth

A hand holds a microphone. Collage element in halftone effect. P

York University’s Singing Our Stories project, led by Professor Andrea Emberly, aims to amplify the voices of refugee and newcomer children and youth through music and collaborative arts creation.

andrea emberly
Andrea Emberly

Partnering with refugee settlement agencies COSTI and CultureLink, as well as international research leaders in applied community music, Singing Our Stories mobilizes arts- and music-based programs to support the well-being goals of refugee children and youth.

Supported by a $447,000 grant from Canada’s Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, the project explores how music-making, songwriting and storytelling can foster young people’s well-being, cultural resilience and individual resilience. At the same time, it looks to challenge discriminatory assumptions about their experiences and addresses systemic barriers to their well-being during displacement, migration and resettlement.

“Music is key to disrupting these barriers because it provides a tangible and creative way for young people to reclaim and tell their own stories and share insight into their own lived experiences,” explains Emberly, an ethnomusicologist and York Research Chair in Children’s Musical Cultures.

The goal is for participants to begin healing, participate more fully in their own communities and cultures, and even begin to change prejudiced stereotypes held about them by others.

Among its efforts has been the Singing Our Stories festival, held in June at York University and community venues in Toronto, where children and youth from ongoing programs shared their music and arts. Part of the festival included a five-day residency called Common Ground Voices, running concurrently with the festival dates, led by world-renowned choral conductor and peace activist André de Quadros from Boston University. The residency invited musicians, artists and creative individuals, particularly those affected or impacted by war and conflict, to participate in creative arts as a means to dialogue about peace-building in the current world.

Residency participants collaborated with children’s and youth refugee choirs in a final performance at the Aga Khan Museum Theatre, showcasing the power of music and arts in amplifying the voices of displaced communities and fostering understanding and dialogue.

“By telling their own stories,” says Emberly, “children and young people help to shape the future of our communities.”