As well as Rio de Janeiro being the home of the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, the city hosted the launch of the first International Arts and Homelessness Movement. The launch was part of the Cultural Olympiad, and saw homeless choirs perform in public spaces across the South American city. Shelly Coyne, a Music – PhD student at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), travelled to Brazil to participate in the events, volunteer, and conduct some interviews for her research.

This journey began in 2010 when I formed a choir at a centre in Glasgow, which was set up to support people affected by the issues of homelessness. The choir was later invited to perform at The Royal Opera House in 2012 for an event called With One Voice, the brain child of Reid School of Music alumni, Matt Peacock MBE and founder of Streetwise Opera. The event, which was part of the Cultural Olympiad accompanying the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London, saw 300 people affected by homeless challenge many of the myths and preconceptions around their lives, and instead shifted the focus to celebrating talent and achievement. A second With One Voice (or, in Portuguese, Uma Só Voz) event was then planned for Rio for 2016, after a series of cultural exchanges between the UK and Brazil.

My doctoral research is borne out of my experiences as a choir leader. It explores the experience of homeless choirs and looks at whether participation might lead to singers moving forward with their lives. This international arts and homelessness exchange and the launch of the new movement in Rio fell serendipitously at the end of my first year as a PhD student, and it proved to be a unique and illuminating research opportunity.

The trip afforded me an unparalleled opportunity to understand homelessness though meeting representatives from the Homeless People’s Movement of Brazil, volunteering at the cathedral, serving breakfast to 400 people, visiting homeless centres, talking to the staff and residents and spending time with street people of Rio. I was able to shadow the choirs as they performed across the city, watch them rehearse and perform, and invite them to take part in my research, which led to ten deeply revealing interviews. I was also delighted to be able to teach and share some songs from my repertoire, and leave a file of songs for the two Brazilian choir leaders to teach at a later date.

Shelly’s trip was made possible thanks to the support and generosity of Matt Peacock MBE, Streetwise Opera, the People's Palace Projects, SEMPRE/The Gerry Farrell Travel Scholarship, the Gwen Clutterbuck Scholarship, the Post Graduate Expenses Fund and the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund.

Shelly is a PhD student in Reid School of Music, and is working as part of the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), a research centre at Edinburgh College of Art.

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