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Timeless images of refugees inspire Belgian duo

Images of refugees seeking a new life in America has inspired the latest musical collaboration between cornet soloist Harmen Vanhoorne and composer Stan Nieuwenhuis.

Refugees
  The images of refugees seeking new, safer lives taken by Augustus Sherman still resonate today

Moving images of some of the millions of immigrants who sought refuge and a new life in the United States of America at the turn of the last century has inspired the latest musical collaboration between cornet soloist Harmen Vanhoorne and composer Stan Nieuwenhuis.

Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island near New York was the first experience people had of the 'free world' after fleeing persecution, famine, poverty and war.

It was where America said to the world that it welcomed '…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free'.

Ethnic clothing

In one month alone in 1907, 11,747 immigrants arrived, many of them still wearing the traditional ethnic clothing they boarded their ships with.

Amateur photographer Augustus Sherman worked as the Chief Registry Clerk on Ellis Island from 1892 until 1925, and took hundreds of pictures of the refugees as they waited to be processed through immigration controls.

His photographs were later published in National Geographic, and remain immensely moving snapshots of time and place, hope and anxiety — and as relevant today as the pictures we see on television news of refugees fleeing to a new life from the conflict zones of the world.

Proactive role

That is something which certainly hit home for the Belgian musicians who have taken a proactive role in helping refugees settle in their own home country.

"It is a topic, which has affected us both very much," Harmen told 4BR. "We were mesmerised by the photos of Augustus Sherman. When we started to do the research for the project we discovered so many deeply human stories and so many complexities.

We started to see the connection with the current global situation and that made them both fascinating and troubling in a whole new way."

New avenues

The duo has worked together over many years, but they feel that they are now exploring much deeper musical avenues, as Stan added. "That is certainly the case with this project which we have called 'Doux'.

We are trying to reflect the modern phenomenon of migrant movement — with refugees, especially youngsters, bringing their own sound and musical influences to bear as they seek peace in a new home."

It was where America said to the world that it welcomed '…your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free'4BR

Ellis Island

The project is part of a new CD album called 'Ellis Island' which will incorporate fresh sounds influenced by jazz and electronic music with brass band backgrounds.

The CD will be released later this year in the port city of Antwerp, where over the years hundreds of thousands of migrants boarded ships to seek a new, safer future.

"That was also something we were surprised to find out," Harmen added. "To think that our home country was also linked to these stories made it even more relevant to us."



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Craig Roberts

BA (Hons), MA
Conductor / Adjudicator