OpenLIVES exile meets Spanish singer/songwriter

Following on from the last posting ‘OpenLIVES inspires Spanish singer/songwriter,’ there is an update!  Just to remind you: internationally renowned singer, Clara Sanabras had written four songs based on the life of one of our OpenLIVES exiles, Germinal Luis Fernandez, to perform at a concert and complement her latest album, Scattered Flight. Turner Sims Professor of Music, Harvey Brough arranged the compositions and trained the University of Southampton Voices to accompany Clara. Over Christmas, one of the OpenLIVES team, Miguel Arrebola, from the University of Portsmouth, arranged for Clara and Harvey to meet with Germinal in Barcelona. Here is his account of the meeting:

Clara, Harvey and I met with Germinal in Barcelona after Christmas. Clara and I had exchanged a few emails earlier, but I met her for the first time at her concert at Southampton University. Just before her concert started she said “we are recording my songs for Germinal, I hope it works”. Seeing Clara singing so beautifully about the life of our friend was magical and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Miguel Arrebola, Clara Sanabras and Germinal Luis Fernandez

Miguel Arrebola, Clara Sanabras and Germinal Luis Fernandez

When a few days later we all met in Barcelona, Clara gave the recording of her concert to Germinal in an exquisitely handmade folder, full of colour and textures, much like her voice. Germinal was chuffed to bits and said he could not wait to go home and watch it. His grandchildren were there visiting from the USA, but he was going to wait and watch the concert with the whole family.

We were all very very happy and after lots of hugs and kisses we went our separate ways. Germinal has promised to tell me what he thinks  next time I see him…

by Miguel Arrebola

And here is a video recording of two of Clara’s songs, based on Germinal’s story: America to Us and Y lo que es la vida. The first recounts his impressions on arriving in his home of exile, the USA; the second responds to his reunion with his parents after 7 years apart.

Kate Borthwick

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OpenLIVES inspires Spanish singer/songwriter

OpenLIVES material has inspired the internationally renowned singer/songwriter Clara Sanabras to write and perform 5 new songs, to accompany her upcoming album ‘Scattered Flight: songs of Spanish exile’. These songs were first performed on 29th November 2013, at the Turner Sims concert hall, at the University of Southampton.

Clara Sanabras

Clara Sanabras

The link with Clara and OpenLIVES is entirely serendipitous…and comes about due to the work of Harvey Brough, Turner Sims Professor of Music.

Harvey Brough

Harvey Brough

Harvey is a very talented, versatile and inspiring musician and he began a community choir for Southampton University staff and students which would delight our lunchtimes and bring the ‘shower-singers’ out of hiding… With about 100 of my colleagues, I took up the opportunity of ‘no audition necessary’ and joined a group who meet regularly in the Turner Sims concert hall to sing the lunchtime away…

After two local performances, Harvey presented our choir with a new challenge: we would support the gorgeous and brilliant Clara Sanabras in a concert of Spanish songs of exile, at the Turner Sims itself. A key aspect of Harvey’s work is bringing together amateur and professional performers, and so we were excited, honoured and (maybe a bit) terrified by this tantalising prospect! Harvey also mentioned, in passing, that he and Clara were still putting material together for the concert…at which point, I leapt out of my seat and pointed him to HumBox and the OpenLIVES collection online. In particular, the incredible interview, images and drawings recounting the life of Germinal Luis Fernandez.

Watch a subtitled video interview with Germinal

Clara’s songs

Germinal Luis Fernandez

Germinal Luis Fernandez in 2012

Clara was moved and inspired by Germinal’s story of escape from civil war in Spain, aged 11. He was split up from his parents then and subsequently lived a life of exile as a refugee in France and the USA. He was reunited with his parents 6 years later in Venezuela, where they had emigrated to start a new life.

Clara wrote 5 beautiful songs based on his experiences with lyrics which replicated Germinal’s own words in telling his story:

Children of War; The Wrong Train; America to Us; The Lucky Ones; Y lo que es la vida (Such is life…)

The Performance

Los Ninos exhibition
Part of the ‘Los Ninos’ exhibition
OpenLIVES information about Germinal

OpenLIVES information about Germinal

On the afternoon of the 29th November, I went up to the Turner Sims concert hall and put up an exhibition devoted to the story of the Spanish child exiles who took refuge in Southampton after the bombing of Guernica, in 1937. This exhibition was part of a research project carried out by staff in Modern Languages at Southampton (2008-11), and it had formed the basis of the material which OpenLIVES had digitised and published as open content.

I also displayed photos and information from the OpenLIVES online archive about Germinal.

So…we were all set for the concert!

Later, the choir gathered with Clara, Harvey and the Elysian Quartet to perform Clara’s songs of exile plus the ‘Germinal’ set. We had a big audience of nearly 200 and so nerves and excitement were high! During the concert, I read edited extracts from an English translation of Germinal’s story (in his own words), which had been created by Southampton student, Laura Davies, for OpenLIVES. When I recounted his reunion with his parents after 6 years, you could have heard a pin drop:

 In July 1947, Germinal got on a plane to Caracas to meet his family. He had been in the United States since he was 11 years old and was leaving it at 17, so his father would hardly recognise him. He saw a man standing looking at him, and Germinal knew it was his father, even though he was shorter than he remembered. Germinal said: “you’re my father, aren’t you?” and his father went crazy! He had bought a watch for Germinal which he was wearing at the time, and he took it straight off his wrist and put it on Germinal’s.

Clara followed this extract with the moving ballad ‘Y lo que es la vida.’ Her wonderful music and words had captured Germinal’s story and his own words in telling it. It was an amazing privilege to be part of the concert, and the ‘Germinal set’ fitted superbly with the rest of Clara’s songs which illustrate various aspects of Spanish exile including 15th century ballads, songs from the trenches, a Scottish folk song about a Scots fighter in the Spanish civil war, and contemporary responses to exile.

Watch a recording of two of Clara’s songs from the Germinal cycle: America to Us and Y lo que es la vida.

And what happened next?

The choir finished the concert high as kites…none of us could get the songs out of our heads and I’m still constantly humming either ‘Children of War’ or ‘Y lo que es la vida.’ We are all anxiously awaiting the imminent release of Clara’s album ‘Scattered Flight,’ so we don’t have to live without the songs any longer! This album will not feature the Germinal songs, but will feature many of the others that we sang.

“This has made my day!”

Germinal himself was contacted by a member of the OpenLIVES team and told about Clara’s songs based on his life story, and the performance. He was overwhelmed and said “This has made my day!” Arrangements are being made for him to meet with Clara and Harvey, in Barcelona, of which…more soon!

Rumba sin rumbo

Read more about a member of the community choir’s experiences of the concert on the Music at Southampton blog

…And here is an extract from the concert, in which Clara sings ‘Rumba sin rumbo’, from her album of songs of Spanish exile.

Kate B


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OpenLIVES on video

Catch the story of the project and why it is so amazing in our new video! Hear about the impact of the project, student work and transformed teaching…

Watch this – The Amazing OpenLIVES Project

At the LLAS Youtube site, you can also see some longer interviews with team members talking about the impact of the project on their professional lives.

Kate B

project manager

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OpenLIVES at OER13

The OpenLIVES project has now finished, but the work we’ve started continues! I’m going to talk about it at the OER13 conference in Nottingham next week (Tuesday, 26th March, 2pm) and I’m looking forward to showcasing the amazing work of our team in Modern Languages at Southampton, Leeds and Portsmouth.

Kate B

Project manager

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OpenLives: and so what?

As the OpenLives project draws near to a close we are being invited (by the project funders) to consider the value and uniqueness of our project now and in the future. We had a bit of a brainstorm about this and came up with the following thoughts:

Preserving and doing justice to research data

A bank of testimonies has now been created which is making use of data which would otherwise be sitting unused (and unloved) on an office shelf. The people who gave their stories to the researchers were very keen that their experiences should be heard, so in sharing these testimonies as open content we feel we are doing justice to these stories and the people who lived them.

Student-centred teaching resources

In addition to being an archive these oral accounts are now being re-lived through the work that students and teachers are doing with the material in the classroom and beyond. Engaging students with the testimonies has involved classroom-based activities such as creating a magazine article using the data as well as actually helping to prepare the material for publication as OERs, which inlcudes writing summaries in English of the mainly Spanish language material. Indeed, in one case the students have actually had (indirect) contact with one of the people interviewed during the original research project. Students listened to his testimony then drafted questions to be put to him when their tutor met up with him in Barcelona, where he now lives. The resulting video was then subtitled in English by a different set of students to produce an entirely new OER (see

Curriculum innovation and originality in teaching

This project has also led to innovation in the curriculum with one partner creating a new module based around the material which as been approved and is now in progress. For the project partners, themselves, the sharing of teaching ideas and the opportunity to link research and teaching has been particularly powerful. Talking to each other about the testimonies and how to incorporate them into the classroom has given a whole new lease of life to the research and has inspired some really excellent teaching ideas. Clearly OER does not lead, some might fear, to sameness or lack of originality in teaching as the ways in which the research data is being used and the personal stamp each partner is putting on the material shows how flexible and heterogeneous these OERs can be. They are very much living objects which can be mixed, matched, adapted, expanded, remixed and updated in a wide range of ways, each of which is unique and different.

Beyond education

Out there in the wider world there is the potential for ongoing interaction with a broad audience who might also be interested in, inspired by and active in using the raw data and the OERs created from it. Putting these very personal stories out into the world is  reaching out to a range of audiences who, it is hoped will, in their turn tell new stories through their engagement with and use of the material.

Collegiality and trust

In the highly competitive world of higher education this project has clearly shown that when colleagues work together across universities as a community of practice collegiality rather than competition prevails. Rather than giving away their institution’s Crown Jewels participants in this project are showing how their work can contribute more jewels to the crown through their creative use of the source material and indeed of the ideas (OERs) of others. Finally we feel that, thanks to the work of its contributers  (including the project partners) the HumBox now becoming a trusted source for the humanities community.

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OpenLIVES puts students to work

Hello after the long summer break!

Over the summer, we have been beavering away on the OpenLIVES project by digitising all of our raw audio files, embedding and attaching licence information to them, digitising other related files, editing videos…and putting some of our lovely recent Spanish graduates to work!

A small group of recent Spanish graduates from Southampton and Leeds have been working hard, listening to the recordings and making synopses in English for us. This invaluable work will help others to access and make better use of the recordings in research and teaching – and we are very grateful for our translators’ efforts! All synopses are being finished off at the moment and will appear alongside the recordings within the month.

As we approach the start of the academic year, each member of the project team is getting ready to start using OpenLIVES materials in their teaching (see previous posts) and I look forward to reporting the results here.

Kate Borthwick

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When research met teaching…

Antonio Martinez-Arboleda (Leeds) and I gave a presentation about the work of OpenLIVES at the LLAS/UCML/AULC conference ‘Language Futures: Languages in Higher Education,’ 5/6 July, in Edinburgh. Find it on HumBox.

Irina Nelson (Southampton) has also been out and about promoting the project at EdMedia, in Denver, USA, 28th June, and garnering a huge amount of interest from the Spanish speaking community who attended that event. Her slides are also on HumBox.

We are doing a lot of shouting about our project – but then we think we are doing a lot of amazing work! Come and hear more at EuroCALL 2012, in Gothenburg, 22-25 August, when Miguel Arrebola (Portsmouth) will be talking about his work on the project involving students as producers of content. Say ‘hi’ to me too, as I’ll be there talking about creating different communities of OER-sharers for languages…

Kate Borthwick


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