SPOTLIGHT: Dovetail Orchestra at St Ambrose Church

The Dovetail Orchestra staged a very special concert at St Ambrose Church, conducted by Jonathan James and in support of Aid Box Community.

Words: James Pena

Images: Nick Albert

Sunday 12th February was a normal day here in Bristol. That is why I think this story is worth telling – because sometimes we don’t realise how many powerful and emotive things can happen within this city. Things like the Dovetail Orchestra’s concert at Saint Ambrose Church in East Bristol that evening.

Jonathan James. Image: Nick Albert

A couple of weeks before that day, I was in a pub with Jon, where he told me about the event. I was, and I still am, trying to figure out how life manages to create these kinds of movie-like situations when you least expect them. 

Jon has dedicated his life to music, and he was going to be the conductor of that concert, which was the same day as his birthday. His friend was the composer of the music that was going to be played and unfortunately has an advanced and inoperable cancer in three different places and a life expectancy of a few months.

I was looking at a situation in which, through my eyes, the passion for music was dancing with death itself, while counting every second…

The symphony orchestra. Image: Nick Albert

During the next few days, many thoughts were going round inside my head. Music is such a pillar of our daily life, and it is so normal to us that we forget it all the time. Even our own hearts have a rhythm. We forget to think about the art within music, and how – even though it doesn’t always happen – the simplest song could guard a deep story.

We forget about how music has been there through all of humanity’s existence, and we are constantly passing it to the future generations; to keep alive our different ideas, feelings, values and promises until whatever our end will be.  

Singer Taban. Image: Nick Albert

I went to the concert. The church was full of people, and the room, even though it was already evening, was warm. The first two pieces were played by the Dovetail Orchestra, which is made up of asylum seekers, refugees, and many other people from around the world. I spoke to some of the musicians and asked them about what music means to them and what they thought about the pieces they were about to play.

Phrases such as “music is my life” and words like “vibrant” and “joyful” were just some of their responses. Taban was the main singer of the songs played by the Dovetail Orchestra. I had happened to meet her at another music group a long time ago, and I was surprised to see her here. She told me, “I feel really great. This is me, finally, singing,” and she referred to Jon as “amazing, very creative and a genius, honestly.”

Images: Nick Albert

I had never heard an orchestra in person before that day. Maybe it was because I knew the story behind the musicians, or maybe because I was thinking many abstract things right before, but what they played that night was heartrendingly emotive. Every piece was full of ups and downs, as if many emotions such as security, sadness, joy, anger, doubt and hope were arguing. Every piece was different to the others, somehow, while keeping the same tenderness and complexity.

Jonathan James. Image: Nick Albert

A couple of days later, I interviewed Jon to talk about all of this. After that concert, I am sure of something that I already knew deep inside: that music is for everyone, and that it is an art worth giving your life for. As time and death truly don’t care about anyone, we need to do what we love until the end, whatever the end will be.

Find out more about the Dovetail Orchestra on their website here. Learn more about Aid Box Community and how you can get involved here.