Singing Against Loneliness: songs of a homeless choir in Porto

  • Graça Boal-Palheiros CIPEM/INET-md, Escola Superior de Educação, Instituto Polit´écnico do Porto


In recent decades, cultural institutions in Western countries have developed educational services and supported community cultural projects. Through the rhetoric of social inclusion, the concert hall Casa da Música (CM) in Porto, Portugal, tries to reach marginalized people in deprived contexts. This study investigated ‘Som da Rua’ (“Sound of the Streetâ€), a music ensemble of homeless adults created by the CM, who perform in rehearsals and concerts supported by professional musicians and social educators. It explores the role of community music while reflecting on its possible effects upon the participants’ development, its significance in their lives and its potential to build resilience among disadvantaged adults. Special attention is given to the songs, as relevant elements in the construction of the group’s identity. The method is designed as a qualitative interpretive case study, combining various approaches: an evaluation of the project’s aims and implementation; a semi-structured interview with the music director; field notes of observations of the musical practice; and an analysis of the song repertoire. The results suggest positive effects of musical practice in building a sense of belonging and a group identity among disadvantaged adults. Through singing and playing, supported by professional musicians, participants develop good interpersonal relationships which may foster their self-confidence and social skills. Achieving good musical results and being warmly applauded by the audiences gives them a sense of accomplishment. The musical repertoire is unique to this group, and some songs were built from the participants’ inputs. The repertoire is therefore a key element in the construction of a new musical and social identity. The emotional character of the songs and the lyrics (sadness, despair, but also hope and resilience) reflects participants’ moods and life experiences, while helping them to cope with their harsh lives and build resilience against adversity.