Opera North Soundwalk: I try the new As You Are sound trail through Leeds' most recognisable landmarks

YEP reporter Geha Pandey took a new Opera North soundwalk through some of the city’s most recognisable landmarks.
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I went into this blind: I had never been on a soundwalk before, I had not heard of the composer and musician Abel Selaocoe and admittedly, I am still not too familiar with the music produced by Opera North and its orchestra – but I was excited.

The 40-minute walking route begins inside Victoria Gate, in a unit opposite the customer desk and next door to Weeton’s, where a few other people and I collected a map, a pair of headphones and a sound receiver pack – which syncs up to set locations in the map automatically – before being told to enjoy the walk and to take it at our own pace.

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The As You Are soundwalk begins with Abel. He calls it “a piece about discovering your city in a new light of music” and a “celebration of African culture” as I follow the map out through to the County Arcade and into Thornton’s Arcade with an Opera North representative.

As You Are is a soundwalk created by Opera North as part of Leeds 2023.As You Are is a soundwalk created by Opera North as part of Leeds 2023.
As You Are is a soundwalk created by Opera North as part of Leeds 2023.

The flamboyant designs these arcades are known for always catch the eye of people new to the city. We found that the unfamiliar music – with choirs singing in different rhythms that creates one rhythm, followed by a drum solo – focuses your mind on what is in front of you. I am reminded that these buildings are actually stunning pieces of architecture and much for Leeds to be proud of.

We take a few turns before walking the entire length of Briggate, a street I walk nearly everyday and often find myself disliking how busy it can get on a weekend. But this time, despite it being the Easter holidays and crowded with families and young children enjoying the sun and gentle breeze, with no particular place to be, I found myself enjoying the stroll.

We arrive at the bridge and just as we were instructed to by Abel, we take a few moments to enjoy the water. He says: “Water is a very important aspect of African culture. We use it in ways of healing by looking at it, or by taking it in.”

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We often have tunnel vision on our way to work, ignore everything and everyone and fall into autopilot mode due to our familiarity with our surroundings, I tell the representative that joined me. Not walking so fast has led me to see things that I wouldn’t normally pay attention to. I am still unable to pinpoint whether it was the new music, its tempo or the mindfulness practice that caused this.

We head towards the Corn Exchange where the music picks up again. As we tour around the building – a true credit to the city – and have a look at the independent stores, I remember how much there is to do there. The flexibility of the soundwalk also allows us to grab a coffee at Bruschetta before we head back to Vicar Lane.

The walk can only be described as mindful and each musical chapter was beautifully distinct to the last. Abel set out to achieve a walk to allow people to take in their surroundings, and the walk served a serene reminder of the beauty our city holds.

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