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Singing with Refugees in Berlin: A Life-Changing Experience for Local College Students

Chamber Singers of Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges sing with the "Coming Together Choir" in Berlin.

Thomas Lloyd has directed the choirs at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges in the suburbs of Philadelphia for over two decades. While teaching his students a wide range of repertoire, his focus has been to show—firsthand—what music means in other parts of the world.

Every three or four years during winter break, he has taken one of his choral groups, the Chamber Singers, to sing with community choirs in impoverished areas of Latin America or Africa. This past winter, the Chamber Singers made their first trip to Western Europe. In Berlin, at a refugee center, they discovered the power of communicating, and of understanding one another, through music.

Radio Script:

Conductor Thomas Lloyd

[MUSIC: [Vogelgesang (Birdsong,) an arrangement by Thomas Lloyd for SATB choir, violin, and percussion of Gustav Mahler, "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and Khalil al-Qabbar, Y? tera t?r? y? ham?mà. Performed by the Chamber Singers of Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, Thomas Lloyd conducting; Hanna Khuri, violin; Hafez Kotain, percussion.]

Debra Lew Harder: Every few winters, Haverford College choral professor Thomas Lloyd takes his Chamber Singers on tour. This year, he prepared them to sing with an unusual new choir in Berlin, formed when some Germans who were community singers... 

Thomas Lloyd: Were also working in refugee centers...

People who sing together cannot hate each other. This is where peace happens.

DLH: And found they shared a love of singing with some of the Middle-Eastern refugees. The Begegnungschor, or "Coming Together Choir" was born.

For Lloyd’s students, learning to sing in Arabic was not easy. It...

Julia Lin, Bryn Mawr College, '17: ...Felt like muscle and tongue drills.

DLH: And, once in Berlin, the scene at the refugee center bleak.

TL: Very impersonal. People lived there as families, fairly crowded.

Credit Thomas Lloyd
Chamber Singers warm up with the "Coming Together Choir" in Berlin Refugee Center in January, 2017. Middle Eastern refugees were invited to the concert that night.


DLH: But when the students and Begegnungschor began to sing in Arabic, the refugees...

TL: ...Began to sing along.

DLH: Hearing the familiar songs lit up the audience.

JL: I saw everybody clapping along and dancing—that’s when it hit me—these were not just mouth aerobics, these were pieces of home.

DLH: And then came the realization...

Emily Drummond, Bryn Mawr College, '17: When you show somebody you've taken the time to understand a little bit about where they come from and who they are, it's really powerful.

DLH: After 23 years, Thomas Lloyd is retiring from teaching. Rather than create a choir that would win competitions, his focus has been to show that music and singing with others....

Tom Sternberg, Haverford College, '17: ...Is not frivolous. If nothing else, people who sing together cannot hate each other. This is where peace happens.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.