Hum the change you wish to see

Sergio Lopez Figueroa uses the power of the voice to heal and bring people together. He talks to Samuel Mallett.

Sergio Lopez Figueroa, the founder of Humming in Harmony (HUM), describes himself as a nomad. He was born to Spanish parents from the Canary Islands and his love of music started early. ‘I used to pick up tunes and play them on my little keyboard,’ he says.

When he was 22, he left home to pursue a career as a composer, studying and working in Italy, the UK and Spain. In 2007 he returned to London and started Big Bang Lab, an educational social enterprise which aimed to break down barriers between generations. He used film archives to encourage people to question the present by looking at the past. ‘Part of the mission was to empower people to have a shared voice and work together to co-create new visions for the future.’

He also co-designed an award-winning educational media project on the Holocaust. Through it he met Alice Herz-Sommer, the Holocaust’s oldest survivor. ‘Alice was 104 when I met her and she was so active,’ he says. ‘I was blown away by her positivity.’ Her energy and passion to keep growing have been a lasting inspiration.

This period of his life included family breakdown and financial problems. He closed the company three years ago. ‘I was struggling and renting an unsuitable place. I felt like I was living two different lives, networking and trying to bring the business alive but also exhausted to a point that I had a nervous breakdown.’ For a short period he was homeless.

During this time of severe instability, he discovered the power of humming. ‘It was almost like a personal mantra of remembering pieces of music I liked listening to, especially Bach. I found this form of self-therapy very soothing and relaxing.’ Humming in Harmony was born, combining mindfulness and humming with a focus on listening and sound.

‘Humming is scientifically proven to be beneficial to the brain,’ explains Sergio. ‘Everyone can hum, it doesn’t require any physical training or effort.’ Sergio’s sessions help attendees to strip away the stresses of city life and reconnect with their inner peace.

He offers humming sessions to small companies and community-based organisations at venues including Westminster Music Library and the Royal Festival Hall. Participants have reported health benefits. He was one of the changemakers nominated by the Southbank Centre at the Festival of Love in July 2016.

He has also created Section 21, a healing choir made up of private renters who are dealing with housing issues. Their music and lyrics highlight the connection between poor housing conditions and mental health. ‘I want to engage people to make a change,’ he says. ‘I want every landlord to adhere to compulsory Quality Living Standards.’

On 22 December HUM opened in Sergio’s hometown, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, with a collective improvised piece for piano, orchestra, choir and humming audience on the theme of the forgotten inner child. At 50, Sergio is still trying to connect people, and dreaming of taking Humming in Harmony from London to the world.

Photo: Sophie Coxon

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