Everyday Wonders: The Girl from Aleppo

Commissioned by the National Children’s Choir of Great Britain to commemorate their 20th Anniversary; first performed 10th August 2018 in Birmingham Town Hall.

Composer: Cecilia McDowall
Libretto: Kevin Crossley-Holland
Violin: Harriet Mackenzie
Piano: Claire Dunham
Conductor: Dan Ludford-Thomas

To see a video of NCCGB giving the first performance of the piece, please click here.

In 2014 the NCCGB trustees agreed that we could commission a new work to celebrate our 20th anniversary, and the following year we commissioned Cecilia McDowall to write the piece. We suggested the theme of ‘children in conflict’, which was and still is an issue of worldwide concern; we were delighted when Cecilia and Kevin Crossley-Holland, who wrote the libretto, suggested the story of Nujeen Mustafa, based on the book she co-authored with Christina Lamb, ‘The Girl from Aleppo’.



The National Children’s Choir of Great Britain and alumni première the work in Birmingham Town Hall, 10th August 10th 


Nujeen is a 20-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who four years ago left her parents in Aleppo and travelled to Germany in a wheelchair, accompanied by her sister Nisreen. Courageous and determined, her optimism is an example from which we can all learn: “The way I think of it is, I left everything behind so everything is possible now.”



Nujeen and Nisreen Mustafa


Cecilia McDowall writes … “Working in collaboration with the author Kevin Crossley-Holland on the subject of ‘children in conflict’ has touched something close my heart. Through the story of one remarkable, wheelchair-bound, young Kurdish refugee from Aleppo, Nujeen Mustafa, I have come to understand so much more of the terror, the distress and helplessness experienced by those driven from their homes by the horror of war. As composer I felt it important for the music not to obscure the text in any way, but to allow the words to tell the story, from despair, through hope and ultimately (and surprisingly) joy. Harriet Mackenzie brings her superb violin playing to thread a solo narrative through the cantata evoking, at times, an Arabic sound world. It has been special indeed working with the National Children’s Choir, Kevin and Harriet and all the music staff of NCCGB.”

Cecilia McDowall discussing the piece with Dan Ludford-Thomas, NCCGB Musical Director



Many children and young people are still leaving their homes in search of peace and safety and need our help. We donated a percentage of the profits from our 20th Anniversary Concert in 2018 to The Mandala Trust for Helping Refugees in Jordan; Elizabeth Laird, who is closely involved with the charity, writes …

“We all know how much joy music can bring. It can be a great healer too. In Jordan, there are 1,400,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. Many of them are children. Most have missed years of schooling, and many are bereaved and injured. Some are traumatized and disturbed. All of them need specialised help before they can cope with formal education and music can play a vital role in this process.”

Azraq catch up school, HRJ


Premièring this work in 2018 was a wonderful experience for the NCCGB choir members and alumni and this year the choir recorded it with equal enjoyment. Cecilia and Harriet came and worked with us again at Shrewsbury School before and during the recording and we are grateful to them for their time and support. The recording was released on 1st May 2020.

To see a video of the 20th Anniversary Concert, please click here



Left to right: Dan Ludford-Thomas, NCCGB Musical Director; Harriet Mackenzie, violinist; Cecilia McDowall, composer;           Claire Dunham, pianist.