Birralee Singers – celebrating a wonderful tour

Final days of tour for the Birralee Singers 

Content by Joshua Clifford 

With the Singers’ performances officially behind us, the sight-seeing began! Day five was full of learning about Tasmania’s rich history and discovering the hidden wonders of its natural beauty.

After breakfast, we boarded coaches and hire cars to leave camp to begin the trek to some other parts of the east coast of the island. Our first stop was Eaglehawk Neck Lookout, where we were all shown a view of the stunning vista of Pirates Bay.

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Plenty of group pics and selfies were taken here; the deep blues of the ocean and the curve of the distant cliffs were truly awesome! Next up were the intriguing natural formations known as the Tessellated Pavement, a flat rock surface where the fractures have formed into regularly shaped rectangles and blocks. Here the Singers saw up close the intricate balance between land and sea in Tassy, and the omnipotent powers of nature.

Following this our touring group progressed to Remarkable Cave. This enchanting part of the coastline featured a walk surrounded by beach scrub and at the mouth of the Cave, superbly smooth rocks and pebbles, obviously corroded over time by the roll of the waves into such exquisite shapes. After exploring these spots, we were all taken to Port Arthur Historic Site where our choristers gave a spontaneous performance of Michael Row the Boat Ashore. 

The Singers travelled to the Port Arthur Lavender Farm Restaurant to enjoy a hearty, warm meal of salad, vegetables, roast chicken and lamb and a flavoured ice cream for dessert.

This was such a glorious meal – many Singers (and myself!) going back for seconds – as a token of our appreciation, the choir gave a lovely performance of the simple yet affective Be With Me.

The owner of the Lavender Restaurant was so impressed by this piece, and the impeccable manners of all the Singers during the meal, he gave us a very special presentation of how the farm operates, and how the bunches of Lavender are dried, distilled, and then turned into a huge variety of products from perfume to paper.

With full stomachs and happy hearts, we parted ways with the people at Port Arthur Lavender and began the bus ride home, many of the Singers succumbing to tiredness on the way!

As the evening drew to a close, I’m sure each tourer could feel a much deeper engagement with Tasmania and its history.

Before we knew it, it was the final day of touring.

The past week has been a great journey for all the Singers; the opportunity to tour as a chorister is such a special one, where lifelong memories are made!

As everyone finalised their packing and communally cleaned the Bush Cabin spaces, a sense of excitement at the day ahead was delicately balanced with a slight sense of sadness that the tour was almost over.

Our first attraction of the day was the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Berriedale, outside Hobart. Here the tourers wandered the winding halls of this contemporary art gallery, observing the art exhibits.

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Highlights included an interactive station where lights flickered based on the rate of your pulse, a room full of televisions broadcasting various people singing Madonna and the ‘Museum of Everything’ where they pretty much indeed had everything! Such a diverse range of finely curated artworks! This led into a delectable lunch provided by the York Hotel, only a short coach trip from MONA.

The Singers enjoyed a selection of pre-ordered food including pizza, avocado smash sandwiches, caesar salads, nachos, and fish and chips. As a gesture of thanks, we performed the uplifting Michael Row the Boat Ashore. A staff member commented afterwards to me on how well mannered each child was – she was very impressed!

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Our final destination before heading to the airport was the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. This facility provides protection, rehabilitation and rehoming services for injured native animals across this region, and the Singers met some of the animals, most notably the Tasmanian Devil.

Seeing these little beasts up close was a highlight of the day for many. We also got to stroke the fur of a very sleepy Koala, scratch the back of a cuddly Wombat, speak to a very chatty cockatoo and feed some very welcoming kangaroos. Bright smiles lit up the open kangaroo enclosure as the Singers’ fed and scratched these gentle animals.

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At long last, the moment we had all been putting off in our heads had arrived. Arriving at Hobart Domestic Airport was bittersweet; the desire to go home to our familiarities was strong, but that meant the tour would be over! We checked into flights, baggage was dropped and planes to Melbourne and onward planes to Brisbane were boarded.

I truly believe the connections and friendships formed on this tour will continue to grow back home!

The Singers should be incredibly proud of their singing and performances in Tasmania and what they achieved with their angelic voices.

A huge congratulations to Mrs C and Miss Claire for being such dedicated and inspiring leaders on this tour, and an extra thanks to all the other Tour Personnel including Ruth, Sarah Meagher, Sonya, Sarah Crisp, Codie and Sally! And of course, our tour manager, the fabulous Louise Wall – you’re a star! Thanks for all your hard work and commitment to ensuring things ran as smoothly as possible!

To those singers from Brisbane Birralee Voices who stepped up every day as leaders in the music and as helpers to the adults, a HUGE thank you – you’ve provided amazing assistance and we can’t express our gratitude enough.

Until next time, Keep Singing!

Day 7: Polygon Wood – We will remember them

At 12.45am Tuesday morning, we were on the bus.

Performing in the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate just a few hours earlier, it was a bit tricky to get a rest in – some of us managed, but most were too excited for the day ahead.

Having heard so much about the Remembrance Trail on site, set up by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, our tour manager / mum, Rochelle, arranged for the choristers and APs to be dropped off at the beginning of the trail to experience what the attendees would witness. It would also set the tone for the morning of reflection and remembrance.

The trail through Polygon Wood was lined with information plaques and as we got further, we were an audience to various activations, most we weren’t expecting. There were actors in replica trenches or huts taking on the roles of army cooks, officers or soldiers. It was so incredibly surreal yet authentic to witness all this in the misty darkness.

 

In the distance there were gunfire and explosive sound effects, while the informative plaques took us on a journey explaining the events that took place which claimed more than 5,000 Australian lives, as well as those from New Zealand and other countries in September 1917.

One path led us off the trail to Scott Post, a German bunker captured by Australians. It was named in honour of Distinguished Service Order awardee Lieutenant Colonel Allan Humphrey Scott, Commander of the 56th Australian Infantry Battalion, killed on 1 October 1917.

Visual presentations showed soldier life in WW1 and what this now beautiful site had looked like 100 years ago, when it was completely destroyed by warfare.

The final checkpoint before Buttes New British Cemetery was a field of handmade poppies. The poppies were from 5000 Poppies, an organisation who stage activations across the world planting poppies that people send in with images of soldiers who have served. Lynn Berry from 5000 Poppies informed us that she had provided 3000 poppies to the Rotary Club of Armentieres to be planted at commemorative events such as this.

The effect was beautiful! Voices of Birralee’s Birralee Blokes’ rendition of In Flanders Fields was played. (On a side-note, James, one of our choristers, was one of the Birralee Blokes who recorded for this track in 2004).

At the end of the trail, our choristers had a quick look around the site in the dark and eeriness of the morning before heading to our greenroom / tent for breakfast, before warm ups.

Our first set was a part of the pop-up entertainment to engage the audiences as they arrived. In this set we performed four songs – a great chance to break the ice and overcome any nerves before the filmed pre-dawn and Dawn Service began.

We then headed back to our tent for the final break and to add layers to withstand the cold especially as dawn approached.

Voices of Birralee on stage with the Australian Army Band (pic by Rochelle).

On the main stage, we performed pre-service entertainment with the band and some by ourselves.

By then most of the crowd had arrived, along with the VIP parties, including Australia’s Governor General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) and Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid, Princess of Belgium.

We were sat together on the stage with the New Zealand Memorial behind us, thousands of graves in front of us and as we glanced up we could see the iconic rising sun on the Fifth Australian Division Memorial at the top of the buttes.

When the official Dawn Service began, it started to get cooler. All was put into perspective, however, when remembering the horror that took place on this site 100 years ago. All we had to do was sing the beautiful pieces we had rehearsed and stay awake for an hour or so – a very small task in comparison.

The service was very moving with speeches delivered by Sir Cosgrove, Princess Astrid and more, and we sang O Valiant Hearts, the Australian National Anthem and music to accompany the wreath laying.

We lay a wreath on behalf of Birralee and on behalf of Geraldine and Bernie Knapp for their relative Patrick Bugden VC.

 

We also lay a wreath for the family of Private James Alexander McAllister who was killed on 26 September 1917 and has no known grave.

 

When the Dawn Service ended, we sang our post-service set with the band. Just as we finished the last note of our final song, My Country, the Governor General appeared on stage and told us that Princess Astrid would like to meet us.

Exercising perfect protocol, our two singers in the front row, Jules and Olivia, greeted the two dignitaries, while it was joked that Jules was about to pass out from excitement.

The Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove with Princess Astrid from Belgium joins the choir and Australian Army Band on stage for an encore (pic by Robyn)

The press by this point had swarmed forward around the stage to take pics of this exchange. It was pretty exciting. We then sang an encore of Waltzing Matilda with the band, as requested by Sir Cosgrove.

Remaining on stage we took photos of our group, while various attendees requested photos with us.

 

 

 

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Here we met Michael Whitty – he is cycling through all the battlefields in Europe and Turkey during the centenary period, with his ancestor’s diary in his pocket who served in WW1. One of our choristers’ Amirah remembered that her mum chatted with Michael in July last year when one of our choir’s performed at the Anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles. We look forward to catching up with him next year in either Le Hamel or Villers-Bretonneux in France.

 

After the service we headed back to our tent with the APs to regroup after an emotional morning as the sun began to rise, adding a glow to the 5th Australian Division Memorial.

The Fifth Division Memorial as the sun begins to rise at Butts New British Cemetery (pic by Kerry).

We sleepily headed back to our hotel in Kortrijk for a few hours’ rest before the tour would officially end that night with a group dinner, and of course a final song by the group before parting ways.

 

It’s been an awesome tour for all involved, but not possible without the input of a number of people. Thank you to:

  • Julie Christiansen OAM, Voices of Birralee Founder & Artistic Director
  • Paul Holley OAM, our conductor
  • Rochelle Manderson for her behind-the-scenes work in the lead up to the tour, while ensuring all ran smoothly
  • The Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • Australian Army Band conductor Major Glenn Rogers and his musicians
  • Sue Edwards, Definitive Events 
  • The International Singers and Christ Church Lille 
  • Protestantse Kerk Brugge
  • Sint Maartenskerk, Kortrijk, the Pro Ecclesia Choir and congregation
  • The Ashgrove – the Gap Lions Club 
  • And thank you to everyone at home for your support!

 

If you missed it, you can catch up on the pre-dawn and Dawn Service via this link.

Thanks so much for reading and for following us on this incredible journey!

We look forward to sharing more blogs from our overseas trips in the future as part of this very special commitment.

#Belvob2017 #ww1 #wewillrememberthem

The Birralee Singers – exploring Hobart & sharing beautiful music

Contributed by Joshua Clifford 

26 September – Day Four

Our day started with the usual breakfast in cabins and the dining hall and was followed with free time, where myself and some boys discovered a Bush Church! After our morning debrief and rehearsal, our coach drove us into the Town Hall area of Hobart, where chilly winds were juxtaposed against soaring blue skies.

Our rehearsal in the Hobart Town Hall went very well, with the Singers’ voices filling the space.

The Birralee Singers at Hobart Town Hall (Pic by Lou Wall)

After this we all got a chance to split up and explore some more of Hobart and find some food. Supervisors Codie, Ally, myself and our group of kids went to a small restaurant on the river front called ‘Mures’ to enjoy some fresh (and fried) Tasmanian fish before heading to Salamanca markets to find some ice cream and gelato to wash it all down!!

Each group had a chance in the afternoon to visit the Mawson’s Hut Replica Museum, where we learnt about the man behind the discovery of how south-north magnetism worked.

The Singers had a chance to write a message on a type writer, follow Mawson’s adventure in the Antarctic continent and dress up like explorers. Heading back to the Town Hall, we had a tasty dinner of pizza, enjoying slices of cheesy goodness before our final evening concert for the tour. What a pleasure it was to be guests for St Michael’s Collegiate and Hutchins School combined concert, especially in such a lavish venue!

The Hall’s decorated sconces (candle holders on walls), glass chandeliers and beautifully patterned walls were charming scenery to perform around! Julie Christiansen’s conducting led the students through five pieces, all with the inimitable Claire Preston accompanying. Sarah Hill’s sublime oboe playing perfectly suited the resonant hall and blended with the children’s voices.

I once again had the pleasure of joining the Singers’ as a soloist in their final Irish folk song piece. Enthusiastic applause at the conclusion of our set helped us all feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in all the work that had been put in for the Singers to perform to such a high standard.

Finally returning to our cabins and huts, we were all given a well-deserved ice cream for supper, and then headed to bed to make sure energy levels were replenished for tomorrow’s adventure to Port Arthur.

Such a big day of music for us all – the Singers continue to grow as musicians and young people!

More soon…

Birralee Singers – Latest news from Tasmania!

Content contributed by Joshua Clifford 

25 September – Day Three

Today has been such a huge success for the Singers in Tasmania! Singing and exploring Hobart have been highlights; even the colder weather couldn’t stop us from having a sublime day.

Breakfast in the cabins and dining hall for those in huts comprised of yoghurt, toast and boiled eggs – yum! Our morning warm-up was led by some confident older students before rehearsing repertoire for the day.

 

We transferred by coach to the Friends School in Hobart, combining with their choristers to rehearse and workshop two great pieces; “Joshua Fought The Battle Of Jericho” and “The Wanderer”. They made such fantastic sounds in the rehearsal space!

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We were treated to a sausage sizzle for lunch from the accommodating staff at Friends School before an afternoon concert in their fabulous Performing Arts auditorium. The Singers’ set was, of course, gorgeous, and we were wonderfully supported by some ‘shadowing’ parents in the audience.

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Our massed works went wonderfully too, all led by the masterful Julie Christiansen (Mrs C) with Claire Preston’s brilliant accompanying skills too! Honourable mentions must be given to Sarah Hill who once again played oboe fantastically for “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, and Singers such as Ruth and Tamaki for playing violin and guitar throughout the concert. I also had the chance to perform with the choirs, singing along in “Rocky Road to Dublin”, which was great fun.

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Farewelling our new friends at the Friends School, the Singers began the trek down to Salamanca markets to have a treat of ice cream and peruse the trinkets on offer. A beautiful rainbow appeared which was a highlight of this afternoon excursion.

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Whilst the kids were enjoying some free shopping time, Mrs C, Ruth and myself headed back to camp and began work on the evenings feast – spaghetti bolognese! This went down super well the kids, catering to dietary requirements with a vegetarian bolognese and gluten free pasta. For an extra special treat, Mrs C made a scrumptious slice with caramel sauce for dessert which was served with ice cream.

Games led by Sonya finished off the night, where the tourers had to provide an interesting fact to the adult leader (we all learnt something about each other!).

Such a busy, fun and productive day! The Singers have been consistently proving their maturity and keeping their spirits high in the cold weather!

More soon… 

DAY 6: One more sleep!

Most of Monday was a rest day for our choristers before the final two performances of the tour; The Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate and the Anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood early Tuesday morning at Buttes New British Cemetery.

And just so you don’t miss it – make sure you tune into the livestream on YouTube from 1.05pm (Aust Time Tuesday) for the pre-service and continue watching via YouTube or the ABC from 1.30pm for the Dawn Service.

Our choristers had a later start than usual today (Monday), heading to Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke to discover more about WW1 and what happened in the Flanders region.

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It was an incredibly comprehensive museum, with adjacent original dug outs used by Australian soldiers. There were also replicas of the trenches from WW1.

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On the way back to our hotel in Kortrijk, we stopped by Essex Farm Cemetery. This Cemetery has a memorial for John McCrae, the Lieutenant Colonel and doctor with the Canadian Army who wrote the famous poem, In Flanders Fields.

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The memorial states the poem’s words which McCrae is said to have scribed when his friend was killed in 1915.

The cemetery also has a memorial for the 49th West Riding Division, a division from Yorkshire, England which lost 9,500 lives by the end of WW1.

After a restful afternoon in Kortrijk, our choristers and APs were on the bus by 6.30pm to head to Ypres to perform at the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate.

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While this service is held at 8pm every night, tonight’s commemorative event involved our choir, along with the Australian Army Band and dignitaries, including the Governor General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd).

Our choir enjoyed performing O Valiant Hearts, Amazing Grace and the Australian and Belgian National Anthems.

Now, it’s time for a bit of sleep, before our choristers and APs are back on the bus at 12.45am to head to Buttes New British Cemetery. 

It’s going to be an incredibly emotional morning and we will perform out best to honour our soldiers doing what Birralee does best – singing.

Tune in if you can! But we’ll tell you all about it soon.

#belvob2017 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

DAY 5: Performing in unique places

On Sunday it was back on site at Buttes New British Cemetery for another full day’s rehearsal for the Anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood.

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The choristers were able to check out the site more, while also making friends with the Australian Army Band musicians, led by their conductor Major Glenn Rogers. As a gesture of appreciation for their great work, we gave them Birralee badges.

Voices of Birralee with the Australian Army Band (pic by Rochelle)

Rehearsal included running through the full service for Tuesday morning. It gave the choristers a chance to get an idea of what they can expect, including preparing them for how emotional it will be. A roll of honour was played showing the number of young men lost, all of similar age to our singers.

After rehearsals, we headed to Sint Maartenskerk, a catholic cathedral in Kortrijk to provide the music for the evening’s mass. This beautiful church with gothic architecture, opened in 1390 and like many churches throughout Europe, it has amazing acoustics.

It was such a change to sing inside the cathedral compared to singing outside all day for rehearsals. Our voices carried beautifully throughout the arches of the church no matter how softly we sang.

At the end of the service, the priest loudly clapped and the congregation followed, giving our choristers a standing ovation.

(On a side note, we were delighted to see one of the International Singers – who we performed a concert with on Sunday – come and watch us perform!)

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After the mass, the Pro Ecclesia Choir hosted us for wine and cake and it was lovely chatting with the choristers and other members of the church.

They showed us such wonderful hospitality and the organist, Dirk Blockeel, gave us an exclusive performance of Bach, allowing us to hear the music reverberate throughout this acoustically stunning space.

Thank you very much to Dirk and Hugo van Malder for hosting us so well – it was such a unique experience for all!

Next up, Monday.

Our choristers will have a break from rehearsals and are heading to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke before performing at The Last Post Ceremony, at Menin Gate tonight.

We’ll then be having a few hours’ sleep prior to what we’re all here for, performing at the Dawn Service for the Centenary of the Battle of Polygon Wood.

On Tuesday, you can watch the livestream of the event, with the pre-service via YouTube from 1.05pm (Aust time), and then the Dawn Service from 1.30pm (Aust time) – watch via  YouTube or on the ABC. YouTube link here.

More soon! 

#belvob2017 #ww1 #wewillrememberthem

The Birralee Singers – Up and away to Tasmania!

Content contributed by Joshua Clifford

Day One & Two – Wow! What a thrilling start to the Birralee Singers’ 2017 Tasmania Tour.

The Birralee Singers leave Brisbane excited for their trip! (pic by Lou Wall)

Arriving at Brisbane Domestic Airport, the excitement in the touring group was electric! When we got to Melbourne, however, we found out our connecting flight had been delayed! Finally, we arrived to a chilly, drizzly Hobart at 5:15pm, only a little bit later than anticipated.

We drove to Kingston McDonalds for a quick post-flight dinner (where happy meals were the trend!) before heading to our bush cabins and huts. During the drive the rain had become a little harder so our unload from the coach and luggage collection was a little hectic (and muddy). Nevertheless, we all found our way to our rooms, enticed by our bunks and beds in our much warmer cabins. All snuggled up in our sleeping bags, escaping the cold, we all went into a much-needed slumber, keenly anticipating tomorrow’s ANCA activities and performance!

As Day Two dawned, the Group Leaders convened in the communal kitchen and dining hall to get to work on the very first Tour breakfast of toast, fruit and porridge.

After filling up and making their own healthy wraps and sandwiches for lunch, the Singers rehearsed their four songs for the afternoon’s ANCA Choral Festival performance as the Guest Choir.

 

 

It was great to see everyone so full of energy, doing well in all the choreography and singing with gusto.

Back in Hobart, at Linmor Hall, the Singers went into some massed rehearsals with Tasmanian-based ensembles including the Tasmanian Song Company, Cygent Singers and Choir of High Hopes, focusing on various choral skills and techniques.

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As performance time grew closer, we all were excited to see each choir perform their own repertoire, and boy were there some stunning arrangements and diverse choices from Adele to Billy Joel and Coldplay.

The Singers heartily applauded each choir, and when it was their turn they too were greeted enthusiastically by the audience! Of course they sang beautifully under the direction of Julie Christiansen (Mrs C), accompanied by Claire Preston (Miss Claire) and with the talented Sarah Hill playing oboe during ‘Wayfaring Stranger’.

As the last note of the Massed piece soared in Linmor Hall, the audience erupted into rapturous celebration of the brilliant sound the choristers produced as an ensemble. Congrats to all!

After a delicious dinner provided by Mt Saint Michael’s Collegiate, we headed back to camp to play some fun games, staying warm in the encroaching cold.

The Birralee Singers wish Charlie a Happy Birthday! (pic by Lou Wall)

We all departed for bed after wishing a happy birthday to tourer Charlie Stewart!

We can’t wait for another busy day of singing!

More soon!