We decided to check in with Ellen to find out about her seven years with Birralee, and The Voice experience!
As our Brisbane Birralee Voices (BBV) ensemble gets set for its tour to regional New South Wales next week, we thought we’d talk about why tours into regional Australian towns are so important, while reflecting on some of the highlights over the years.
Next week 50 choristers aged from 12 – 17, will perform in towns including Murwillumbah, Mullumbimby and Hastings Point, en route to the Bellingen Music Festival. The concerts will include joining with local choirs in various communities, with some busking in the streets of Bellingen.
It’s going to be a lot of fun, and a great chance for our young choristers to further their musical development through working with other choirs, such as the Murwillumbah Philharmonic Choir and the Chillingham Voices, while performing alongside the Bellingen Youth Orchestra and the Acacia Quartet. We’ll also get to work with Paul Jarman who is the festival’s Composer-in-Residence.
The concerts are from 20 – 24 September, and you can check out the details via our Facebook event page.
For BBV, the regional tours over the years have taken the choir to many locations in the eastern states of Australia, including Port Macquarie for the 2010 ANCA National Choralfest, to various regional centres of QLD for Q150 Songbridge and Queensland Songbridge in 2009 and 2008, while in 2006 and 2010, the choir participated in the Maryborough Music Conference.
(This clip is from the Queensland Songbridge 2008, where Voices of Birralee, along with other participating choirs, sing ‘When Our Voices Join Together’ by Harley Mead.)
Venturing into these regional towns provides our choristers a break from ‘city life’ to discover the beauty of the regional communities, and we always find the locals incredibly welcoming.
These tours also give our choristers insight into what choirs of their age group are doing, from the repertoire to their quality of performance, while at times we’re bringing some great music to some towns which might not get much of an opportunity to experience the joy of choral music.
Our Birralee Blokes ensemble has also participated in a great deal of regional touring over the years. This time last year they were heading to Western Australia to participate in the Men of Song Festival, Bunbury.
As invited guests, the Blokes worked with the various participating choirs, all the while improving their own performance.
In all of our tours, we ensure we fit in some sight-seeing, as this great clip from Pip Suschinsky shows.
Our younger choir, Birralee Singers (aged 10 – 13) have also had the chance to visit some great locations in Australia. A highlight was last year’s trip to Tasmania where they sang in various cities including Launceston, Hobart and Davenport.
Our choirs have had some wonderful experiences touring Australia, and there are many fantastic tours to come as we continue to provide our choristers opportunities to explore their music as we like to say, ‘beyond the concert hall’.
All the very best to our BBV choristers as they head to NSW and we look forward to sharing the news of their travels!
Do you have a great regional touring memory? Tell us by commenting on this blog, or send us an email with info and pictures to email@example.com.
Since Voices of Birralee began, it has pursued the goal of providing children and young adults with rewarding singing experiences both onstage and beyond the concert hall.
Over the years, more than 2,000 people have benefited from the joy of singing with Birralee, and this includes the huge number of young children who have found their voices in our younger choirs, the Birralee Piccolos and Kids!
In this month’s blog, we celebrate the growth of our children’s choirs, and the opportunities provided to our young people!
Coming up next for these youngsters is the Young Voices Festival on Sunday 28 August, which will involve a number of Brisbane’s school based choirs.
Voices of Birralee Artistic Director and Founder Julie Christiansen OAM said these concerts were further opportunities for growth.
“For most of the children these concerts will mark their first public performance opportunity and to do it with their choir friends, in a supportive environment is such a wonderful debut,” Ms Christiansen said.
“Performing with other choirs from across Brisbane is also a lovely way for young singers to observe what other choirs are doing and to be part of something collectively exciting with our massed choir finale.”
“It’s great for children to engage with songs written for children, with appropriate lyrics and tunes, as a good change from just singing along to radio or TV music – more appropriate to the adult voice.”
The Young Voices Festival will be held on Sunday 28 August from 3pm at Valmai Pidgeon PAC, Somerville House.
The concert will feature the Birralee Piccolos, Birralee Kids and guest choirs from Eagle Junction State School, Redeemer Lutheran College, The Gap State School, Clayfield College and St Laurence’s College.
Tickets are $10 for adults and concession, with school-aged children free. Bookings can be made here.
If your child is interested in singing with our Birralee Piccolos or Kids, we invite them to participate in a no-obligation trial lesson.
Our choristers’ last official day of tour began with a special surprise for their conductor and Voices of Birralee’s Artistic Director and Founder, Julie Christiansen OAM.
Julie was led to Amiens Cathedral where the choir sang Notre Pere, a beautiful gift resonating throughout the cathedral, which Julie described as “soul filling, sublime and tranquil”.
Soon after, the choir left Amiens for their final performance, singing at the commemoration service for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Pozieres. The service held at the First Australian Division Memorial can be watched on ABC iView here.
The service was beautiful, beginning with the marching in of the colours of 12 current serving units holding direct lineage to those who fought.
A number of stories were told of the bravery of the soldiers in what was a fierce battle, with 23,000 casualties between 23 July and 4 September 1916, with more than 6,700 killed (more here).
The horrific events of the first battle of the Somme, led historian Charles Bean to note the fields surrounding this site as being ‘more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth’. (Referenced here in ‘Australians on the Western Front 1914 – 1918′).
Stories were told of the events which led to troops receiving Victoria and Military Cross medals, while also noting the dedication of the Australian Army Nursing Service.
Hon Dan Tehan, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, noted how the efforts of the Anzacs were even more impressive given their involvement wasn’t by conscription.
“Unlike other forces, our soldiers were not forced to March, but chose to walk – an army of volunteers…They volunteered to serve, despite the risk, the greatest risk, of them all.”
Our choristers performed beautifully, each with a different reason for being a part of it all. Sarah Morton, noted her pride:
“It was very special to be wearing my grandfather’s medals alongside my great great uncle Cecil’s sovereign case yesterday at Pozieres. Cecil fought on the Western Front in France before going to Belgium where he was killed in battle and now lies. It is such a privilege to be able to honour him and those men who fought beside him and those who subsequently and continue to put everything on the line in order to afford us the wonderful life we live.”
Upon returning to Amiens, we had a special dinner before our choristers went their separate ways – some to pursue further travel, with others returning to Australia.
This was a lovely way to debrief after a massive and emotionally charged week. It was so much fun, with lots of singing by the canal.
A lovely moment was when some talented local buskers approached our table – They might have got more than what they had bargained for!
Each chorister and AP will have different highlights from the week, and one of these came from AP / musician / dad Peter Francis. He noted the tour highlight was in Allonville with five family members involved in the performances. Peter played percussion, Heather Francis played the Flute, choristers Margie and Andy sang, while their brother (and former Birralee chorister) Tim played the trumpet.
Over the week our choristers bonded and sang at such a high standard. Most choristers were from Resonance of Birralee, and some were from Birralee Blokes, coming together to form this unique Western Front Centenary Choir.
Claire Preston who assisted Julie with conducting, shared her gratitude with Resonance of Birralee and Blokes’ conductor Paul Holley OAM, while noting the incredible opportunity.
“It was such a pleasure working with your Resonance and Blokes singers – They welcomed me warmly and were fabulous ambassadors. Every performance they gave everything they had to make it their best and they were a very fun loving tour family.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and have too many highlights to list. I’ve left a piece of my heart in Allonville and have promised to return. It was a privilege to tour the battlefields and an honour to sing for our fallen. Lifetime memories!”
All of the choristers will cherish the lifetime memories taken from this trip, with some very special thank yous to those who have made it possible! A huge thank you to:
AND a big thanks to our families and friends back home for following our journey! We appreciate your support!
(Keep up to date with our centenary tours via our Facebook group)
Day 9 (Friday) was such a wonderful day for our choristers, and we are all looking forward to tomorrow, where we will perform at the commemoration service for the Battle of Pozieres.
Those at home can can watch the service on ABC 24 at midnight (12am, Sunday 24 July) with the programme, Australia Remembers: Pozieres Centenary Commemorations.
Today began with a rehearsal at Pozieres, and the sky was so blue and picturesque!
Between rehearsals, we took some time to explore the site’s surrounds, and adjacent is the Gibraltar Blockhouse. This is the remains of a German bunker, the Australian 1st Division took when it first attacked to take control of Pozieres village, from 23 July 1916 (more here).
You can still see the trenches and a round plaque points out the direction of regions or monuments such as Dernancourt, Albert, Pozieres Windmill, Bullecourt, Fromelles, Mouquet Farm, Beaumont-Hamel and others. It is such a good way of knowing the proximity to where some of the key moments of WW1 took place on the Western Front.
After rehearsal, we returned to Amiens for a brief rest (some decided to fit in some last minute cosmetic purchases – as you do in France!) before heading for Allonville, a beautiful village about 10 minutes drive north-east of Amiens.
Here the choir participated in the first formal commemoration service for the Australian WW1 soldiers buried in the Allonville Communal Cemetery.
Our friend, Eric Brisse, was the master of ceremony and a local historian provided a brief history on how important the Australians were to the village.
We discovered Allonville was a place of fun and rest for the Australians during WW1, where they provided entertainment at the local theatre, and had horse races.
Sadly, on 31 May 1918 (just months before the war ended) the barn where the Aussies were sleeping was shelled by the Germans.
At the service, chorister, Emma Nicol delivered a beautiful speech in French, and we’ve included the English translation here:
“I have two brothers. They are young in body and spirit. They are filled with hopes and dreams and ambitions of an exciting future.
“They have their whole adult life ahead of them. They are 25 and 23 years old – both older than many of those who fought and died here.
“Words cannot describe my sisterly love for them – the fun of their companionship, the care they take of me and my pride in their achievements big and small. Nothing can compare with knowing they are there.
“My brothers are loyal, tough and determined young men. I know my brothers stand up for what they believe in but I cannot imagine them having to do so with machine guns 100 meters away aimed in their direction.
“I know how hard and anxiously they prepare to fight the everyday battles of modern daily life, yet I cannot imagine them preparing to fight knowing that death could come at any moment. I know they have courage and determination but I cannot imagine them having to keep up that spirit whilst their comrades die around them.
“No one should have to endure these things. However in July, 1916, there were many many sisters of my age, of men now at rest here at Allonville Communal Cemetery, anxiously awaiting news of their family.
“I’m sure they were just like me, filled with unconditional love for their brothers and pride in their honour, loyalty and determination, with very good reason. I’m sure they could not imagine the horrors being endured by the people they held most dear – and yet this is the reality they were faced with.
“Today we are here to pay tribute not just to those who suffered the unimaginable, who endured the impossible, who experienced agonising/unconquerable fear but also to pay tribute to their sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends who knew both pride, and pain at their sacrifice.
“I thank you for being here today to honour these men who never returned to their families. Through services such as this, commemorating the sacrifices of war, and through sharing the stories such as those we have heard today, we must strive to ensure that the young men who fought and fell in 1916 did not suffer in vain. Instead we must ensure that brothers and sisters of all future generations may live in peace and prosperity, knowing they will always be there for each other.”
The choir paid a fitting tribute with Laurence playing the bagpipes and Tim Francis (Andy and Margie’s older brother and former Birralee chorister) trumpeted The Last Post.
After the service, Birralee presented their last concert for the tour to the people of Allonville. What an audience! It was a packed house and the choir was rewarded with two standing ovations!
The community was so warm and welcoming and hosted a lovely post concert dinner on long trestle tables, with lots of lovely food and wine from the region – absolutely divine!
The past week has been incredible for our choristers and APs, with many moments of discovery to really enhance the reason why we are over here and the importance of honouring the sacrifices of WW1.
An example includes how one of our APs, Tony, with his daughter, Shelby, visited the grave of Reuben John Rule (Shelby’s great-great-uncle).
Reuben, of the 5th Battalion AIF, 4th Reinforcement, was killed in the battle of Pozieres on 25 July 1916, age 19. He had survived the Gallipoli campaign TWICE (after being wounded, and returned to active duty) and was then mobilised with the rest of the 1st Division, to the Western Front in mid 1916. He survived only two days in this battle and is laid to rest at the Pozieres British Cemetery Ovillers-La Boisselle.
Tony and Shelby decided it would be fitting to drape the Australian flag over the headstone, while honouring Reuben with some poppies – A beautiful tribute.
It is stories like these that have made the week special, as we’ve forged such personal connections to the soldiers who fought in WW1.
Our choristers have done such a wonderful job in fulfilling their duty to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and have bonded so well as an ensemble.
Completing the team we have been fortunate to have our talented APs join us – Matthew Farrell on cello, Heather Francis on flute, Peter Francis on percussion and Tony Forbes being our photo, video and sound guru.
Our other APs have also been awesome, and a wonderful and enthusiastic support crew – Fiona Marshall, Kym Boon, Lyn Chappell and Robyn Wood.
And it’s not over yet! We have our performance at the service tomorrow. The final ‘official day’ of the trip and we can’t wait.
(Keep up to date with our centenary tours via our Facebook group)
On this tour, we are getting very good at packing as much into our days as possible!
Having arrived in Amiens yesterday, we took the morning to explore this picturesque town, with such evidence of its ongoing appreciation for Australia’s efforts 100 years’ ago!
Matthew and Fiona visited the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, also known as Notre Dame Amiens. It is such a massive and stunning cathedral, and possibly grander than its Paris counterpart!
The pair visited one of the little chapels in the cathedral, which displays all the flags of the allies. The original Australian flag that was given to the city in 1918, hangs high, with the words:
“The Australian flag is a gift to the city of Amiens from the Government of Australia and commemorates the brotherhood in arms of the sons of Australia with those of France in the defence of the city in the year 1918.”
The choristers in the afternoon had their rehearsal at the First Australian Division Memorial, Pozieres in preparation for the service on Saturday. The weather has cooled down a bit, which is great!
This site acknowledges the toll on the soldiers in the Battle of Pozieres, from 23 July – 7 August, 1916.
The 1st Australian Division were first on the line, and captured the town of Pozieres from the Germans on 23 July 1916. When relieved on 27 July, by the 2nd Division, they had suffered 5,285 casualties. The 2nd Division gained more German positions, with the 4th next to the line. Despite all divisions suffering an incredible number of casualties, the Germans were defeated in their final attempt to take the village, on 7 August (read more here).
After a great rehearsal, we were dismissed early so took it as a chance to visit Thiepval Memorial, which honours the missing of the Somme, including the 72,000 officers and troops of the United Kingdom and South African forces killed before 20 March 1918.
The site also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial honouring the joint nature of the 1916 offensive. At the base of the memorial is a small cemetery with equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves. (More here)
It was such a chilling place, bringing home how this war didn’t just have a massive impact on Australia, but a great deal of the Commonwealth, including the UK and South Africa.
The choristers were incredibly moved by this site, and sang an emotionally charged In Flanders Fields.
Also visiting the the museum, the choristers sang, Notre Père (The Lord’s Prayer) as a tribute to the missing of the Somme.
A lady who had guided one of our April tour groups through the Somme 1916 Museum in Albert, happened to be at this memorial.
She told us that she didn’t recognise our shirts or our names, but she recognised our sound! What a beautiful coincidence, and interesting compliment, considering it’s the first centenary tour for the majority of our choristers!
In the evening we visited the beautiful village of Villers-Bretonneux to perform a concert to the community who were a modest, but enthusiastic crowd. This was our third occasion performing in this village, and just like in April 2015 and 2016, we were welcomed so warmly!
The French songs were a big hit again, and a number of audience members were invited to sing with our choristers!
A huge thank you to Villers-Bretonneux for their kind hospitality which included a delicious dinner for us all to enjoy!
Upon heading back to Amiens, some decided to enjoy a drink by the canal before visiting the cathedral for the son et lumière (light show) and thank goodness we did – it was glorious!
The display showed how the cathedral was originally painted, and how it has changed over the years.
We couldn’t understand the narrative as it was in French, but it didn’t matter – it was captivating.
We encouraged everyone to then have a reasonably early night as Day 9 will include more rehearsals in Pozieres, with our final town concert in Allonville.
We can’t wait to let you know how we get on!
(Follow our Western Front tours via our Facebook group)
Today was our ‘day off’ from our official duties, so we took it as a chance to discover the battlefields as we headed from Lille to Amiens.
We had a special battlefield tour guide, Victor Piuk, providing us so much insight into the region’s history- and it was so interesting.
First stop was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This site is dedicated to the Canadians who fought in WW1. During 1914 – 1918, 60,000 Canadians were killed, and over 11,000 were killed in France, with no remains found, or were not identified (further reading here).
This site was an absolutely beautiful tribute to the fallen sons of Canada.
As part of the tour of this memorial, we learnt about the trenches and tunnels on the front line.
It was so fascinating to learn of all the stories of trench and tunnel warfare. Sometimes when digging your own tunnels, you would dig into the enemy’s tunnel and hand-to-hand combat would break out.
The landscape around the memorial will be forever changed by the trenches, tunnels and bombing that occurred.
Next stop was Albert, for lunch. Our choristers took this as an opportunity to sing in the local church.
Such a beautiful moment!
Our next stop was Lochnagar Crater – a massive hole in the ground, and what is the remains from when the allies bombed the Germans in the area to mount their offensive.
Robyn, one of our APs, explained the history:
‘Close to the towns of Albert and Pozieres lies the Lochnagar Crater. It is an enormous hole in the ground – 91m wide and 21m deep.
“On July 1, 1916, over 27,000 tonnes of explosives were exploded beneath enemy lines. The battle of the Somme had begun and the next five weeks were a living hell, resulting in the loss of a million lives between the allies and the Germans.
“The crater is privately owned and managed by a group of passionate volunteers who fund-raise and look after the area. Our tour guide was one of them.”
We then visited Caterpillar Valley Memorial, with 125 New Zealand graves, and a memorial for the 1,205 troops of the New Zealand Division, who died in the Battles of the Somme, and whose bodies were never found (more here).
We wanted to stop here so chorister, Belinda and her mum could visit one of their relations and place a poppy at his name on the wall. It was such a lovely, peaceful place , and so hard to imagine the devastation here around 100 years ago.
Next, we headed to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
This memorial is where our Anzac choirs performed in 2015 and 2016 at the Anzac Day Dawn Services.
There was such a different feeling being there without the site being prepared for Anzac Day commemorations. Again, such a very peaceful place and a fitting tribute to our fallen Aussies on the Western Front.
The memorial is set on top of a hill with stunning vast fields from each vantage point.
Belinda notes her experience of visiting the two memorials here:
‘Today on our battlefields tour, I was fortunate to be able to remember and pay my respects to three different men who lost their lives on the Somme.
“First was a distant relative of mine from New Zealand, Private Leonard Jack Watson at the Caterpillar Valley Memorial. Leonard’s brother also died during the Battle of the Somme, along with two cousins.
“At the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, I visited the headstone for my Adopt a Digger from the 2015 Anzac day tour, Sergeant Walter William Dumbrell. I then also visited a name on the wall of Australian soldier lost in action, Private Frank Edmund Clark. He is the father of a close family friend who is a 99 year-old WW2 veteran.
“Today was an amazing experience, seeing different battlefields and being able to acknowledge the fallen. What made it even more special was, Laurence’s bag pipe playing at the memorials.”
We learnt so much today about the history of the Western Front. It was truly amazing!
As we explored, the question came to mind of – why did Australia get involved in a war thousands of miles away and really, it’s simple.
Back then England was our ‘mother country’ and when she was threatened and called for help, Australia responded.
This is part of a famous election speech speech by Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher (ALP), given on 31 July 1914, when only days later war was declared.
‘Should the worst happen, after everything has been done that honour will permit, Australians will stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling…”
Australia, as such a young nation, answered the call, and the decision, and sacrifice certainly played a massive part in shaping our country.
The choir is now in Amiens, and will fit in some touring of this quiet and picturesque town.
Tomorrow (Thursday), we will start preparing for the Pozieres Service, with a technical rehearsal. In the evening we will have a community concert in Villers-Bretonneux’s covered market.
We can’t wait to meet the VB community, knowing they have welcomed us so warmly on the previous two tours.
(Follow our Western Front Centenary Tours via our Facebook group).