Birralee Repertoire – The Selection Process

Since Voices of Birralee began in 1995, we have focused on teaching the most age appropriate music to our choristers, to nurture their musical development, engage them, while promoting healthy singing.

For both our new choristers and those who have sung with us for a number of years, we thought this blog would be great to discuss the decisions behind our repertoire choices.

Paul Holley 2015 copy.jpgVoices of Birralee’s Associate Director and conductor of the Birralee Blokes and Resonance of Birralee Paul Holley OAM puts a great deal of thought into the repertoire he selects for his choristers to ensure it covers a variety of styles and difficulty levels. 

“We need songs we can learn quickly and have a sense of achievement in the first couple of rehearsals, balanced with pieces that are more a slow-burn to perfect. With regard to styles of music I predominantly look for folk music from various countries, jazz or pop, Australian compositions and music theatre repertoire. This variety meets the interests of the choristers and they also enjoy the challenge of mastering something more difficult. The text of the songs also has to be something they relate to while broadening their horizons.

“The main goals through teaching this music is to firstly, create a free, healthy vocal sound and secondly, by exploring music from all over the world, we learn more about the cultures represented as well as aspects of our own culture. Our third goal is to achieve excellence in music making.” 


“Selecting age appropriate music is incredibly important. The musical elements (range, melodic contour etc. ) have to be achievable for the singer and the text and emotional content has to be appropriate to their age. So many pop songs unfortunately do not fit this criteria for young singers and yet that is what many choirs sing.

“A favourite composer of mine is Dan Walker. He writes very well for children’s and young adult choirs with musical challenges and relevant texts (for eg. Concierto del Sur, Mantra for the Y Generation). Also Paul Jarman is an expert at telling Australian stories through song (Warri and Yatungka, Southern Sky), while other Australian composers whose work I enjoy programming are Matthew Orlovich (Butterflies Dance), Ben van Tienen (I carry your heart with me), Sally Whitwell (Starlight Steeple) and Carl Crossin (arrangement of The Parting Glass).” 

kath head shotFor our young training choirs, age appropriate choral selection is equally important. This year Voices of Birralee welcomed Katherine Ruhle to the organisation, taking on the role of the Birralee Piccolos conductor.

Katherine brings a wealth of experience and passion to Birralee, including being a composer of children’s music herself. 

“With our Piccolos’ ensemble, I use a lot of folk songs and traditional music from all over the world. I look for songs that are easy to learn  with short melodic phrases, simple melodic intervals and lots of repetition. I ensure these compositions have an appropriate vocal range for young children, with words that children and audience members can relate to. The songs teach the Piccolos about different singing and choral techniques; vowel sounds, articulation, breathing, actions, dynamics, watching the conductor etc. 

“When we start young choral singing with simple folk songs, children quickly gain confidence with singing, feel proud that they can sing lots of songs, and parents get to hear their children singing beautifully and with lots of enjoyment.” 

Using age appropriate music ensures the young choristers are getting the most from the experience. ‘Play-based’ teaching methods are used to keep them engaged. 

“It is fantastic seeing each chorister’s confidence grow as they learn new songs, as they try new things and as they discover that they can make people really happy when they sing to them.  I also love that they learn best when they are playing and having fun – so, our rehearsals are always full of music games, moving, dancing and interactive activities.

“Some of my favourite composers are Sherelle Eyles and Stuart Gillard. Both of these composers understand children’s voices and also know what children enjoy singing about.  At the moment we have been having fun learning The Unsociable Wallaby by Australian composer, Michael Atherton.” 


What have been your favourite pieces to sing during your time with Birralee? Let us know at 

Story-telling for our Anzacs

There are so many ways to honour a significant time in our history and we choose to do it through singing.

This March, May and July, Voices of Birralee is presenting the Voices from the Trenches Choral Festival, proudly supported by the Queensland Government.

The festival will involve a number of schools from Brisbane and Toowoomba, along with Voices of Birralee’s ensembles, uniting communities through creating stunning music to pay tribute to what happened in the Somme, and other areas of the Western Front, 100 years’ ago.

Tickets are now on sale for concert one at St Laurence’s College on 18 March (here) and for our second concert at The Empire Theatre, Toowoomba on 28 May (here).

The third concert will theme the finale of the Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival at QPAC on 2 July (tickets on sale soon).

While the concerts will be a wonderful celebration of music, it will provide a captivating reflection of wartime, with references to what happened in the Somme during the  First World War.

It is difficult to comprehend Australia’s involvement all those years’ ago, and it’s something that Voices of Birralee and in particular, our touring choristers will continue to do during our five year commitment to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to sing at the Western Front centenary events.

One of our choristers who participated in the Anzac Day 2016 tour, journalist and history buff, Andrew Messenger describes his understanding of this time in our history.

“France was home to an entirely different sort of war. The Germans used far more artillery, far better than the Turks, and had a seemingly endless supply of equipment to keep up the barrage. They had better officers, more machine guns, better training and tougher trench systems, including underground concrete bunkers invulnerable to British or French shelling.

Worse, both sides had adopted new technologies for inflicting misery… It was a battlefield – 1,000 miles long – where the 150,000 man army of our tiny colony might have easily vanished. And it was a war of attrition, not skill.

The ANZACs were the crack troops, used to plug holes or at the spearhead of an offensive. The brutal calculus of attrition was most often applied to them (and the Canadians). By 1918 Australians had fought at the Somme (23,000 casualties), Bapaume (7,500), Messines (6,800) and Ypres or Passchendaele (38,000 including the bloodiest day in Australian military history). By the end of the war they would lose over 60% of their total strength, including 60,000 dead, the highest casualty rate for an English-speaking formation of its size in the war.”

(Read more in the Voices from the Trenches Festival program, released in March).

Another effective way of bringing to life the events of WW1, apart from through song, is though relaying narratives from those who had ancestors who served.

We’re reaching out to the Brisbane and Toowoomba communities to see what we can discover. And the stories won’t just be about the troops that fell in the Somme, but also about those who came home. For instance, Di Watson from Brisbane tells the story of her grandfather:

“Dead Dog Farm in the Somme Valley was quiet on that day in 1916. Quiet until a rifle shot startled the soldiers who were resting in the attic before the next big battle. The man who was shot was my grandfather. That bullet was to have a far-reaching effect on the man, his family and generations to come.

My grandfather’s battalion were billeted at Dead Dog Farm after enduring months of unrelenting shelling. The fighting experienced was amongst the heaviest so far. The Australian forces in France in a seven-week period had taken 28,400 casualties. It is not within humaDiWatson_Grandad.pngn power to shake off the trauma experienced during this time.

Pozieres set the standard by which enemy shellfire was later measured. No village in the Somme area was so completely erased by shellfire as Pozieres. It was noted that towards the end of the battle men had even refused to follow their officers because of the horror of the shellfire. After this, there was considerable soul searching on the part of the soldiers who questioned both the carnage, which had taken place and the detested tactic of repeated advances on a narrow front. It was not surprising that they thought they were being sacrificed.” 

(Read more in the Voices from the Trenches Festival programme to be released in March).


The festival is going to be an exceptional event and we invite your stories. If you have  ancestor/s who served on the Western Front, we’d love to hear from you. Email with the details.



Welcome to 2017! So…what’s happening this year?

Just like every other Voices of Birralee year – 2017 is set to be huge! So…we thought we’d give you a bit of a preview of some of the major events!


voices-from-the-trenches-logo18 March, Concert 1. Brisbane venue to be announced soon 

28 May, Concert 2. Empire Theatres Toowoomba (Tickets on sale 1 Feb)

2 July, Concert 3. QPAC, as part of the Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival 

The Voices from the Trenches Choral Festival will be a captivating musical tribute to the World War One soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in The Somme, France and those who came home.

Presented by Voices of Birralee, the festival will unite the community, involving Voices of Birralee ensembles and local school choirs to perform stunning music reflecting the WW1 era, with modern compositions.

This will include beautifully poignant and emotionally charged commissioned pieces,
ensuring the Anzac legacy is preserved.

This project is proudly supported by the Queensland Government.



2017 will involve two tours as part of our five-year commitment to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

In April, 30 choristers aged from 16 – 18 will embark on what’s bound to be a trip of a lifetime, performing at the Anzac Day services at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux and at the Australian ‘Digger’ Memorial, Bullecourt, as well as community services.


Our second overseas trip for the year will be to Belgium to sing at the Polygon Wood Centenary Commemoration. From September 21 – 25, our choir will perform in the north of France and Belgium.

Make sure you follow the blog providing commentary during these tours.



Voices of Birralee is again excited to manage Queensland Youth Music Awards from May 3! 2017 marks the competition’s 50th year of providing a supported environment for young people to explore their music.

Sections will be held throughout Brisbane, featuring schools from across south east Queensland with some of Voices of Birralee’s ensembles performing as guests.

Entries have opened and more information is available here.




Thursday 29 June – Sunday 2 July

This year’s Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival will feature some of the finest male voice ensembles from Australia and abroad.

This year it will adopt the theme ‘Voices from the Trenches’ to commemorate the World War 1 Centenary period and the sacrifices made by the Anzacs in the Battles of The Somme.

Our Birralee Blokes (our male young adult choir) and the Birralee Boys (with male choristers drawn from our children’s ensembles for this project) will play host at the festival.

Ensemble registrations have closed, but individual registrations will open soon. All information is available here.




This year marks our touring year for our Birralee Singers and they are off to Tasmania for the Coastal Young Voices Festival 2017 from 24 – 30 September (dates and details to be confirmed in the coming months). This will be a fantastic trip for these young choristers and a great chance for development through working with other choirs.



There will be more events announced throughout the year, so make sure you keep up-to-date via our Facebook page and subscribe to our eNewsletter Birralee Billboard.


Voices of Birralee’s year that was!

From rehearsals to concerts to tours, 2016 was an awesome year – so let’s take a moment to discuss some of the highlights! If you have more to add, email! 

Combined Choral Concert (March): The year kicked off with Voices of Birralee presenting the Combined Choral Concert featuring Marist College Ashgrove Choirs, Brisbane Birralee Voices and the Birralee Blokes.

Anzac Commemoration Choir tour (April): We entered the second stage of our five year commitment to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs with 30 of our choristers travelling to France to perform at the Anzac Day services at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux and at the Australian ‘Digger’ Memorial, Bullecourt, with a number of other performances across France. You can reflect on the trip via the blogs.

Birralee Blokes (March – May): As we strove to further grow this ensemble of young men, we launched a #beingabloke competition, with our blokes showcasing why they enjoyed being a part of this all male ensemble! While Joshua Clifford took home the top prize, Jack Woolrych and Hugo Richardson’s clip was also brilliant!

Cupcake & Cushion Concert (May): The annual Cupcake & Cushion Concert at The Old Museum was a great success, with Birralee’s youngest taking the stage and for some, the concert was their first public performance! We filmed this video to discover just how much our Kids and Piccolos love singing with Birralee:

Resonance of Birralee’s 10 Year Anniversary (June): In early June, we celebrated the success of our young adult choir, Resonance of Birralee with a stunning concert at All Hallow’s School. The choir now consists of more than 80 choristers, led by conductor Paul Holley OAM, accompanied by Brendan Murtagh.

Western Front Centenary Choir (July): The second overseas tour this year was when 15 of our choristers travelled to France to sing at the 100th Anniversaries of the Battles of Pozieres and Fromelles, while also being gifted the incredible opportunity to sing at the first commemoration service for the Australians who fought in the small village of Allonville. Catch up on this trip via this blog.

The Young Voices Festival (August): Voices of Birralee presented its 11th Young Voices Festival. It was a packed house with so many families supporting their young singers at Somerville House. The event featured 300 children from Eagle Junction State School, Redeemer Lutheran College, The Gap State School, Clayfield College, St Laurence’s College, with the Birralee Piccolos and Kids.

Birralee Recycled (August – September): This year, Voices of Birralee ventured into the unknown with the launch of a new give-it-a-go community choir, featuring the ‘older’ members of the Birralee and wider community. More than 60 members were led by conductor Peter Ingram, with accompanist Brendan Murtagh. The choir performed at The Young and the Recycled concert with Brisbane Birralee Voices (BBV) in September.

Birralee Trivia nights (June and September): We held two trivia nights this year, the first was themed ‘France meets Australia’ with the second, ‘Poppies in Spring’ encouraging a variety of wonderfully creative costumes. Both raised funds for our Western Front Anzac Centenary Choir touring project, with September’s also assisting BBV’s regional NSW tour. Overall we raised about $14,000 with a very special thank you to The Ashgrove – the Gap Lions Club for its support!

BBV Regional NSW tour (September): Voices of Birralee loves bringing choral music into regional communities and in 2016 this included BBV touring Murwillumbah, Mullumbimby and Hastings, culminating in performances at the Bellingen Music Festival.

Lions Club Meeting (October): Voices of Birralee was selected as a recipient by The Ashgrove – The Gap Lions Club to receive a $1,000 grant as part of the Lions Community 100 project. The funds will contribute to our Western Front Anzac Centenary Choir touring project. In October a group of our April and July choristers presented at the club’s meeting to discuss the touring program and say thank you for the club’s support. We met the editor of The Western Echo, Philippa Wightman, who ran a story on the front page of her newspaper (read it here).

Birralee Blokes’ Gold Coast tour (October): Our Birralee Blokes participated in the 2016 Gold Coast Schools Extravaganza as a great chance to work with other choirs, including in a massed choir setting.

Birralee Celebrates 2016 (November): To wrap up the year, Voices of Birralee held a two-part concert, with fantastic performances by all of our ensembles. It was wonderful to welcome back two of Birralee’s alumni, the Voices AU 2016 grand finalist Ellen Reed, with opera singer and founding member of the Birralee Blokes Matt Hirst.

WW1 Music Commission (November – December): Voices of Birralee launched its first crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to commission two choral pieces based upon the poetry of chorister Joshua Clifford, inspired by his trip in July with the Western Front Centenary Choir. Thanks to the generosity of the Birralee and wider community, we have exceeded our fundraising goal of $4,000!

The commissioned music will premiere at Voices of Birralee’s 2017 Voices from the Trenches Festival running from March – July. This festival will involve a number of school and community choirs from across Brisbane and Toowoomba and is proudly supported by the State Government. Read more about the commissioning project here, with a story about the project on ABC AM. Josh was also featured on radio programme 4MBS.

Christmas performances (December): In December, Voices of Birralee was involved in a  number of wonderful festive events. This included Resonance performing at the Christmas Care Concert at St John’s Cathedral, with Maggie, Katie and Tyrone Noonan and a number of other outstanding performers, to support the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation.

Other performances in December included our choristers performing at the Bardon Community Carols, the Lighting of the Christmas Tree, Carols in the City, with a number of choristers and alumni performing at QPAC’s Spirit of Christmas and Queensland Ballet’s The Nutcracker (more info about our performances here).

As you can see, 2016 has been huge and that of course isn’t all that happened!

We hope you’ve had a great year! If you’d like to share your Voices of Birralee highlights, email

A huge thank you for everyone’s contribution in 2016. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Preserving the Anzac Legacy through music! We invite you to get involved!

Music connects with people on many levels and that’s why we’ve chosen to launch a commissioning project to create some incredible choral music to preserve the Anzac legacy.

We have launched a campaign via crowdfunding platform, Pozible to commission two pieces which will be performed at the 2017 Voices from the Trenches Festival, uniting the Brisbane, Toowoomba and greater communities in commemorating our Anzacs, particularly those who fought on the Western Front, France in WW1.

Voices from the Trenches Logo.jpg

We have selected two beautiful poems written by chorister Joshua Clifford. Joshua was part of July’s Western Front Centenary Choir and performed at the 100th anniversaries of the Battles of Fromelles and Pozieres and at an Anzac commemorative service in Allonville.

Imagine Joshua’s stunning poetry incorporated into new compositions for choirs across the world to sing! Here are some snippets from his two pieces:

The Fields of Allonville

“….Here, in Allonville’s fragrant fields,
dotted with blood-red poppies blooming,
there are no guns, there are no shells,
no time for fighting, no time for brooding.

Silent are the screams of pain;
we’re far from the fight in the Somme.
A tree-bordered road leads the way
to a day where plays a new song.

Climb up the tress that border that road,
and reach up high to the sun,
soon you’ll be facing the battle, young digger,
and may not return when it’s done.” 

And Now, The War Is Ended

“…Though the horrors of war went on,
those boys, they didn’t letup.
They travelled across warzones far and wide,
performing for crowds on the brink of giving hope up;
they made it feel like the war had already ended.

Applauded for rare talents and individuality,
They were clever, well-balanced, but meant a great deal more:
that true-blue quality of not giving up
and staying true to your mates, that’s what the ‘Smart Set’ was for…
And Now, The War Is Ended.” 


The Voices from the Trenches Choral Festival, will involve a number of school and community choirs, while drawing upon stories from the local communities about the local Anzacs who served. It will be an incredibly emotive event, with the commissioned pieces a highlight.

For more information about the festival, email and to make a pledge or tax deductible donation to the WW1 Commissioning project, click here

(Voices from the Trenches is proudly supported by the Queensland Government)


Our alumna & The Voice AU’s Ellen Reed gets set for Birralee Celebrates 2016!

Voices of Birralee will on 6 November celebrate a huge year, with Birralee Celebrates 2016!

ellenreedIn doing so, we’re so excited to welcome back Birralee alumna, Ellen Reed to sing with us. Like Birralee, she has also had a massive year – for a start, she achieved grand finalist status in The Voice AU!

We decided to check in with Ellen to find out about her seven years with Birralee, and The Voice experience!

What do you remember from your time at Voices of Birralee? 

I remember always looking forward to going to BBV every week and seeing my friends and being able to be around a bunch of kids who loved music as much as I did. The choir taught me that I could work hard at what I loved and have an amazing time too.
I was afforded so many brilliant opportunities to sing with incredible people at huge events like the Goodwill Games, and The Commonwealth Games, travel the world and even sing for an ex President.

What is your favourite choral piece from your time at Birralee? 

“Mother Earth” by Harley Mead always stands out in my mind. The piece is beautiful and I was so excited to be given the solo in it.

What is your goal over the next 12 months? 

I want to record my debut album in the next 12 months and keep singing and performing as much as I can!

Tell us about The Voice experience? 

The Voice was the hardest and most brilliant experience ever. Learning from and singing with Jessie J on a weekly basis was beyond ridiculous. I had an amazing time with her, and got to know the normal Essex girl behind the crazy persona. She is such a maternal figure and would always make sure we were fed, rested, had tea waiting for us in rehearsal. If someone got sick she’d turn up with vitamins and all her secret weapons. She expects so much from herself, so she expects a lot from everyone that is around her too.

The unsung heroes of that show, were 100% the crew. Our coaches got all the thanks, but the producers, assistants, wardrobe, hair and make up, the music team, our drivers, everyone that worked with us, were beautiful and kind to us at all times.
Even on hour 16 of a performance day, they were still kind and happy to be there and helping. They made the entire experience even better by just being so happy to be there.

I worked harder than I ever have before but I had the most fun I have ever had on that show too.

What is your advice for those who might be interested in chasing a solo career? 

Be determined, work hard, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t (but listen to constructive criticism from those you trust), and above all, be kind to everyone that you come across.

(See Ellen perform with Voices of Birralee on Sunday 6 November when Birralee Celebrates 2016! Information here.)


Why Birralee ventures regionally!

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