Author Archives: Voices of Birralee

About Voices of Birralee

Voices of Birralee, one of Australia’s foremost youth arts organisations, is a Brisbane-based non-profit child and youth choral organisation founded in 1995 by Artistic Director Julie Christiansen, OAM. It comprises nine ensembles, which have attained a remarkable level of professionalism and are highly acclaimed by national and international audiences. In 2014, Voices of Birralee was successful in a nationwide bid to provide choral services for Anzac Commemoration Services on the Western Front, France in 2015.

Day 3: Arriving to Amiens & Fouilloy

Welcome back to the blog! Before we get started, some special info to take note: 

“Australia Remembers: Armistice Day France Service” will be broadcast on the ABC at 9.42pm on Sunday 11 November (Brisbane time).

Also, there’ll be a story on Channel Ten Eyewitness News at 5pm today which will include Voices of Birralee (Friday 9 November). Tune in! 

***

Awaking to a rainy day in Bailleul, choristers were treated to a breakfast of delicious croissants and bread provided by the local community, before jumping on the bus to head to Amiens, with a few stops in between.

With the rain limiting outdoor activities, we visited the Somme 1916 Museum which is built upon and within 13th century tunnels that were turned into air-raid shelters before WW2.

The museum is incredibly interesting, delving into the history of the battles of the Somme, and the impact on multiple nations, including Britain, New Foundland, Germany and more, covering themes of the soldiers’ state of mind when they returned home, as well as the role and toll on animals including horses, dogs and pigeons.

After the museum, the choir visited Thiepval Memorial which commemorates 72,000 British and South African soldiers reported missing prior to 20 March 1918.

The monument is very impressive towering at 45m, with a cemetery below. While a sombre sight, it was a beautiful one, flanked by trees with vibrant autumn leaves. One of our choristers, Laurence honoured the fallen soldiers once again with a bagpipes solo.

Our choristers also honoured the troops with an impromptu sing of In Flanders Fields. It was quite a moving experience with many choristers reflecting on what happened in the site and the sacrifices made.

After the historical visits, the choir checked in at their Amiens accommodation and quickly got ready for their second community concert, this time in the village of Fouilloy.

It was quite an intimate concert with a very appreciative audience. It was lovely to perform for another French village and a fun moment (our conductor Julie’s idea) was for each chorister to introduce (in French!) who they were and their profession. I think the audience appreciated our efforts!

After the concert, we were delighted to be led by Fouilloy Deputy Mayor Serge Rondot on a short walk for dinner. On the way we could see the Australian National Memorial in the distance – a perfect reminder of why we’re here and what we have to look forward to.

We were provided a fresh and delicious meal at a local restaurant and we were very appreciative of the warm welcome. It was such as great representation of friendship – another perfect end to a community concert.

More soon.

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem

Day 2: Explorations and singing for the beautiful community of Bailleul

Our choristers woke up to a sunny Paris, ready to hit the road for a day of exploration, reflection and singing, all the while heading north to our next port of accommodation and first concert.

(Special thanks to Tony Forbes for the above video) 

With a delay due to traffic, our plans for the day were rearranged on the fly, so we visited the Canadian memorial, Vimy Ridge.

The site boasts a huge monument for the Canadian soldiers of WW1. It stands at around 27m tall, in white. Our choristers took a moment to soak in the atmosphere, with one of our singers, Laurence honouring the soldiers by playing the bagpipes, with the sound floating throughout the memorial and close fields.

VOB_Armistice_Day

The impressive Vimy Ridge (pic by Lindy)

Another aspect of the site that fascinated was the memorial for the Moroccan troops who fought with Canada. This memorial was particularly important for choristers Yazmin and Safia to acknowledge, as they are half-Moroccan.

VObArmistice_Day

Yasmin and Safia at the Moroccan Memorial (pic by Lindy)

We then visited the Vimy Memorial Park nearby, which is set on a beautiful field with lush green grass, however, with the troughs created by mines and bombs from the war.

Our choristers participated in a tour which took the group through a tunnel under the field, which had been built to provide added coverage for soldiers.

Hitting the road again en route to Bailleul, the choir rehearsed on the bus to brush up on songs in the lead up to the first community concert.

VOB Armistice Tour

The choristers arrive at Bailleul City Hall (pic provided by Elise)

Our welcome to Bailleul began with a beautiful reception at Bailleul City Hall by Deputy Mayor Sébastien Malesys with his colleagues Olivia, Anne and Lucy.

(Special thanks to Tony Forbes for the above video) 

The choir then walked to the church behind city hall to prepare for the concert and as soon as they entered they realised the beauty of the performance venue, Église Saint-Vaast. The church was huge, with incredible resonance which is always a pleasure to sing in.

The concert experience was wonderful, with a crowd of around 200 who all seemed very moved by what we sang.

(Special thanks to Craig Donaldson for the above video) 

We were grateful to have attendance by Mayor Marc Deneuche and again by Sebastien, both of whom expressed their appreciation for our visit. It was an amazing experience to be able to connect with the locals through music.

(Special thanks to Craig Donaldson for the above video) 

One of these connections was the Francis family meeting a local who had found a bugle from WW1 which was inscripted with the maker’s details from London as well as the owners’ details. It noted it had been owned by an Australian soldier who coincidently had served in the same battalion as the grandfather of Heather Francis, who is playing flute for our choir.

After the concert, the locals treated our choir and APs to an impressive supper. It was a wonderful end to a great day of music making and friendship.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today (Wednesday) the choir headed to Amiens, with a few historical stops on the way, followed by a community concert in Fouilloy.

More soon!

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #lestweforget #wewillrememberthem

Day 1: The Amistice trail begins!

Welcome to the Armistice Centenary Choir blog! We can’t wait to provide you a daily recap of the goings on of our tour this week from now until after the Centenary of the First World War Armistice this Sunday.

 

It all began Sunday afternoon with our choristers, Conductor Julie Christiansen OAM, Assistant Conductor Jenny Moon, and many accompanying people, meeting in Paris, some having enjoyed a short holiday prior, with others arriving on a red-eye direct from Brisbane.

The group united for a rehearsal to revise the many songs to be performed for the week, before a group dinner at the accommodation.

With leisure time scheduled for the evening, some of our choristers checked out a quirky underground jazz club, Le Caveau De La Huchette, stopping at an Aussie bar on the way, with some settling for an early night.

VOB Armistice Choir

Simon and Elise enjoy the Jazz Club.

Monday marked the first official day of tour, beginning with a morning rehearsal to lock in the repertoire, before exploring the sights of Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful almost ‘t-shirt weather’ kind of day (a contrast to the chilly European weather in recent weeks). Stops included a gallery of lighting installations, Atelier des Lumieres, seeing the massive Eiffel Tower under blue skies, climbing 300 steps to relish in the expansive views from the top of the SacréCœur basilica, or simply finding a good coffee shop to keep the caffeine cravings at bay.

 

 

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the afternoon, the group met for the first performance of tour – singing under the l’Arc de Triomphe as part of the Ravivage de la Flamme ceremony. This rekindling of the flame ceremony is held every night to honour an unkown French soldier who gave his life during WW1, while being a meaningful ceremony of war remembrance.

L’Arc de Triomphe is looking a little different to usual, with tiered seating both on the inner side of the busy round-a-bout and on the outer in the lead up to Sunday’s Armistice Day. It was still impressive and great to see the Armistice commemorations will take place far and wide.

Voices of Birralee Armistice Day Tour

All dressed and ready for the first performance (pic by Maree)

We sang a few warm up songs before the service began, with three songs, For the Fallen, Hymne à la Nuit, and the French National Anthem sang during the official proceedings.

 

 

The French veterans seemed very appreciative of our involvement and we were honoured to play a part, especially during this incredible week of world remembrance. A special moment was when one of the spokespeople told the crowd of Australia’s experience of fighting in Northern France during World War One and our country’s allegiance with France.

 

 

 

 

 

After the ceremony, choristers enjoyed dinner, with some watching the Eiffel Tower light show. Many tried to get an early night with Tuesday set to be a big day which will include the choir appropriately visiting the Armistice Museum in Compiegne, Vimy Ridge and other memorials.

The choir is looking forward to then arriving in Bailleul for the first community concert.

We can’t wait to share what we discover!

A special thank you to Tony Forbes for his videos and the choristers for contributing to this blog. 

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #lestweforget

Day 7 & 8: Kazakhstan Finale!

As we drew closer to the end of tour, the final event was the Gala Concert, which was to be performed in front of delegates of the 6th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions at the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. 

Our group arrived to the venue late Thursday morning and immediately got to work with rehearsals to prepare for the big event, including allowing the national TV station to rehearse their ‘shots’. 

vob_kazakh_massedrehearsal_2.jpg

Rehearsing the massed piece with the orchestra (pic by Paul)

Just before the concert, our choristers decided to do a lap of the building to present gifts to other choirs we’d befriended. Gifts included Aussie themed pencils, koala keychains, Tim Tams and CDs. 

No one was more excited than the Italians who reacted emphatically to the gifts. And soon the word spread that we had little koala keychains, so other choristers came to our dressing room politely asking for one.

Soon we were ushered to the stage to begin the concert, awaiting ‘go-time’ for when the delegates would finish their earlier conference to be treated to some music. 

And then it all happened and went pretty well we feel – but see for yourself! 

There was a sense of great excitement when the concert finished as it had been a full-on week to get the music performance ready. 

After the concert, we caught a bus from our hotel to the city where we went to Baiterek Tower to catch Astana from another angle and at night.  

_72A5352 copy

At the top of Baiterek Tower (pic by Rohan)

On Friday we had a slow morning packing and getting organised for the trip home. 

We enjoyed our final meal together in Kazakhstan before heading to the Astana Airport in the afternoon. 

72a5291.jpg

Our hotel for the week! (pic by Rohan)

It was a huge week of singing, eating and exploring such a quirky place and we feel very grateful for the opportunity provided by the Astana – Voice of The World organisers, and to Voices of Birralee for this and many opportunities we’ve been provided over the years.

VOB_Kazakh_FinalSelfieofTour.jpg

Saying goodbye to Astana, including Dory and Sanzhar, our friendly translators.

A special thank you to our conductor, Paul Holley OAM for being our fearless leader, preparing our little choir for this occassion, while providing morale and musical support on the ground in Astana.

And thank you to our supporters at home! We can’t wait to share the next adventure with you.

#Vobkazakh2018

Day 5 & 6 – Culture & concerts

After lunch on Day 5 we arrived at Astana Ballet to sound check for the next day’s concert where each choir would perform individually. It was a long session but we filled the time eating local junk food and playing many games of Uno and working out which rules were ‘house’ rules vs ‘actual’ rules.

On Wednesday, Sam, Oli and Rohan spent the morning at a reception for the Sixth Congress of Leaders of the World and Traditional Religions at the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. Each choir nominated three singers to perform in this reception with an audience that included the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

VOB_Kazakh_tour

Sam, Oli and Rohan with new friends after the reception.

The other choristers enjoyed a quiet morning and Paul called a rehearsal which turned out to be a pretend rehearsal in order to sing Happy Birthday to chorister, Amirah and share cake.

After lunch we walked to Assumption Russian Orthodox Cathedral. It was a grand cathedral both inside and out, with the exterior featuring white, gold and blue towers, with the artwork on the interior incredibly detailed paintings with gold leaf.

VOB_Kazakh_RussianChurch

The impressive Assumption Russian Orthodox Church, Kazakhstan (pic by Rohan)

VOB_RussianChurch_4

Inside Assumption Russian Orthodox Church (pic by Rohan)

There was only a handful of parishioners visiting the church when we were there, and the place was hauntingly quiet. A cough echoed throughout showing just how incredible the resonance was. We were tempted to sing, but weren’t sure if it would have been appropriate and we hadn’t learnt how to ask politely in Kasakh or Russian yet.

With a short stop at the Astana Mall to replenish snacks we ran back to the hotel to make it (just) in time for the bus to take us to the evening’s concert.

VOB_Kazakh_Concert1

The choir with conductor Paul Holley and one of the translators, Dory, prior to the concert.

Before the concert began, we took some pictures with other choirs and with our translators who’d looked after us.  Two volunteer translators were Sanzhar and a young woman we nicknamed Dory because she said she loved Finding Nemo. She loved the nickname and that’s what we called her for the rest of the tour.

When the time came for the performance we sang Ruth McCall’s arrangement of Waltzing Matilda, followed by Sing Me to Heaven (Daniel Gawthrop). Below is the recording of Sing Me to Heaven (apologies for the vision quality). 

Being first we were able to then watch the other performances from many of the choirs we had befriended. It was awesome to see the diversity of performances. Some choirs used interesting mouth instruments, percussion, or just showed their diversity of vocals.

More soon, with the final blog covering day 7 and 8!

#vobkazakh2018

Day 3 – 4: Rehearsals & concerts begin!

We’re settling into our new surrounds well, with day three beginning with a massed choir rehearsal for Thursday’s gala concert at the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation.

There’s a fair bit of repertoire to get through and it seems like the concert will be quite a big deal with the President of Kazakhstan to attend. It will also be televised throughout Kazakhstan.

The massed choir pieces are being conducted by Hungarian, Gábor Hollerung, and Demeyuov Beimbet from Kazakhstan. We’re working hard and doing all right with the Kasak and Russian pronunciations.

After lunch and back at the hotel, we were treated to a workshop and performance from the Indonesian Children and Youth Choir – Cordana, conducted by Aida Swenson. The choir of young women and girls are dedicated to Indonesian dance from Muslim origin.

They were so impressive, with the music and moves so intricate! Check them out!

A few of our VOB choristers were then invited to try some of the choreographty – we gave it a good go, but don’t feel we did it justice!

On Sunday night we headed to Mega Silk Way, a mall near where the Expo 2017 was held. Here some of the foreign choirs, including those from Belarus, Mongolia, Israel, Korea and Italy performed for the shopping centre patrons and each other.

VOB_SilkyWay_5

A cast photo of the evening’s performance.

It was a fun and relaxed atmosphere and a great chance to air our repertoire before we perform on Wednesday. Overall we were happy with our performance and it was super fun mingling with the other choirs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Monday we were back at the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation for more massed rehearsals, with a dress rehearsal in the evening for government representives to make sure all was suitable. They seemed to give their tick of approval which I’m sure was a relief for the festival organisers.

VOB_Choir_Rehearsals

Back on the bus from practice.

It’s been a busy few days, with lots more to come! Wednesday will involve Sam, Oli and Rohan performing at a reception for the VI Congress of Religious Leaders, with a concert in the evening involving all choristers.

We’ll keep you updated.

#vobkazakh2018

Day 1 – 2: Welcome to Kazakhstan!

Kazakhstan wasn’t on many of our choristers’ travel lists prior to a special invitation from the International Choir Festival: Astana, Voice of the World, a few months ago.

So, a small group of choristers, with conductor Paul Holley, embarked on the journey at noon on Wednesday for an epic flight plan from Brisbane to Astana.

VOBKazak_Airport_1

It took around 36 hours, with stops in China and Russia, and then finally arriving in Kazakhstan for a transfer from Almaty to Astana. Choristers kept spirits high along the way with plenty of Eye-Spy, Uno, finding the best way to nap while seated upright, or having estimates of how long it would take a piece of paper to go down an escalator – boredom can create creativity… almost.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But before we knew it, we were in Astana, a bit tired, but excited to sleep horizontally in a beautiful hotel, but not before travelling through the sparkling city to get there.

Waking up in Astana, a little confused as to where we were, we adjusted and decided to spend a free day exploring. The festival provided us a volunteer translater, Zhansaya, from a local uni, who took on an almost tourguide role. Zhansaya asked if we wanted to take a taxi to the city – hopefully she didn’t mind that we opted to walk. It wasn’t long before we’d passed the 7km mark…

VOBKazak_Exploring

Pictured in the background is the Bayterek Tower – an observation tower. The tower has a golden egg in a nest at the top, symbolising a world of connection and progress.

As we wandered, we began to realise the city of Astana has been influenced by various iconic buildings / structures from throughout the world. There’s a Charles de Gaulle Street, with Parisian architecture, and even an Eiffel Tower (not to scale of course), a Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, which looks a bit like one of the pyramids at the Louvre Museum, Paris, and even a building that resembles the Empire State Building in New York.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The tour included visiting a building that looked like a museum, but surprisingly, it was a modern mall. The top level had a dinosaur park, train, rides and arcades, quite reminicent of “Tops” which use to be in the Myer Centre in Brisbane.

VOBKazak_exploring6

After excusing our tour guide / translater, we walked back to our hotel (about 21,000 steps completed for the day!), before getting ready to go to the evening’s opening gala concert at the stunning Astana Opera.

vob_kazak_jhen.jpg

Choristers with our translater, Zhansaya, a volunteer from a local uni.

The night’s concert featured a Chamber Choir from Kazakhstan and visiting soloist Amikaeyla Gaston and her group, “Harmonic Rhythms” from America. Both groups were incredibly polished and amazing to listen to.

VOB_Kazak_OperaHouse_2

Outside the Opera House.

 

VOBKazak_Concertgroups

The performers at the festival’s opening concert (pic by Oli)

Arriving back to the hotel, we were greeted by the final contingents of our choir, Sam and Andy who’d taken a later flight from Brisbane. It was good to have ‘the band back together again’, as we all got ready for day two.

VOB_Kazak_Group_1

The band’s back together again!

On Saturday, three of the guys, Sam, Oli and Rohan left in the morning to partake in a special rehearsal where they’ll be a part of a group performing for the Kazakhstan President next week… no biggie. Some of the group explored the markets and bought around a kilogram of rasberries for reportedly the equivalent of AU$4.

Our group joined up after lunch to run through our repertoire, before walking to the biggest mosque in Central Asia, Hazrat Sultan Mosque. And yes, it was massive, but so beautiful and peacefully quiet.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We then went for some more exploring, before enjoying a group dinner and getting ready for the next day of tour.

More soon…

#VOBKazakh2018