Category Archives: Children’s Choirs

Exploring dialects through music

Voices of Birralee is getting ready to fulfil its exciting end of year commitments with a number of events including performing in the Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols and QPAC’s Spirit of Christmas.

Another exciting opportunity is coming up for 45 of our Birralee Singers and BBV who will perform as the Children’s Chorus in Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Carmen In-Concert on Saturday 25 November.

The concert, celebrating QSO’s 70 year anniversary, conducted by Music Director, Alondra de la Parra, with some of the roles in collaboration with Lisa Gasteen Opera School, will see our young choristers singing in French.

It is going to be a wonderful opportunity for our choristers to perform in the presence of professional singers, while brushing up on their language learning skills.

“We see great value in including repertoire in our ensembles’ programs of varying dialects to open our choristers’ minds to different cultures, while encouraging them to challenge themselves with a language that isn’t their own,” Voices of Birralee Artistic Director & Founder Julie Christiansen OAM said. 

Some of the pieces Voices of Birralee have performed in a non-English language include Riu, Riu, Chiu (Mateo Flecha) performed by the Birralee Blokes above at Voices of Birralee’s 20 Year Anniversary Concert in 2015.

The Polish Mironczarnia (music by Jakub Neske, words by Białoszewski) was performed by BBV above, also at Birralee’s 20th Anniversary Concert.

Resonance of Birralee performed Spiritus Sanctus (Daniel Brinsmead) with Latin dialect at their 10th Anniversary Concert in 2016.

Learning repertoire with lyrics in a non-English dialect can be challenging, however there are lots of tips and tricks our choristers have developed over time.

These include:

1. Write out the words phonetically 
2. Listen to the words being spoken via audio recordings supplied by your conductor, or via sources such as YouTube or Soundcloud. Listen to various versions of a song to compare pronunciation 
3. Find translations of the words and discuss these with your fellow choristers and conductors to ensure a correct or agreed meaning 
4. Think of the translation while you’re singing to build emotional memory 
5. Practice! 


Do you have a special method of learning non-English lyrics? Comment below!


If you’d love to support our choristers at Carmen In-Concert, book your tickets here.


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 

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.)


Celebrating our children’s choirs!

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! 


For Claire Preston, our Birralee Kids conductor, she constantly sees the benefits that singing in a choir offers to children. 

“Singing in a choir further develops children’s self-confidence, they make new friends, they learn how to be part of a team, they learn how to listen and they have the opportunity to perform in the safety of a group,” she said. 

Anyone who has worked with children will know the challenges that come with keeping kids alert throughout an afternoon rehearsal. Ms Preston says it’s all about choosing appropriate songs and ensuring the rehearsal is fast paced. 

“It’s important to choose songs that the children enjoy learning and fun warm-up activities that help the group feel happy about coming to choir; including using movement and physical gestures in songs. I ensure rehearsals are kept at a fast pace to keep them on their toes and probably the most important tip is to talk as little as possible!”   
Repertoire is chosen that is best suited for the Piccolos and Kids’ young voices. 

“Unison songs at the beginning of the year are best for developing the young voice; working on creating a singing line,  healthy vocal placement and even tone and flexibility across the vocal range,” Ms Preston said.

“Repertoire includes a good variety of slow and fast songs, rhythmical and legato, with age appropriate texts to enjoy the story telling of each song. Canons and partner songs are a great introduction to simple two-part repertoire.” 

It certainly takes a great deal of energy to conduct a children’s choir, but Ms Preston loves it! 

“I find it very rewarding teaching young children to develop artistry and to be expressive. I also love to empower children to read music. Once they realise they are actually reading the music it’s a magical moment! When they discover that they CAN do it, the confidence and independence it affords them is a real milestone,” she said. 

“I have lots of parents tell me that Birralee is their child’s favourite time of the week and that their school grades have improved because of all they learn at choir!!  What an endorsement!! Bring it on,  I say!!” 

The rehearsals during the year for our Birralee Kids and Piccolos provide valuable learning opportunities, while Voices of Birralee ensures the children also experience performances. 

Earlier this year, the Birralee Kids and Piccolos performed in the Cupcake and Cushion Concert. Here’s a video about the joy the choristers experienced during this concert, and their adorable comments about what they get out of singing in a choir. 

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. 

Flyer - YVF 2016The 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.

For more information contact 07 3367 1001 or email, or visit