Category Archives: Reflections

Seasons Greetings from Birralee!

Thank you for a great, action-packed year! Here’s a few messages from the artistic team at Voices of Birralee as we begin our break. Have a wonderful and safe Christmas and New Year and if you loved your time with us in 2017, make sure you enrol for 2018 here.


“Congratulations Voices of Birralee on a very successful, action-packed year and thank you to everyone involved, from the conductors, our office team and to our volunteer managers, your contribution and passion has been once again greatly appreciated. There were many highlights for 2017 including the very successful and far-reaching three-part Voices from the Trenches Festival where our choirs were joined by school and community choirs across Brisbane and Toowoomba, while the final instalment was tied in with the Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival, which was a pleasure to join with men’s choirs from Australia and abroad in celebration of male singing.

“This year included two tours as part of our Western Front Centenary Choir Project commitment with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, where in April we sent our first U18 choir who did us proud at the Anzac Day Dawn Service in France and other concerts. Our second overseas choir performed at an incredibly moving Anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood in Belgium. A personal highlight for me was seeing our Birralee Singers grow in their tour to Tasmania and I’m sure many of the accompanying parents would agree, they sang beautifully. They also did us proud performing in Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Carmen In-Concert!

“As we move onto 2018, we’re excited for another big year of activity and opportunity to see our choristers flourish across each ensemble – I look forward to you joining us!” Julie Christiansen OAM, Founder & Artistic Director (BBV & Birralee Singers Conductor) 


The Birralee Singers head to Tasmania. 

“Blokes has grown to be the largest it has been for several years which has been exciting. The highlight of the year was Pemulwuy and it was great to have other blokes from the Birralee family join us to sing at this festival. The involvement in Voices from the Trenches Festival concerts in Brisbane and Toowoomba was also a fantastic way to remember the sacrifice of servicemen and women who gave so much and most at an age the same as many of our Blokes. I am sure for those Blokes who had the chance to travel to France this year for Anzac Day it was also a reminder of this gift from the young men of an earlier generation. Finally let me give a big thank you to Kate, Justine, Dominik, Brigitte and Tania who have been fantastic support to the Blokes this year.

Resonance: For me the personal highlights of the Resonance year were the performances of Annelies and the performance given in our June concert. To have risen to the challenge of performing a work like Annelies was something I was very proud of the ensemble for achieving. It was also great to renew our relationship with the Qld Pops Orchestra in their Celtic Spectacular concerts. Part of the joy of that gig was performing with Birralee dad Kevin Higgins on uilleann pipes and also with the adorable Sarah Calderwood who then joined us for our June concert. Bravo also to the Resonance members who sang so beautifully in Belgium in September. And also thanks to John Farnham for popping in to lend his voice to the QMF You’re the Voice event along with Kate Ceberano and Katie Noonan. Finally thanks to Brendan, Sue, Amirah and Judy for their work with the team this year. Looking forward to an exciting 2018.” – Paul Holley OAM, Associate Director (Birralee Blokes & Resonance of Birralee Conductor) 

You're the Voice

John Farnham pops in for Queensland Music Festival’s You’re the Voice event. 

“What an incredible musical journey 2017 has been. Once again, I have been surrounded by the magic of music making with BBV and it is such a pleasure and privilege to work with these young musicians as they explore life through song. In April this year I was honoured to tour with 30 very fine young men and women from BBV and Blokes, as they represented Australia at the Anzac Day commemorations in France. In every capacity they were outstanding ambassadors not only for Birralee, but also for our country. Their youth, energy, vibrancy, integrity and tenacity touched so many hearts along the way as did their beautiful singing. A life-changing touring experience on the Western Front filled with memories that will last a life-time and friendships forged through stories, adventures and song. Does it get any better than that?” – Jenny Moon, BBV Assistant Conductor


The 2017 Anzac Day Commemoration Choir performs at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris. 

“What a wonderful year I’ve spent with the Piccolos! It has been a delight to watch the children grow in confidence, sing with joy, and learn what it means to sing in a choir. My highlight of the year was our inaugural Teddy Bear’s Picnic where we had fun singing with our teddies, our friends and our family members, and where we performed a Teddy Bear song composed by the Piccolos. I’m looking forward to more Piccolos’ fun in 2018.” – Katherine Ruhle, Birralee Piccolos Conductor 

“This is my first year with the Birralee Singers and I’m grateful to have been so warmly embraced by this energetic ensemble. It has been a privilege to watch our choristers bond and grow in confidence through numerous experiences across 2017 including our tour to Tasmania, singing for Southbank’s 25th birthday and sharing the stage with our mums and dads at The Young and the Recycled concert. I would like to thank our choir managers Lou, Raylene and Michael for all the hard work they’ve put in this year as well as our student helpers, Evelyn, Ally, Abbey, Josh and Sophie. Without them we would not have been able to create such beautiful music. A very happy and safe holiday season to all members of the Birralee family and I’m looking forward to new adventures in 2018!” – Clare Finlayson, Birralee Singers Assistant Conductor 

“How incredible it was to visit France in April and discover so much about our history and the poor men who suffered over there. It was very emotional and there were many tears from both the adults and the teenagers who sang so beautifully. One thing I would encourage is to delve into your family history. Until this event I knew very little but discovered that not so long ago there was someone to be proud of, which made the trip even more meaningful. Thank you Birralee for yet another life-changing experience.” – Justine Favell, Birralee Principal Accompanist (Birralee Blokes & BBV). 

Jenny Moon - IMG_8929

Justine, Jenny and Kate on tour. 


“This year saw the birth of many more notes during rehearsal and performance but also of our first son Philip. Jane and I claim him as the first joint Resonance baby and look forward to him joining the Piccolos although hope that time doesn’t come around too soon! Merry Christmas to all of Birralee and we look forward to sharing an exciting 2018!” – Brendan Murtagh, Piano Accompanist Resonance of Birralee, Birralee Recycled and Birralee Singers 

“2017 – what a year! It’s hard to believe that, already, it is almost at an end. The last 12 months have been a whirlwind of lessons, rehearsals, performances and occasional welcome moments of quiet reflection. As always, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with the fabulous Kids staff and choristers – we have worked on some enormously fun repertoire and had some great performances. As we approach the summer holidays I hope everyone is looking forward to a well-earned break; better rest up now because 2018 looks like it is shaping up to be another fantastic, action-packed year!” – Kate Littlewood, Piano Accompanist Birralee Kids 


GUEST BLOG: Nature vs nurture: what matters most when bringing music into a child’s life?

In this post Voices of Birralee welcomes guest blogger, Boppin’ Babies founder and Birralee parent, Vicky Abad who gives her thoughts on how music can be encouraged in the home, no matter a parent’s musicality. 

Recently one of my piano students bought me a T-shirt for Christmas that says “I don’t sing all the time, oh wait, yes I do!” and it is so true. 

I sing constantly, in my head and out loud. I also have a child who sings constantly – out loud (never in her head!).

I had a father who sang all the time. He was a beautiful musician, truly talented and self-taught; and a mother who loved to sing and did so with great enthusiasm but couldn’t hold a tune to save herself (and still can’t bless her).

This shirt got me thinking about my daughter, Miss BB and her singing. She loves to sing all the time, in the shower, in the pool, in the car, as she goes to sleep.

She has sung with Voices of Birralee’s children’s choirs for five years, starting as a Piccolo when she was just six years old.

Last month she sang in her first opera stage concert with internationally acclaimed lead singers! I may have been more excited than her, given my music training in opera, but wow what an opportunity for her!

Because I value music so very much, I prioritise it in our lives, I budget for her choir and tuition fees and I make time to support her practice (and drive her to endless rehearsals). 

But does she sing because she is nurtured to or is this nature?

Does she sing because genetically she comes from a long line of singers? Or is it her musical environment?

I would say all of the above.

Musical home

Music is a part of our DNA

From a research perspective, archaeological evidence suggests we humans have sung to communicate, connect and engage with each other since the time of our earliest ancestors.

In fact, theorists believe that ancient humans communicated emotion through vocalising long before we had language and words.

Certainly mothers tap into this primal use of music to soothe their babies from before the time infants can understand the words that are being spoken to them. 

But babies can understand the emotion that is being portrayed through song, and in particular through melody, pitch, rhythm and timbre, and the way that it is being sung.

That is to say, we sing emotionally and expressively when we sing to babies.

We also speak to them in a similar way. Adults from all cultures speak and sing to their young in a particular way (in the research world we call it infant-directed speech).


The case for nature

Parents are hard wired to sing to their babies. It is a part of our evolution.

When we sing we feel good because singing increases the release of endorphins in our brain. Our little babies will often engage and vocalise and interact back, which means, while we are maintaining close physical and eye contact with them, we are in fact falling in love (more endorphins!). 

You can see how music is a part of our genetic makeup when we look at it this way.

Babies can hear their mother’s voice long before they are born. During the third trimester they can even associate certain music with emotion, remembered via the limbic system.

When bubs are born they will seek out their mother’s voice in this new and alien world. And many mothers will hold, rock and talk/sing/vocalise to soothe their new born infant in these moments.

We are designed to do this. Babies are born with competent hearing capacity and they are ready to hear you. They prefer high pitches and frequencies, and this could well be their mother singing.


The case for nurture

What baby doesn’t love being nursed and sung to while they lull off to sleep?

If it were just nature, we could argue that all parents do this comfortably and competently.

My current PhD research (still to be published) suggests that many parents don’t feel confident to sing to their little ones, and in fact, many think that an iPod or music edutainment program marketed as ‘good for baby’ would be better.

Some also believe that they should not sing unless they are a music expert. Neither of these is true.

You are the expert of your baby, and you are human which means you can sing.

Very few people are actually tone deaf. There is some new and fascinating research in this area, that show most people can sing or learn to sing (my mother is not one of them unfortunately).


Find time for music every day

The other thing I find that impacts on the nurturing of musicality these days is time.

Parents are super busy, especially if they work. CDs or DVDs seem an excellent stimulating way to provide a little one with musical engagement while the grown-ups get jobs done.

Research shows us that nothing replaces the magic that is a parent singing to their child.

This is when neural transmitters fire, and new neural pathways are formed. Little brains light up when they interact musically with a human that they love.

You can nurture your child’s musicality by finding the time to sing and be with your child in a crazy busy world.

It’s not as hard as it sounds.

Say no to technology and overstimulation and focus on the simple pleasures, such as sitting and singing nursery rhymes together, or having a cuddle and a tickle to a favourite song.

Nurture them with a home environment full of live music, full of your singing and banging the pots and pans together. 

And be sure to have song books and age appropriate CDs on hand if you run out of puff singing!

About the author

Vicky Abad is a Registered Music Therapist with extensive national and international clinical experience in paediatric and early intervention music therapy and music early learning.

She is founder of the Boppin’ Babies Music Early Learning Program for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers and their parents conducted with a music therapy focus.

She is a widely published  researcher at the University of Queensland where she is currently completing her PhD on music early learning and the impact of this on family well-being.

Vicky is also the President of the Australian Music Therapy Association.


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.)


Voices of Birralee celebrates the Aussies!

Australia’s choral scene has a lot to offer, from the talented composers, to the high quality choirs and the brilliant opportunities for choristers to develop both musically and socially.

This month we celebrate Australia Day, so we thought we’d praise the Aussie composers, by highlighting some of Birralee’s favourite songs the ensembles have performed over the years.

We must begin with one of Birralee’s favourite composers, Paul Jarman. Paul has been involved with Birralee for many years and his involvement has included working with various ensembles, particularly on how each choir can get the best outcome when performing his stunning pieces.

His involvement with Birralee has been with its choirs both in Australia and during overseas tours and in 2010 this included Paul conducting the Brisbane Birralee Voices (BBV) during their European tour. In Hradec Kralove BBV sang one of Paul’s extremely moving compositions, Shackleton, a tribute to the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

On the same tour, BBV performed Magnetic Island – Suite II, composed by Paul, with Simon Self. This piece was conducted by Voices of Birralee’s Artistic Director and Founder Julie Christiansen OAM.

Another favourite piece of Paul’s is Pemulwuy – in fact we loved it so much we named our triennial male voice festival after it – Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival. This clip shows just how powerful the piece is, performed at the 2014 festival finale.

Another great composer Birralee worked with was Harley Mead, and when both Harley and Paul joined forces, their choral music was taken to an even greater level. Here’s an example of their great work with Voices of Birralee singing This Golden Land at the 2014 end of year concert.

We also love this piece composed solely by Harley, Mother Earth, which BBV sang in 2011, conducted by Julie.

For our younger choirs, the Aussie composer that has stood out is Brisbane-based Sherelle Eyles. Her music celebrates Australia and features some of our more unique animals and places, while being designed to be fun and educational. Some favourites include, Crocodile, Kakadu, The Barrier Reef, The Bilby, The Carpet Python, The Dugong, The Gecko and The Great Australian Bight, with the latter performed here by our Birralee Kids and Piccolos at the 2013 Cup Cake and Cushion concert.

Another example of a standout Aussie composer is Mark Puddy. Last year Birralee Blokes Conductor Paul Holley chose to teach his choristers Mark’s Here You Lie.

The song, which pays tribute to a speech by WW1 Commander and the first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was explored during our State Library of Queensland Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation Historypin project. Check it out here.

Another great composer is Elena Kats-Chernin with her piece The Gardens Symphony, which we performed as our mass choir grand finale piece at last year’s 20th Anniversary Concert.

Throughout Birralee’s history, we have also honoured well-known Australian songs, including Advance Australia Fair (written by the Scottish-born Peter Dodds McCormick), which in this clip is performed by our Anzac Commemoration Choir in Villers-Bretonneux, France in April, 2015.

And Waltzing Matilda (words by Banjo Paterson), with renditions including by our Anzac Commemoration Choir on the steps of Amiens Town Hall, France, with the second version performed by BBV in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy in 2014 (this arrangement by Ruth McCall).


The list could go on with our other favourite Aussie pieces! If you have a favourite song that Birralee has sung over the years by an Australian composer, let us know by commenting below, or emailing

Happy Australia Day!


Celebrating our singers!


Our alumni 

Rehearsals are underway, the program is being printed and tickets are selling well for our 20th Anniversary Concert on Sunday 1 November! We thought this blog would feature a Q&A with one of our longstanding singers, Sarah McDonald, while announcing our alumni soloist and singers joining us for this exciting celebration!

It’s been a fantastic opportunity to connect with our alumni for this event, and because of this wonderful experience and knowing the expertise and value our alumni have to offer, we have decided to launch the Voices of Birralee Alumni Alliance! This will enable us to work with our alumni in the future, continuing to enhance the strength of the Birralee community. Those interested can register and find out more here.

Enjoy October’s blog!


Remembering 20 years!

Sarah McDonald has been with Voices of Birralee for 20 years and is currently with the Resonance of Birralee ensemble. Let’s find out about Sarah’s experience.

Birralee's early years.

Birralee’s early years.

When and why did you join Birralee? I joined Birralee at the beginning in 1995. I was eight years old and went into the Piccolos or Junior choir – I can’t remember if we had Piccolos in the beginning! Both of my brothers also joined, aged six and 10 years old because Mum wanted us to do some more singing. Julie already took all of the choirs at The Gap State School, the primary school we attended, so it was an easy choice. I seem to remember the first Westside Youth Choir having lots of The Gap State School kids in it.

Sarah McDonald with fellow chorister Pip Thomson at the World Choir Games, Graz, 2008.

Sarah McDonald with fellow chorister Pip Thomson at the World Choir Games, Graz, 2008.

Standout conductor for you over the years? I think it would be harder to argue who hasn’t influenced me over the years at Birralee. In more recent times (although I don’t know if you can call almost 10 years recent), I’ve had the pleasure of singing in a choir with Paul Holley at the helm and Brendan Murtagh at the piano. These men share their immense talent with so many of us each week and aside from continuing to develop my singing, I’ve been able to witness a strong and effective working relationship which allows both to make the most of their talents. It’s like having free PD (personal development) sessions each week with tricks of the trade that I can use for my own choirs!

Justine Favell has always been there at the piano supporting our learning, and I have enjoyed many concerts and CD recordings by her side as a page turner when I wasn’t performing. Justine always passed on good advice which resulted in an extended period in my life (around 12 years) of accompanying school and community choirs across Brisbane. This is something that I still do and am very aware of times that I do or play things in rehearsal just like Justine would!

Julie Christiansen OAM has been there throughout my entire Birralee journey, shaping and developing my love of quality choral music. She gave me countless singing opportunities and inadvertently showed me how to select the best choral music available. Birralee is known for the wide and varied range of repertoire we sing and that all comes down to expectations that Julie set up many years ago. In addition to this, she opened up new pathways for me to explore. I started accompanying the Piccolos when I was 14 and a half which grew into accompanying (over the years) Piccolos, Juniors and Singers. I was also encouraged to help out in the Birralee office which increased my arts administration skill base and a thorough understanding of tour and event management. The opportunities and experiences that have been afforded to me by Julie alone,  are extensive and life changing to say the least. There are few words worthy enough of describing how thankful I am to Julie for all that she’s done for me.

The entire Birralee experience has really helped me get to where I am now as Assistant Head of Year at Brisbane Grammar School where I teach Middle School Music and Drama – two performance based subjects. I also conduct and accompany choirs at the school as well as directing plays and musicals.

Exploring Europe at the World Choir Games, 2008.

Exploring Europe at the World Choir Games, 2008.

What are you highlights? 20 years is a long time to pick one particular highlight for. I think the main thing to pick up on would be that Birralee is always great fun. We’ve done many overseas tours which are always exciting, but who knows if they will ever beat the road trips to Newcastle (2003) or Sydney (2007)? Any experience with Birralee is an opportunity to do what you love with people you love to be around. The strongest of friendships have been forged for me from my ‘Birralee friends’ – people who I probably would not have met otherwise.

Favourite songs over the years? Jingle-bell Fantasy! Julie is still convinced that we did this at school and not Birralee but I’m sure we did it one Christmas – best song ever! Along with everything else we do. The quality of music sung by choristers in Birralee is what helps to make it so great. I could name many pieces like Labour of Love, Ain’t No Grave, Skorokoro, I Carry Your Heart, Birdland, Ecce Dedi, Jing-ga-lye-ya, Ach! Synku Synku, Magosh a Rutafa III, Living in a Holy City, Vus Vet Zayn… The list goes on!!!


Celebrating our alumni! Our concert on 1 November will feature former Birralee soprano, Ashleigh Maclaine (nee Crane) who will be featured as a soloist. 

Ashleigh Maclaine when she sang with Voices of Birralee in 2007

Then: Ashleigh Maclaine when she sang with Voices of Birralee in 2007.

Ashleigh’s career has taken her to great heights including performing with Opera Q, the Underground Opera Company and in a number of highly reputable performances.

She began studying music at the University of Queensland in 2007 under the tutelage of Joseph Ward, OBE, and graduated in 2010 under Sarah Crane at the top of her cohort for performance. She furthered her studies with Margaret Schindler at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, graduating from the Masters in Opera Studies in 2013. Here, she covered the role of Anne Trulove in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in 2012 and sang the role of Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in 2013.

Ashleigh received the Doreen Ord Scholarship Award in 2013, and in 2014 she went on to win first prize in the Operatic Aria section of the Queensland Performing Arts Competition. Ashleigh is a founding member of Outcast Theatre Company as of 2010 and has continued working with the aspiring company in many of their productions and installation pieces. In 2013 she made her debut with Opera Q in Bach’s St Matthew Passion and went on to perform in the 2014 production of The Perfect American as part of Brisbane Festival. She has continued her work with Opera Q singing the role of Adina in touring production of FiZZ!, an adaptation of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, and earlier this year singing the role of Rosina in the touring production of The Adventures of Figaro, an abridged version of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Ashleigh Maclaine as she gets ready for a performance with the Underground Opera Company at the Spring Hill Reservoir in November.

Now: Ashleigh Maclaine as she gets ready for a performance with the Underground Opera Company at the Spring Hill Reservoir in November 2015.

Which of our other alumni will be joining us? Welcome back to: 

Josephine Atkinson Izzy Backstrom
Ingrid Bartkowiak Jessica Chapman
James Davidson Caitlin Davidson
Xanthia Dubler Jeremy Dingwall
Louise England Laura Edwards
Emily Foster Kirsten Fernance
Samantha Hay (Cattach) Elizabeth Hambleton
Jessica Irwin Kelsey Horton
Jamie Leonard Eliza King
Laura Mandeville Ashleigh Maclaine (Crane)
Oscar Medek Andrew McDonald
Ben Messenger Andrew Messenger
Chloe Neuendorf (Woodrow) Jessica Morel (Blumel)
Emma Nielsen Will Nicol
Lauren Paszkowski Cara Nolan
Johanna Rosenthal Laura Pratt
Nicole Sinclair (Jarman) Connor Scott
Adele Todd Jessica Taylor
Emily Watson Clara Warry-Bush (Bush)
David Withnall

Stay up-to-date with Birralee via our Facebook page and for more information visit our website. Have you purchased your tickets yet for our 20th Anniversary Concert at QPAC’s Concert Hall on 1 November? Make sure you get to it with tickets selling fast! These can be purchased at QPAC.

Remembering one of our own – A tribute to Harley Mead

Next week marks one year since we said goodbye to a very special part of our world at Voices of Birralee.

Harley Mead worked with us as a composer, conductor, musical collaborator and compere with many of our choristers privileged to work with him and were honoured to perform some of his inspiring and beautiful music.

Honouring Harley Mead for his significant contribution to the Voices of Birralee and greater arts community.

Honouring Harley Mead for his significant contribution to the Voices of Birralee and greater arts community.

Our singers loved his crazy and high energy warm-ups, while Voices of Birralee’s artistic team enjoyed working with him on a number of Birralee projects.

While we miss Harley, we feel incredibly fortunate to have had the time with Harley that we did, and wanted to celebrate some of his work in this blog, with tributes from those who were close to him.

The first tribute represents the impact Harley had on many young people. We recently became acquainted with young man, Ben Kingston who is an incredible writer with an immense passion for music. Ben isn’t able to speak and connected with Harley to help him work on a song Ben had written, Running. Harley brought a voice to Ben’s song.

“Harley was the first real musician to believe in me and to work with me on a song. I miss Harley as do all his friends. I think the best way to remember him is through his music,” – Ben Kingston.

View a piece of Ben and Harley’s work below, while reading about Ben’s inspiring journey here.

Harley’s passing has effected many people in the arts and greater community and Peter Ingram who is Brisbane Grammar School’s Head of Music and conductor of the Grammarphones and Grammar Singers, shares his thoughts one year on:

“It is a year since we lost our friend and inspiration, Harley. I think it is important to stop and reflect on the ups and downs of this last year. The emotions are still raw and the memories come flooding back of the difficult times in the days that followed his passing. But time does heal wounds; indeed, I am sure Harley would want us to move beyond any sadness and to remember his love of life, his love of music and his love for those who made music with him. And for me, as the weeks and months have gone by, the way this happened has been through his music.

“It has been amazing the many different ways in the last year my life has collided with the calming, healing influence of his music. As I went through my music library, there it was, just waiting for me to look at and to do with one of my choirs…and so that is what I have done. I turn up at a concert and there on the program will be one of his pieces…and so I sit back and revel in the wisdom of his lyrics and the beauty of his melodies. I flick through my own playlist and one of his songs jumps out at me, just wanting to be listened to…and so I take some ‘time-out’ and remember my mate.

“As someone who has the honour, on a more formal basis, of continuing his legacy through the establishment of his website, it is clear that Harley’s music family is keen to share the love and to keep his music alive. What a tribute to Harley this is!

“Let us remember him and let us celebrate him through his music. Thanks Harley for the memories!” – Peter Ingram.

Harley was involved with many schools across Queensland and his dedication was remembered and honoured at the Gold Coast Eisteddfod in August this year, with the Innaguaral Harley Mead Award and Premier Grade Section.

Harley had adjudicated the Eisteddfod several times and was popular with the students, teachers and the committee.

On the evening of August 13, five secondary school choirs; Somerset College, The Southport School, John Paul College, Hillcrest Christian College and The Glennie School competed on the Gold Coast Arts Centre stage singing a variety of music, some of which included songs composed by Harley.

HIllcrest Bel Canto Choir win the Inaugural Harley Mead Award, with the Southport School runners up. They are pictured with adjudicator Emily Cox.

HIllcrest Bel Canto Choir win the Inaugural Harley Mead Award, with The Southport School runners up. They are pictured with adjudicator Emily Cox.

Hillcrest Christian College Head of Choral and Vocal Studies Jenny Moon reflects on this special night:

“It was a beautiful evening of joyous music making with a wonderful spirit of camaraderie and a shared musical purpose.

“Many of the girls who performed as part of the Hillcrest Bel Canto Choir have fond memories of working with Harley in 2009 as part of the ANCA Treble Voices Festival at City Hall and then again in 2010 when he conducted a workshop at Hillcrest. It was, therefore, a very special moment when they were announced winners of the Inaugural Harley Mead Award.

“Harley was an exceptionally generous man who gave so much to so many children and teachers over the years. The prize money that the choir was awarded is going to be used to purchase Australian choral music to donate to schools who would not normally have the funds to access music scores for their students. Through this we hope more children will experience the magic of joining together in song.” – Jenny Moon.

Harley worked on a number of Voices of Birralee projects with a highlight being the Q150 Songbridge tour in 2009 when he and composer, Paul Jarman collaborated with our artistic team to create new works for each of the towns visited throughout Queensland. This was a fantastic experience which led to nine new choral works which celebrated our state’s history and beauty.

A piece which Paul and Harley worked on together included This Golden Land performed at the Voices of Birralee Celebrates 2014 concert, conducted by Paul Holley.

Paul Jarman honours Harley here:

“Like you all I have times where I feel more impacted by his passing than I ever knew I could. But somehow, through it all, there are times when I know that he is still here with me/us. Maybe death is actually not death, but life eternal that lives on through us as we grow from it.

“I consider you all friends and major inspirations to me. Let us always hold together our passions and love for Harley and his legacy.” – Paul Jarman.

Above all, what we remember of Harley was his enthusiasm and we can continue to enjoy the wonderful songs he composed which we’ve had the privilege of singing or hearing.

We’d like to leave you with Harley’s final performance where he conducted his piece Kusikiliza Kwa Watoto (Listen to the Children). It is evident how Harley passed his love for music onto these young singers and his enthusiasm is contagious. Enjoy!

To support Harley’s family, his legacy of beautiful musical is available for use with titles here and you can also honour Harley via the Harley Mead Appreciation Society.