Category Archives: Reflections

The songs that stole our hearts

There’s many quotes about music and love with likely the most famous, Shakespeare’s “If music be the food of love, play on” written for the Twelfth Night. 

It’s true, music speaks to the heart and there’s been many inspiring songs performed in choral settings that have stolen our hearts over the years. This Valentine’s Day, some of Voices of Birralee’s conductors share their favourites.

Voices of Birralee Founder and Artistic Director Julie Christiansen OAM says no nation celebrates romance like the French.

“There are many beautiful love songs that are great to reflect upon on Valentine’s Day, and who knows more about romance than the French! One of my favourites from the years has been Chanson D’Amour, made famous by Manhattan Transfer,” Julie said.

Chanson D’Amour, as an acapella jazz number, has become a chorister favourite during our World War One Centenary Tours, proving very popular for audiences in France.

Voices of Birralee’s 2018 Western Front Centenary Choir (for the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel) perform Chanson D’Amour.

Birralee Kids conductor Kate Littlewood’s favourite love-inspired piece is John McNaughton’s “Love at Home” arranged by Mack Wilberg.  

“The lyrics of this hymn speak about how all aspects of our life will appear brighter and more beautiful if we have love in our home life. I choose to interpret this as the love of a partner, parent, child, sibling, pet …  or all of the above!” Kate said.

“Wilberg’s setting of this text is enchanting and really helps convey the importance of the text.”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs Love at Home.

For Peter Ingram (Resonance of Birralee Co-Director and Birralee Recycled Conductor) it is A Red, Red Rose, arranged by James Mulholland that is a favourite.

“It is a beautiful text with matching beauty in the harmonies. As always with music, there is an emotional connection,” Peter said.

“This was one of the first SATB pieces I conducted as a young conductor and it connected with me and hopefully with my singers as well!”

Portland State University Choir performs A Red Red Rose.

Finally, in a piece our older members will recall, i carry your heart with me resonates most with Paul Holley OAM (Resonance of Birralee Director and Birralee Blokes Conductor).

This song is a favourite of Resonance of Birralee and was even sung by our choir when one of our members proposed to his girlfriend in a surprise proposal a few years ago.

“It is beautiful choral writing and an incredible piano part. The song captures the poem by E. E. Cummings beautifully and the composer, Ben van Tienen is a dear friend,” Paul said.

Resonance of Birralee perform i carry your heart with me at the choir’s 10 year anniversary in 2016.

What’s your favourite love song performed in a choral setting? Let us know by commenting below!

The year that was – 2018!

What a year it’s been and our artistic team, choristers, conductors and office team have achieved a great deal! Let’s reflect.

JANUARY – FEBRUARY 

Our year began in January with a choir of 30 voices, led by Paul Holley OAM, beginning rehearsals for April’s Anzac Day Dawn Service and the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux to be held at the Australian National Memorial, France.

Rehearsals also began for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies involving a number of our choristers across BBV and Resonance of Birralee.

MARCH: 

Our BBV choristers headed to music camp at Novotel Twin Waters Resort as a chance to bond, learn music and celebrate the new year.

BBV at Camp at Twin Waters

The first concert of the year was a combined concert with our Birralee Blokes and Marist College Ashgrove choirs. We performed at QPAC twice, with Resonance of Birralee performing at Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the World Science Festival and BBV singing in the special event, Songs of Hope and Healing. 

APRIL: 

April was a huge month with the Opening Ceremony of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Our choristers showed affection towards their tailor made costumes, with each fabric representing a Commonwealth country.

Our choristers in the Closing Ceremony met and sang with Australian artists Archie Roach and Amy Shark.

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Performing at the Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony. 

Capping off a massive April, our choir’s tour of France for the Anzac Day Dawn Service and the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Brettoneux was very meaningful, and for some, a once in a lifetime experience. The service can be viewed here.

Voices of Birralee Anzac Day Centenary Choir

Our Anzac Day Commemoration Choir rehearses at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux. 

MAY: 

May saw Resonance of Birralee perform at the Queensland Pops Orchestra’s Best of British concerts in Brisbane and Toowoomba, and later in Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Resonance of Birralee performs with Queensland Pops Orchestra at the Empire Theatre in Toowoomba. 

A Cupcake & Cushion Concert involved our Birralee Singers, Kids and Piccolos and a Side by Side Concert involved BBV and Birralee Blokes.

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Our Kids and Piccolos perform at the Cupcake & Cushion Concert. 

The month also marked the launch of the 51st Queensland Youth Music Awards, a school-based music competition managed by Voices of Birralee.

JUNE:

We wished our Founder and Artistic Director Julie Christiansen OAM a very happy 60th birthday, calling on friends from throughout Australia and overseas to send their messages.

 

In the same month, 45 choristers from the Birralee Singers performed “I Still Call Australia Home” at the International Seeds Congress.

JULY: 

A group of 15 choristers, led by Julie performed at the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel. This service marked the successful 93-minute battle, led by General Sir John Monash, which changed the course of the war for the allies.

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The Western Front Centenary Choir for the Battle of Hamel, with Julie Christiansen OAM. 

The 2018 Birralee Recycled season began, with two main goals – performing at Voices of Birralee’s Poppies & Poems concert at QPAC and a Sing in Spring Concert and Tour to northern NSW.

AUGUST: 

Our BBV choristers performed Chicester Psalms at Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Bernstein at 100. 

SEPTEMBER: 

After months of preparation, Voices of Birralee’s gala concert, Poppies & Poems was held at QPAC. The concert was MC’d by Birralee mum and Channel 7 producer Melanie Stott, and involved all choirs, with guest musicians. The song And Now the War Has Ended (words by Joshua Clifford and Paul Jarman, with music by Paul Jarman) premiered, along with Katherine Ruhle’s Grandpa and Parcel of Care. Poppies & Poems was presented in association with QPAC and proudly supported by the Queensland Government.

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The cast of Poppies & Poems (pic by Darren Thomas) 

Birralee Recycled ventured on their Sing in Spring tour to Mullumbimby. On the way they performed at Emmanuel College, and then a workshop and concert with local choirs, before performing at the Tyalgum Music Festival.

OCTOBER: 

Eight choristers, led by Paul Holley, ventured overseas to Kazakhstan to sing at the Astana, Voice of the World International Choir Festival.

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Touring Kazakhstan! 

Julie led a choir, which involved many choristers who had sung at the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel, to perform at the 75th anniversary of the Australian work on Hellfire Pass and the completion of the Thai–Burma Railway. The full service can be viewed here.

We held a Trivia Fundraising Night to raise funds for upcoming overseas tours. The event was held in conjunction with the Ashgrove – The Gap Lions Club, with the theme, Notables of the 1900s.

In an afternoon of concerts, the Armistice Centenary Choir performed its farewell concert and Resonance of Birralee performed Simply Resonance. Chorister Lucy Heywood was recognised for 20 years with Birralee.

 

Lucy Heywood, with Paul Holley OAM and Julie Christiansen OAM.

Lucy Heywood accepts her 20 year award, with Paul Holley and Julie Christiansen. 

Our Birralee Blokes rounded out the month with a concert at Kenmore Uniting Church as part of its Cool & Classic series.

NOVEMBER: 

Twenty-nine choristers headed to France for the Centenary of the First World War Armistice at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux (view the service here). A special moment of tour was documented by the SBS, when we brought And Now the War Has Ended to the town of Allonville, where the story behind the song had originated.

Also in November, our Birralee Singers performed in QANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation – Picnic for Peace at the Queensland State Library and our female choristers from Resonance of Birralee and BBV performed at Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s Alondra Conducts Mahler.

DECEMBER: 

Finally! We’re in December, with festive activity including Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols (combined group of BBV and Singers), The Nutcracker (BBV and Resonance women), The Lights of St Stephens (Birralee Blokes), A Christmas Spectacular with Brisbane Excelsior Band (Resonance of Birralee) and QPAC’s Spirit of Christmas (BBV).

Voices of Birralee performs at Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols.

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And there we have it … the major events of 2018! If we missed anything or if you’d like to share any of your highlights from the year, email marketing@birralee.org or comment below!

Thanks for a wonderful year. We’ll see you in 2019!

Day 5: Our hearts are touched by Allonville

We invite you to tune into the Centenary of the First World War Armistice via the ABC at 9.42pm (Brisbane time), or catch the service live here today (Sunday 11 November). ABC coverage of other Armistice Day services are listed here

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On the 9 November, choristers woke for another busy day, while also one of reflection, with each day in the lead up to Armistice Day having historic events which contributed to the end of WW1. Chorister Laurence Nicol shared with the group his feelings towards the day.

“Today marks 100 years since the German people overthrew their monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. This was one of the defining events that brought an end to the First World War two days later. For all the fighting, destruction and pointless slaughter, the war was ended not by tanks, artillery bombardments or infantry charges, but by the people of Germany rising up against those responsible for the war on the home front. I doubt this event will get the attention it deserves in the media, but it is a reminder that we all have the power and responsibility to make sure our leaders do not make it happen again.” 

Two of our Accompanying People, Tony Forbes and Ray Jennings (father and grandfather of chorister Shelby) had a moment of reflection of their own, visiting the grave of Ray’s Great Uncle, Reuben John Rule who was killed in action on the 25 July 1916, aged 19 and now rests in Pozieres British Cemetery. It was a beautiful moment and the perfect way for Ray to honour his family.

Following a rehearsal at the Australian National Memorial, the choristers made a short stop at Villers-Bretonneux to explore the Musée Franco-Australien which has been recently renovated and looks amazing.

The museum exhibits the Australian experience in Villers-Bretonneux during the war, with some of the stories including what happened in the town in April 1918. The battle between the British and the Germans marked the world’s first tank battle. The Germans won and had the village occupied, but then lost in a counter attack by two Australian brigades.

The museum overlooks the Victoria school and its playground with a big sign saying “Do not forget Australia”. The original school was destroyed in 1918, so, the Australian soldiers (mainly from Victoria) worked with the Victorian Government and many schools to raise funds to rebuild it, with construction completed in 1927.

From Villers-Bretonneux, the choir was driven to Allonville, with high expectations for a an emotionally stirring, while enjoyable evening. Expectations were met.

Voices of Birralee first met the people of Allonville in July 2016 when Julie Christiansen led a choir to sing at the Centenary of the Battles of Pozieres and Fromelles. The choir performed a community concert in Allonville and at the first commemoration service for the Australian troops who were killed in Allonville.

Chorister Joshua Clifford spoke to some of the locals and heard about The Smart Set, a group of soldiers who had been injured and because they couldn’t serve on the front line, they started a performance troupe to lift morale of soldiers.

Allonville was a place of respite for many soldiers and one night after The Smart Set had performed in a barn there in May 1918, two German shells struck the barn, killing 27 Australian soldiers who were billeted and injuring many others. The Smart Set escaped unharmed and despite the horrific ordeal, they kept travelling throughout the war to lift the spirits of those who needed it most.

Joshua wrote a poem about The Smart Set titled, And Now The War Has Ended, and earlier this year Julie invited world renown composer Paul Jarman to set the words to music, with the commission part-funded by a Pozible fundraising campaign with contributions from the Voices of Birralee and wider community.

Upon arriving to the town, our first stop was the Allonville Communal Cemetery where some of those who died in the horrific event of May 1918 were buried. Having been at the Australian National Memorial (the second image shown in the video below) earlier that day, the cemetery in Allonville was such a contrast – it was small and quaint, but so, so special and beautifully cared for. Just that afternoon the local school children had visited and placed hand-made poppies (crafted out of plastic bottles) onto the graves.

Peter Francis played The Last Post to honour the fallen soldiers, before we stood for a minute’s silence.

The choristers then moved to the nearby church to sound check and get ready for the concert as locals began filling the church.

After much anticipation, we were very excited to finally share And Now the War Has Ended. This is how it went.

The people of Allonville, including friend to Birralee, Martial Louis were moved by the song, along with the Australian contingent of the audience. Martial and the town gifted Joshua a book about Allonville, while Voices of Birralee presented the town a frame with the sheet music and French and Australian lyrics for both And Now the War Has Ended and Fields of Allonville (the piece Joshua wrote first, with music composed by Joseph Twist).

The concert continued to build with the final song, The Parting Glass representing the friendship between Voices of Birralee and Allonville.

After, we were treated to a huge meal provided the the Allonville community. Each of the choristers mingled with the locals, with the locals showing the utmost hospitality producing home-made deer Pâté, wine, Cointreau and other delectable treats to enjoy.

Our pipers, Laurence and Will started playing which encouraged a great display of dancing by our group and the Allonville people who were incredibly festive.

They really knew how to party even though we only had a few hours with them! There were some tears shed leaving, with many of the group moved by the experience and feeling beautifully welcomed.

Thank you to the Allonville community! You will be in our hearts forever!

#vobarmstice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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…

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Outside the Opera House.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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

More soon…

#VOBKazakh2018

How to remember your music!

At Voices of Birralee our choristers, mainly in our older choirs, are often tasked with memorising a great deal of repertoire in the lead up to concerts or tours. We see this as a positive challenge for them as part of their development. Memorisation skills are important for life, whether that be for retaining information learnt in classes, work or even for personal occasions.

Particularly at Birralee, improving memorisation contributes to the music making process. As soon as sheet music can be put away the chorister is able to have better eye contact with their conductor and are able to think about the music allowing them to be more expressive. And when it comes to performance time, the audience will find it much more interesting!

Voices of Birralee Poppies & Poems

The Birralee Singers perform the Children’s Chorus from Carmen, with words in French (pic by Darren Thomas)

So, what are some tips for memorising music?

Repetition! This is the obvious one! From the moment you receive your music, make time to go over it regularly away from rehearsals. Keep practising and there’s a saying, “Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you don’t get it wrong!”

Write the words! We like to provide our choristers a great variety of repertoire. In one term, choristers could be singing pieces in English, Latin, French or even Russian! It can sometimes be quite tricky as often songs in a foreign language can have words or phrasing that seem illogical. Try writing out the words and finding the translations. When it comes time to sing the song, if you’re a visual learner, you might recall the words by having an image in your mind of the words on the page.

Share your learnings. Many friendships are made during choir, so using these friendships to help learn music is a great option. This can include simply chanting the lyrics to lock them in, or practising part-singing.

Give yourself time. Avoid learning repertoire the night before. Cramming might work allowing you to fluke it and get all the words and music right for one performance, but after that day, it’s likely the information will have dissipated. It’s great to have a catalogue of repertoire in your mind, particularly if you get to sing a piece again down the track. And when that happens, if you did the work the first time, you will be ahead of your fellow choristers.

Rely a little on your subconscious. Our choristers are often provided learning tracks to help with the remembering process. As well as using these tracks to actively learn your part, you can also play them when doing something else, like chores or when travelling or exercising.

Tips for the younger ones! Our choristers are challenged with remembering lyrics and music, no matter their age. For our younger choristers, particularly those in Piccolos and Kids, tips for learning words include singing or saying words in different voices: perhaps in a fairy voice, a Grandpa voice, duck voice or an under the sea voice. Use your imagination! Other ways to remember include putting funny actions to the words, or drawing pictures about the words in the song.

Listen. This is the best tip of all! Listen carefully in rehearsals to lock in the music early.

What are your tips for memorising music? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Email marketing@birralee.org.

If you feel your memorisation skills need a little work, you can find lots of tips and games online to help, such as the above

How to enjoy a big day of singing!

At Voices of Birralee, our choristers are often involved in events which require a big day of rehearsing. One of these days can include lots of singing, or lots of waiting for your moment. Either way, it’s important to know how to best be prepared for both, with the ultimate goals being to keep happy and healthy, while delivering a wonderful performance.

Particularly in the lead up to Sunday’s Poppies & Poems, we thought we’d share some tips on how to get the most out of the day.

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Our Birralee Blokes at last year’s Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival Finale. Image credit: Darren Thomas. 

KEEP HEALTHY 

Make sure you rest up in the lead up to the day with lots of sleep, hydration and healthy food.

Birralee Blokes and Resonance of Birralee conductor Paul Holley OAM says drinking plenty of water is essential to a healthy voice.

“Continue to hydrate and save your voice, using it only when you have to. I’ve heard pineapple juice is good, but there’s no scientific evidence, so get to know what works best for your vocals – water is generally the safest,” Paul says.

Make a conscious effort to not speak too much during the day, including shouting to your friends on your breaks. Along with water, eat healthy snacks to keep up energy.

PREPARATION IS KEY 

Being prepared with your music is important so you feel less pressure on the day. This includes ensuring you have the lyrics and music down prior to setting foot in the performance venue.

“If you do the work, thoroughly learning the music before the day, then you can focus on the new elements, like the venue and effects, and enjoy those experiences,” Paul says.

If you do all you can in your pre-preparation and still feel nervous, Birralee Recycled conductor Peter Ingram says you can use your downtime on the day wisely.

“Find a fellow chorister to run through your lyrics and music. You’ll be helping each other,” Peter says.

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BBV perform at our Side By Side concert (Image credit: Tony Forbes)

GIVE YOUR BEST AT SOUNDCHECK 

A day like Poppies & Poems is full of activity, with one of the main goals prior to the concert being to soundcheck each choir to ensure their beautiful sound is amplified in the best way.

There is always a very well-thought out soundcheck schedule so it is important that choristers listen to their conductors, runners and managers, and be ready to move quickly and safely on and off the stage, when needed.

Once choristers are on the stage and ready for their soundcheck, Paul says focus is important.

“We urge our choristers to be as focused as possible.  They’re usually only needed for a short period of time, so if they give their best and focus, it will allow for an efficient soundcheck, benefitting everyone,” Paul says.

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Our Birralee Kids perform at our Cup Cake & Cushion Concert

NERVES 

Concert Hall QPAC can be an intimidating space for choristers both young and old and Birralee Piccolos conductor Katherine Ruhle says it’s important to remember to have fun.”It’s okay to feel nervous as it means you have something special to give,” she said.

“Remember, you have a wonderful support system around you! Your friends in your choir, your friends and family in the audience, along with the Birralee team.

“Nerves can sometimes make you feel a bit funny in the tummy which is totally normal. But if you don’t feel well, please chat with someone.”

HELP OUT 

No matter the choristers’ age, there are many ways they can contribute to the smooth running of the day.

“Look to help out wherever you can on the day – that might be practical help with moving gear or people – or just being silent as you move around and listening carefully to instructions rather than causing disruption. Look out for your mates as well – it’s a big day for everyone,” Paul says.

Katherine says when facing a big day it’s important to remember that we are all a part of a team and everyone is important.

“Remember why we’re doing this – to connect with the audience, to tell a story and in the case of Poppies & Poems, to remember the war,” she says.

“Enjoy the occasion – look at the amazing venue and take it all in. It’s pretty amazing!”

All the best to everyone for your upcoming choral performances!