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Day 7 – finale: We will remember them

Sunday marked the finale of the tour, with the choir waking early to be one of the first groups on the Australian National Memorial site. Every rehearsal in the past week and in the months prior, led to this special event of commemoration; the Centenary of the First World War Armistice.

The air was fresh with the sun having only come up an hour or so ago, and with just a few grey clouds, we were all optimistic for a service without rain.

 

 

 

 

As we began to warm up our voices, we realised the only chance for a group photo would be before the general public arrived, so we all quickly dashed to the stairs in front of the memorial.

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After a quick warm up in the ‘green room’ tent it was time to join the Royal Australian Air Force Band for the pre-service entertainment performed between stories of remembrance, including about Australian soldiers and those from other countries.

 

Our APs watched on with pride and were delighted the Department of Veterans’ Affairs had reserved the first few rows so they could continue lending their support to our choristers from close by.

 

The weather remained reasonable until the actual service began and the rain started coming down. Our choristers could hear the rattle of plastic ponchos being found by the audience to keep warm and dry. Us choristers, however, just had to bear it and as the MLK song from our repertoire suggested we just had to ‘let it rain’.

It got increasingly cold and became a little hard to handle when the rain got quite heavy, but our choristers were professional, continuing to remind themselves of the importance of what they were doing and the sacrifices made on that very land 100 years before them.

 

 

 

The service was very meaningful, beginning with a roll of honour, followed by speeches from dignitaries and our choir performing with the band, including the hymn Be Still My Soul and both the Australian and French national anthems. You can view it below.

During the public wreath laying, some of our APs laid a wreath for their relatives who served making their involvement in this tour even more meaningful.

 

 

 

Paul from DVA was adamant Voices of Birralee should be last to lay a wreath and enjoy the special moment and choristers Simon and Elise Watt, who are married, were given the honour. It was a beautiful moment – epitomising the pride we all felt in being able to play a special part in Australia’s WW1 centenary commemorations on the Western Front. It was also very special for Simon and Elise personally, as they have ancestors who served during WW1, plus both of their parents were watching on.

 

 

 

When the service came to an end and the live broadcast concluded, we performed one more song, Ave Maria with a solo by our youngest choir member Jia, and the audience clapped, with many coming to the front to watch. Thinking of our wellbeing, our conductor Julie made the call for us to leave the stage and head for warmth.

 

 

 

All in all it was a great morning of reflection and Julie and Jen and our APs were proud of our work.

After having a shower and getting into warm clothes, our group felt recharged and headed to The Underground City of Naours, about 20 minutes from Amiens. These caves were used from the middle ages, mainly during wars. Throughout WW1 some of the Anzacs visited the caves and drew pictures on some of the walls. We weren’t able to see these parts with the system so extensive.

 

 

 

Part of the system we visited is set under a beautiful site which was showing Autumn at its best which us Queenslanders are just not used to. We had to play with the leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the evening a group of 60, comprising choristers, APs and shadowing parents and friends, joined together in Amiens, which (as per what happens on any Birralee trip) turned into a singing fest and we even received requests from Aussies passing by. Laurence who seems to always have his bagpipes on hand, played a number of songs for us which encouraged singing from our group and others who were eating in the restaurant. In the below, Laurence’s brother Will joins in to help him with Waltzing Matilda. 

 

 

 

Leaving the restaurant, we didn’t get far, as Emma, Will and Laurence Nicol started an impromptu Ceili. It was super fun and very surreal with the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral hovering nearby.

 

 

 

A dad with his baby asked us to sing a song for them as the night was drawing to a close, which was a very adorable moment.

The evening was the perfect end to the tour which has been a great week of singing, bonding as a group, and of course remembering the Anzacs and others who served throughout the world during the First World War.

This opportunity wouldn’t be possible without a number of people.

First of all, thank you to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, particularly Paul Richardson CSC OAM and Shane Haiduk.

Thank you to Royal Australian Air Force Band Flight Lieutenant Daniel Phillips and each band member. It’s been a pleasure to work with you!

From the French communities, thank you to Eric Brisse for his ongoing assistance in connecting us with beautiful communities such as Allonville and Fouilloy.

Special thank you to Allonville Mayor Joel Delrue and Deputy Mayor Didier Lemaire, and Martial Louis, Bailleul Mayor Marc Deneuche, Deputy Mayor Sebastien Malesys and Deputy Mayor Catherine Deplancke, Fouilloy Deputy Mayor Serge Rondot, Villers-Bretonneux Mayor Patrick Simon and Deputy Mayor Benoit Decottegnie and the Sir John Monash Centre and Musée Franco-Australien.

Thank you to Voices of Birralee’s Founder and Artistic Director, who also conducted us, Julie Christiansen OAM, Assistant Conductor Jenny Moon and Accompanist Shane Calderbank and everyone at Birralee for your support.

Thank you to all the APs involved in the trip for being our ‘rent a crowd’ while helping with various roles, including Tony and Craig for taking video and images.

And thank you to everyone at home for your ongoing support of our choristers throughout this journey!

April 2019 will mark our final tour of our Western Front Anzac Centenary Touring Program and we invite you to stay in touch and follow the journey.

You can do this by subscribing to this blog (hover your cursor around the bottom right hand side of the page and click ‘follow’ and then enter your email address), while also joining the Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours page here.

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem #letweforget

Day 6: One more sleep! (For us in France anyway!)

It’s been such an incredible week of singing, discovery and nurturing connections between us Australians and the French, while remembering sacrifices made by many soldiers from throughout the world during WW1.

Today (Saturday) was a busy day as we headed to the Australian National Memorial for a final rehearsal with the Airforce Band, as the ABC and Department of Veterans’ Affairs rehearsed the service program for the Centenary of the WW1 Armistice.

We were warned it might be rainy but some of us didn’t expect the quantity of rain and the chill in the air.

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We consoled in the fact that no matter how cold and wet it would be, it was never going to be as bad as what the Anzacs went through with wet and soggy trenches and sometimes snow in the lead up to Christmas. Also, they didn’t just have to deal with the weather, they had to contend with vermin, disease, being fired at and more.

Anytime we could add layers of clean clothing. We enjoyed a break in a heated tent at lunch time. We had it pretty good … thanks to them.

After rehearsals choristers walked behind the Australian National Memorial to the Sir John Monash Centre, which is a cleverly set out museum. Here you can choose to download an App and plug-in your earphones to immerse yourself in WW1 history, where fascinating topics are covered including Monash’s incredible ‘all arms’ 93-minute Battle of Hamel in July 1918, how the war started, why Australia got involved, what they wore, the weapons used and the strategies of battles.

The museum seemed to touch deeply on subjects rarely brought to light, including the indigenous Australians who served. This was represented with an artistic sculpture of two emus. In aboriginal culture it is believed that if a person dies away from their home land, their soul wanders forever.

Another subject covered was how the soldiers felt when the war finally ended on 11 November 1918. Many soldiers couldn’t process what had happened, after too many years of horrific battle. This was represented in the words of one young solider:

“We had two victories today, we won the war and defeated the 5th Field Company at soccer.” 

Choristers spent a few hours wandering the centre before they gathered in the foyer to sing some songs to the visitors. It was a great way to finish the final day of rehearsals and exploration before the big day tomorrow.

We can’t wait to tell you all about it!

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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 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 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!