5: On the road to Croatia!

Tuesday April 9

Today began on a bittersweet note as BBV and Blokes farwelled our lovely billets from Austria. This was a sad event for all, as each chorister had been so warmly welcomed into each host’s house and family life – many lifelong friendships have been made!!

Our Australian choristers gave some memorable gifts to our Austrian hosts including shopping bags with koalas on them, Caramello Koalas, Australian-themed tea towels, plush kangaroo toys and many more. Of course, whilst being billeted itself is such a massive gift to us, some Graz families also gave gifts for us to remember them by – including some lovely pumpkin seed oil, maps of Graz, some more Zotter chocolate, coasters and badges. We hope to see these two choirs again in Australia (please come visit us!).

BBV met at the BischGym for the final time to say farewell to the choir and Valentine, whom we will see very soon at the festival in Opatija (they even gave us some Austrian music to learn before then)!

Blokes parted with the Singakademie after some fine group photos were taken to remember our amazing experiences.

We left Austria to head to Slovenia where we stopped at the Ptuj Castle. This historic building hosts some intriguing art, 17th and 16th century furniture, armour and weaponry and traditional Slovenian masks.

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We were even able to try on some replica medieval helmets! Chorister Isaac Kozlovskis said his favourite part of the castle was seeing the old musical instruments, and the impromptu performance of Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” in the main hall.

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After this we departed for lunch. We were treated to a buffet selection of vegetables, schnitzels, soups, beef stroganoff, bread and some lovely desserts! Chorister Toby Sheppard said he especially loved the selection of cheese!

Feeling very full and satisfied, we hopped on the bus and made our way to our final stop. Parting ways, we all took advantage of some more down time on the way, recharging whilst we crossed over the border from Slovenia to Croatia.

When we arrived in Zagreb, BBV were greeted with warm hugs from our lovely Croatian host families, and spent the night immersed in their culture.

The Blokes’ bus dropped off our APs before settling in to a quaint hostel on the border of Zagreb. We were then taken to a hearty dinner prepared for us by KUD Dragutin Domjanic! We had a chance to meet some local young musicians from the Tamboritza Orchestra, enjoy some lovely crepes for desert, and perform two well-received songs for those who had prepared our meal.

Tomorrow we begin our Croatian adventures – stay tuned!

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4: Final day in Austria

Today marked the first of many concert days for our lovely tourers!

BBV started the day with a concert at the Bischöfliches Gymnasium, where both groups shared their wonderful music, finishing with a combined finale of “You, Me and the Wide Open Sky.” The concert was live streamed on the Voices of Birralee Facebook page if you still want to see it!

After the concert, our choristers split into groups and were each taken on a private tour by some student volunteers from the school. Rochelle’s group ventured to the Doppelwendeltreppe, or Double Staircase, whilst Ally and Justine’s group visited the Murinsel and enjoyed the views of Graz from the roof of the K&O shopping centre.

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Blokes meanwhile started the day early at 7:30am, and straightaway met to travel to the Theaterservice Graz factory. This is a very large workshop where a variety of multi-functional stages for opera houses and theatre shows are made. We were shown around the various rooms for sculpting large props, the silicon moulding rooms and the large spaces used for painting backdrops and furniture creation.

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After this, we travelled to where BBV visited yesterday, the Schlossberg. We walked around and admired the stunning views from above Graz, and then made our descent by the infamous Schlossberg Slide – even Mr Holley went down!

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BBV and Blokes then joined together for an impromptu sing at the Graz Cathedral, featuring “Danny Boy” and “Lauliku Lapsepõli”, both of which sounded beautiful in the acoustic of the ancient building, especially surrounded by the baroque and rococo architecture.

We then walked to the City Hall for a Civic Reception with a City Council member on behalf of the Mayor of Graz. Blokes sang a rousing rendition of “Sesere Eeye” whilst BBV gave a fine performance of Ruth McCall’s “Waltzing Matilda”. The singers then had an opportunity to check out the City Hall balcony for some prime photo opportunities before being treated to a scrumptious Austrian lunch, with roasted vegetables, chicken rissoles and schnitzel.

Whilst the choristers had some free time to explore and shop, the artistic staff went to present a Repertoire Reading Session for some local conductors with some music from Australian composers including Annie Kwok, Dan Walker, Paul Jarman and our very own Blokes Assistant Conductor Will Brown.

To finish the day, our local hosting Graz choirs and Voices of Birralee ensembles collaborated in a hugely successful evening concert in the Minoriten Hall. Special mention must be given to Flora, our guest violinist who performed the poignant piece “Tell My Father” with the Blokes. Such an eclectic array of music delighted the audience.

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Tomorrow Birralee heads to Croatia for the first time! We are all incredibly excited, but a little sad to be parting with our new Graz friends and host families. Onto the next adventure.

We invite you to keep following our journey of this epic Europe tour!

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3. Making Austrian friends

On Sunday, Brisbane Birralee Voices (BBV) and Birralee Blokes woke to a beautiful Graz day and gathered out the front of the Styrian Armoury in the city centre.

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In small groups, we entered to learn about the military violence of this historic city, and the bloody past of the weapons stored there. This included guns, pistols, canons, swords, machetes and suits of armour. We were able to see a rare set of armour for a horse, try on a helmet replica, and hold a large replica sword!

BBV then separated from Blokes. After a quick bite to eat in the city centre – Schlossbergrutsche, the tallest underground slide in the world, was the next destination, which saw many of BBV choristers going for a ride, including Mrs C!

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Other choristers chose to ride the furnicular to the top, to see the incredible views of the city, whilst some of the staff enjoyed some hot chocolate at the bottom.

BBV then headed off for their first rehearsal with the Bischöfliches Gymnasium choir, followed by a fabulous folk dancing and yodelling workshop. The school’s acapella group also put on a lovely performance for our choristers, including their rendition of “I want you back” by the Jackson 5.

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They finished the day with an Austrian spin on an Aussie favourite- the sausage sizzle.

The still jet-lagged choristers then went home to their billets, and definitely enjoying some rest after a big day!

Meanwhile, with the Blokes… The boys went off with the conductor of the Singakademie, Maria, on a scavenger hunt around Graz!

They visited the town hall square, the ‘Blue Alien’ museum of modern art, a Double Spiral Staircase, an ancient cathedral and other exciting venues!

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Alex Graves cracked the hunt code, which was ‘A E I O U’ – the initials of an Emperor which were printed on all the buildings around us the entire time! His prize? A chocolate bar from the infamous Zotter’s factory. After this, we travelled to Eggenburg Castle, not far from the Graz main centre. This lovely estate was covered in abundant flower gardens, inhabited by peacocks and peahens, and dated back to the 17th century.

We were given a guided tour around the rooms of the Princess and Prince, bearing witness to original glass chandeliers, original hand-painted ceilings, lavish furniture and rooms full of enormous history. Many Blokes thoroughly enjoyed learning about the rich history of this building – and others also loved interacting with the local peacocks!

That afternoon, the Blokes joined with the Singakademie to dine on some gorgeous salad, tasty smoked meats, sausages and delicious deserts.

We were incredibly grateful to our host families who had come together to prepare this brilliant feast for us. We then joined the choristers for some traditional Austrian dancing outside, accompanied by an accordion, and to learn some short but tuneful yodelling music!

Whilst this was all fun, we had to eventually return to ‘proper’ rehearsals and sing through some combined pieces for tomorrow’s concert with the Singakademie choir. All in all, an incredibly fulfilling and enriching day – tomorrow we see some more of Graz’s delights before our first European concert.

We invite you to keep following our journey of this epic Europe tour!

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2: Exploring Graz!

After an early night for many of our choristers, Saturday saw a multitude of adventures across Graz (and beyond) with our various host families!

A popular destination was the Zotter Chocolate factory, near a beautiful town called Riegersburg, where a tour of the factory brought numerous forms of Mr Zotter’s tasty (and sometimes exotic) treats!

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Also at the factory, many of the choristers explored the Farm/ “Edible Zoo” and met a variety of farmhouse favourites such as chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep and cows, as well as ostriches, llamas and rabbits just to name a few. There was also a popular boot-throwing “farmers golf” course!

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The Riegersburg Castle was also visited by many of our choristers, who enjoyed exploring the medieval grounds and taking in the fabulous views of the countryside below.

Falcons flew overhead as we learned about the history of this 17th century structure.

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Our choristers enjoyed a range of acitivities during the day, including Jody Hurdial and Paddy Taylor, taking to the snow with tobogganing.

Another two choristers, Chloe Edgar and Jess Ruhle, explored the mountains, and were very excited to also find some “snow”!

Josh Phillips and Aidan Cobb enjoyed similar experiences, including a bird show, whilst Joshua Clifford and Jude Slade rode an Icelandic horse called Fifi.

Alice Barry and Samantha Dunk, on the other hand, explored the city of Graz, with Katja Bain and Emma Skegg exploring the historic buildings.

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Meanwhile, Emily Flanagan and Ashlin Cork went to enjoy the pristine stillness of a gorgeous green lake!

Others saw a movie, ate some interesting Austrian food (including liver sausages) and enjoyed some down time with their generous host families.

Tomorrow rehearsals with the Singakademie choir commence, and some more sightseeing – we all can’t wait!

We invite you to keep following our journey of this epic Europe tour!

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#vobanzac2019 #vobeurope2019

1: The Europe tour begins!

Hello! We hope you enjoy our 2019 Europe tour blogging journey, brought to you by Ally Dunk, and Joshua Clifford!!

Seventy-two choristers and their entourage, have departed on what’s going to be an exciting three week journey through Europe, with the first stop, Brisbane International Airport!

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After checking in and ensuring passports were all accounted for, we boarded our first flight to Dubai. This was a quick stop over with no time for duty free shopping!

The air stewards were so impressed with our behaviour on the first flight that they gave us the left over snacks!

Our trip to Vienna saw some of the choristers begin to hit a wall – the reality of staying up 20 hours with little to no sleep was getting to everyone. Luckily, the in-flight entertainment system kept us all hooked on the latest movie trends – lots of APs, staff and choristers watched “Mary Poppins Returns”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse”, and “On The Basis of Sex”.

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We also celebrated the birthdays of choristers Lily Forbes and Lily Weatherby, and Jane Sutton and Keppel Coughlan! Happy Birthday!

After a shaky landing in Vienna, we managed to successfully exit the Viennese airport with no lost items or missing luggage – hooray!

Splitting into Bus 1 (BBV) and Bus 2 (APs and Blokes), we moved directly on to our bus transfer to Graz, we made a quick pit stop at a McDonalds along the highway, allowing us to indulge in some ‘food from home’! It was also, strangely, a very ‘pretty’ designed Maccas, as some choristers notes it looked fairly different to those ones at home!

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We noticed some spectacular views of the wild mountainside in Vienna, cute villages and towns, small factory settlements and foggy lakes.

When we arrived, our tour uniform started to come in handy – our trusty blue Kathmandu rain jackets were necessary as a light rain started when we neared Graz.

Blokes were collected by their billets from a local boarding school after a beautiful musical welcome!

BBV, meanwhile, were collected from a local school, excitedly waiting to meet their family for the next four nights! Settling in, we are all surely looking forward to a well-deserved sleep.

Looking forward to a free day of relaxing tomorrow!

We invite you to keep following our journey of this epic Europe tour!

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Follow Voices of Birralee via Facebook, and join the ‘Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours’ Facebook group. 

#vobanzac2019 #vobeurope2019

Why I love conducting young children’s choirs

Kate Littlewood shares why she loves conducting children’s choirs in this month’s blog. 

“We have a great choral industry in Brisbane. It’s fantastic! There is a wealth of opportunity for people of all ages to be involved in a choir and take advantage of the many benefits of singing in a group setting1.

I have worked with a wide variety of these choirs during my 10+ years as a Brisbane-based conductor, accompanist, and singer. Most recently, it has been my absolute pleasure to assume the role of Birralee Kids’ conductor after four years of working with the ensemble in the role of accompanist. This group is non-auditioned and is comprised of students from grades 2 – 4, making it one of Birralee’s youngest vocal ensembles2.

Kate Conducting

Kate Littlewood, Birralee Kids conductor 

There are some evident considerations that need to be made when working with children of this age group. Literacy is still developing, as is an awareness of vocal physiology and how this relates to the sound we make. Physical awareness and self-control may still be works-in-progress! But – there are also some truly wonderful things about working with this age group. Let me tell you my top five reasons why I love conducting young children’s choirs:

  1. ENERGY – Young children have boundless energy and enthusiasm when they are invested in a piece of music or a musical project. Get them on-board and they will give you 100%!
  2. SINGING TECHNIQUE – As conductor, you have the chance to teach your young choristers good singing technique from an early age. This includes posture, breath control, support, vowel placement, and more… These skills will be of enormous benefit to your young singers as they grow older and move on to more challenging repertoire.
  3. EMOTIONAL CONNECTION – Young children can often cut straight to the emotional core of a piece of music in a direct, heartfelt fashion. This makes for a beautifully sincere performance that really resonates with listeners.
  4. MUSICAL POSSIBILITIES – Young children tend to be quite strong aurally, with the ability to memorise music quickly. This allows you to get pieces “off the page” sooner rather than later and start exploring all the musical possibilities within.
  5. FUN – Working with young children is fun! They have such distinctive, quirky little personalities. They say the funniest things (not always intentionally) and love to laugh.

So – there, in a nutshell, are my top five reasons why I love conducting children’s choirs!”

We would love to hear your own reasons why you love working with young children or any funny anecdotes you have to share. Let us know by commenting below! 


  1. https://theconversation.com/choir-singing-improves-health-happiness-and-is-the-perfect-icebreaker-47619
  2. https://www.birralee.org/wspTheBirraleeKids.aspx

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!