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.

VOB Armistice Choir

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.

 

 

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Voices of Birralee Armistice Day Tour

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 7 & 8: Kazakhstan Finale!

As we drew closer to the end of tour, the final event was the Gala Concert, which was to be performed in front of delegates of the 6th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions at the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. 

Our group arrived to the venue late Thursday morning and immediately got to work with rehearsals to prepare for the big event, including allowing the national TV station to rehearse their ‘shots’. 

vob_kazakh_massedrehearsal_2.jpg

Rehearsing the massed piece with the orchestra (pic by Paul)

Just before the concert, our choristers decided to do a lap of the building to present gifts to other choirs we’d befriended. Gifts included Aussie themed pencils, koala keychains, Tim Tams and CDs. 

No one was more excited than the Italians who reacted emphatically to the gifts. And soon the word spread that we had little koala keychains, so other choristers came to our dressing room politely asking for one.

Soon we were ushered to the stage to begin the concert, awaiting ‘go-time’ for when the delegates would finish their earlier conference to be treated to some music. 

And then it all happened and went pretty well we feel – but see for yourself! 

There was a sense of great excitement when the concert finished as it had been a full-on week to get the music performance ready. 

After the concert, we caught a bus from our hotel to the city where we went to Baiterek Tower to catch Astana from another angle and at night.  

_72A5352 copy

At the top of Baiterek Tower (pic by Rohan)

On Friday we had a slow morning packing and getting organised for the trip home. 

We enjoyed our final meal together in Kazakhstan before heading to the Astana Airport in the afternoon. 

72a5291.jpg

Our hotel for the week! (pic by Rohan)

It was a huge week of singing, eating and exploring such a quirky place and we feel very grateful for the opportunity provided by the Astana – Voice of The World organisers, and to Voices of Birralee for this and many opportunities we’ve been provided over the years.

VOB_Kazakh_FinalSelfieofTour.jpg

Saying goodbye to Astana, including Dory and Sanzhar, our friendly translators.

A special thank you to our conductor, Paul Holley OAM for being our fearless leader, preparing our little choir for this occassion, while providing morale and musical support on the ground in Astana.

And thank you to our supporters at home! We can’t wait to share the next adventure with you.

#Vobkazakh2018

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.

VOB_Kazakh_tour

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.

VOB_Kazakh_RussianChurch

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

VOB_RussianChurch_4

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.

VOB_Kazakh_Concert1

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 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.

VOB_SilkyWay_5

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

VOB_Choir_Rehearsals

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.

VOBKazak_Airport_1

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

VOBKazak_Exploring

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

VOBKazak_exploring6

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.

vob_kazak_jhen.jpg

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.

VOB_Kazak_OperaHouse_2

Outside the Opera House.

 

VOBKazak_Concertgroups

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.

VOB_Kazak_Group_1

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.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Pemulwuy_Finale_Concert_Highlights_2-7-17_0005
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.

VoicesofBirralee_BBV_June2018
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.

IMG_3447
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!