Tag Archives: Choral

11. Shopping, pizza, pasta, gelato!

Monday 15 April 2019

Today started off bright and early with our last delicious breakfast at Hotel Kristal. We then hastily packed our bags and hopped onto the bus, excited for the next part of our European journey – Venice, Italy!

As we left Croatia, we were once again confronted with the awesome natural beauty of this coastal area. Whilst we were sad to be leaving such a picturesque place, we would all carry the happy memories of the Festival with us!

Along the way we stopped at an outdoor shopping complex in Palmanova, where the singers finally had a chance to shop. Many were so excited they almost ran off the bus! The choristers quickly found favourites such as Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and GAP, and also explored a very large and wonderfully-scented Lindt store. Others stopped for lunch at the Autogrill, or the bakery for some pastries.

Once we finally arrived and checked into our Italian accomodation, it was time for an evening trip into Mestre, the mainland town opposite the island of Venice. We all headed to the city Centro, before breaking into groups to explore and find dinner. Many groups headed for an authentic Italian selection, where pizzas and bowls of pasta were eaten (some even had some gelato on the way!). Michelle, Tony, Jenny, Ally, Ruth, Rochelle and Jaye’s groups all ended up at the same restaurant, making a normally quiet Monday night a very busy one for restaurant staff! Josh, Justine and Katie’s group went to a restaurant called “Al Corso” where we had some light and fluffy gluten free pizza!

After a quick tram ride home, we all headed to bed for a big sleep, in preparation for a massive day tomorrow exploring the island of Venice itself!

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

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#vobanzac2019 #vobeurope2019 #voicesofbirralee

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!

Receive the daily posts direct to your inbox by subscribing to this blog – head to the bottom right of this page and click ‘follow’ then enter your email address.

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

#vobanzac2019 #vobeurope2019 #voicesofbirralee

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!

Celebrating our singers!


Our alumni 

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

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

Enjoy October’s blog!


Remembering 20 years!

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

Birralee's early years.

Birralee’s early years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Europe at the World Choir Games, 2008.

Exploring Europe at the World Choir Games, 2008.

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

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


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

Ashleigh Maclaine when she sang with Voices of Birralee in 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering one of our own – A tribute to Harley Mead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Jarman honours Harley here:

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

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

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

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

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