Tag Archives: choristers

Day 8: Exploring the Somme, and a warm VB welcome!

On this tour, we are getting very good at packing as much into our days as possible!

Having arrived in Amiens yesterday, we took the morning to explore this picturesque town, with such evidence of its ongoing appreciation for Australia’s efforts 100 years’ ago!

Matthew and Fiona visited the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, also known as Notre Dame Amiens. It is such a massive and stunning cathedral, and possibly grander than its Paris counterpart!

The pair visited one of the little chapels in the cathedral, which displays all the flags of the allies. The original Australian flag that was given to the city in 1918, hangs high, with the words:

“The Australian flag is a gift to the city of Amiens from the Government of Australia and commemorates the brotherhood in arms of the sons of Australia with those of France in the defence of the city in the year 1918.” 

The choristers in the afternoon had their rehearsal at the First Australian Division Memorial, Pozieres in preparation for the service on Saturday. The weather has cooled down a bit, which is great!

This site acknowledges the toll on the soldiers in the Battle of Pozieres, from 23 July – 7 August, 1916.

The 1st Australian Division were first on the line, and captured the town of Pozieres from the Germans on 23 July 1916. When relieved on 27 July, by the 2nd Division, they had suffered 5,285 casualties. The 2nd Division gained more German positions, with the 4th next to the line. Despite all divisions suffering an incredible number of casualties, the Germans were defeated in their final attempt to take the village, on 7 August (read more here).


After a great rehearsal, we were dismissed early so took it as a chance to visit Thiepval Memorial, which honours the missing of the Somme, including the 72,000 officers and troops of the United Kingdom and South African forces killed before 20 March 1918.

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The site also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial honouring the joint nature of the 1916 offensive. At the base of the memorial is a small cemetery with equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves. (More here)

It was such a chilling place, bringing home how this war didn’t just have a massive impact on Australia, but a great deal of the Commonwealth, including the UK and South Africa.

The choristers were incredibly moved by this site, and sang an emotionally charged In Flanders Fields.

Also visiting the the museum, the choristers sang, Notre Père (The Lord’s Prayer) as a tribute to the missing of the Somme.

A lady who had guided one of our April tour groups through the Somme 1916 Museum in Albert,  happened to be at this memorial.

She told us that she didn’t recognise our shirts or our names, but she recognised our sound! What a beautiful coincidence, and interesting compliment, considering it’s the first centenary tour for the majority of our choristers!

In the evening we visited the beautiful village of Villers-Bretonneux to perform a concert to the community who were a modest, but enthusiastic crowd. This was our third occasion performing in this village, and just like in April 2015 and 2016, we were welcomed so warmly!

The French songs were a big hit again, and a number of audience members were invited to sing with our choristers!

A huge thank you to Villers-Bretonneux for their kind hospitality which included a delicious dinner for us all to enjoy!

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Upon heading back to Amiens, some decided to enjoy a drink by the canal before visiting the cathedral for the son et lumière (light show)  and thank goodness we did – it was glorious!

The display showed how the cathedral was originally painted, and how it has changed over the years.

We couldn’t understand the narrative as it was in French, but it didn’t matter – it was captivating.

We encouraged everyone to then have a reasonably early night as Day 9 will include more rehearsals in Pozieres, with our final town concert in Allonville.

We can’t wait to let you know how we get on!


(Follow our Western Front tours via our Facebook group)

Voices of Birralee celebrates the Aussies!

Australia’s choral scene has a lot to offer, from the talented composers, to the high quality choirs and the brilliant opportunities for choristers to develop both musically and socially.

This month we celebrate Australia Day, so we thought we’d praise the Aussie composers, by highlighting some of Birralee’s favourite songs the ensembles have performed over the years.

We must begin with one of Birralee’s favourite composers, Paul Jarman. Paul has been involved with Birralee for many years and his involvement has included working with various ensembles, particularly on how each choir can get the best outcome when performing his stunning pieces.

His involvement with Birralee has been with its choirs both in Australia and during overseas tours and in 2010 this included Paul conducting the Brisbane Birralee Voices (BBV) during their European tour. In Hradec Kralove BBV sang one of Paul’s extremely moving compositions, Shackleton, a tribute to the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

On the same tour, BBV performed Magnetic Island – Suite II, composed by Paul, with Simon Self. This piece was conducted by Voices of Birralee’s Artistic Director and Founder Julie Christiansen OAM.

Another favourite piece of Paul’s is Pemulwuy – in fact we loved it so much we named our triennial male voice festival after it – Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival. This clip shows just how powerful the piece is, performed at the 2014 festival finale.

Another great composer Birralee worked with was Harley Mead, and when both Harley and Paul joined forces, their choral music was taken to an even greater level. Here’s an example of their great work with Voices of Birralee singing This Golden Land at the 2014 end of year concert.

We also love this piece composed solely by Harley, Mother Earth, which BBV sang in 2011, conducted by Julie.

For our younger choirs, the Aussie composer that has stood out is Brisbane-based Sherelle Eyles. Her music celebrates Australia and features some of our more unique animals and places, while being designed to be fun and educational. Some favourites include, Crocodile, Kakadu, The Barrier Reef, The Bilby, The Carpet Python, The Dugong, The Gecko and The Great Australian Bight, with the latter performed here by our Birralee Kids and Piccolos at the 2013 Cup Cake and Cushion concert.

Another example of a standout Aussie composer is Mark Puddy. Last year Birralee Blokes Conductor Paul Holley chose to teach his choristers Mark’s Here You Lie.

The song, which pays tribute to a speech by WW1 Commander and the first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was explored during our State Library of Queensland Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation Historypin project. Check it out here.

Another great composer is Elena Kats-Chernin with her piece The Gardens Symphony, which we performed as our mass choir grand finale piece at last year’s 20th Anniversary Concert.

Throughout Birralee’s history, we have also honoured well-known Australian songs, including Advance Australia Fair (written by the Scottish-born Peter Dodds McCormick), which in this clip is performed by our Anzac Commemoration Choir in Villers-Bretonneux, France in April, 2015.

And Waltzing Matilda (words by Banjo Paterson), with renditions including by our Anzac Commemoration Choir on the steps of Amiens Town Hall, France, with the second version performed by BBV in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy in 2014 (this arrangement by Ruth McCall).


The list could go on with our other favourite Aussie pieces! If you have a favourite song that Birralee has sung over the years by an Australian composer, let us know by commenting below, or emailing marketing@birralee.org.

Happy Australia Day!


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.