Tag Archives: reflection

Day 5: Our hearts are touched by Allonville

We invite you to tune into the Centenary of the First World War Armistice via the ABC at 9.42pm (Brisbane time), or catch the service live here today (Sunday 11 November). ABC coverage of other Armistice Day services are listed here

***

On the 9 November, choristers woke for another busy day, while also one of reflection, with each day in the lead up to Armistice Day having historic events which contributed to the end of WW1. Chorister Laurence Nicol shared with the group his feelings towards the day.

“Today marks 100 years since the German people overthrew their monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. This was one of the defining events that brought an end to the First World War two days later. For all the fighting, destruction and pointless slaughter, the war was ended not by tanks, artillery bombardments or infantry charges, but by the people of Germany rising up against those responsible for the war on the home front. I doubt this event will get the attention it deserves in the media, but it is a reminder that we all have the power and responsibility to make sure our leaders do not make it happen again.” 

Two of our Accompanying People, Tony Forbes and Ray Jennings (father and grandfather of chorister Shelby) had a moment of reflection of their own, visiting the grave of Ray’s Great Uncle, Reuben John Rule who was killed in action on the 25 July 1916, aged 19 and now rests in Pozieres British Cemetery. It was a beautiful moment and the perfect way for Ray to honour his family.

Following a rehearsal at the Australian National Memorial, the choristers made a short stop at Villers-Bretonneux to explore the Musée Franco-Australien which has been recently renovated and looks amazing.

The museum exhibits the Australian experience in Villers-Bretonneux during the war, with some of the stories including what happened in the town in April 1918. The battle between the British and the Germans marked the world’s first tank battle. The Germans won and had the village occupied, but then lost in a counter attack by two Australian brigades.

The museum overlooks the Victoria school and its playground with a big sign saying “Do not forget Australia”. The original school was destroyed in 1918, so, the Australian soldiers (mainly from Victoria) worked with the Victorian Government and many schools to raise funds to rebuild it, with construction completed in 1927.

From Villers-Bretonneux, the choir was driven to Allonville, with high expectations for a an emotionally stirring, while enjoyable evening. Expectations were met.

Voices of Birralee first met the people of Allonville in July 2016 when Julie Christiansen led a choir to sing at the Centenary of the Battles of Pozieres and Fromelles. The choir performed a community concert in Allonville and at the first commemoration service for the Australian troops who were killed in Allonville.

Chorister Joshua Clifford spoke to some of the locals and heard about The Smart Set, a group of soldiers who had been injured and because they couldn’t serve on the front line, they started a performance troupe to lift morale of soldiers.

Allonville was a place of respite for many soldiers and one night after The Smart Set had performed in a barn there in May 1918, two German shells struck the barn, killing 27 Australian soldiers who were billeted and injuring many others. The Smart Set escaped unharmed and despite the horrific ordeal, they kept travelling throughout the war to lift the spirits of those who needed it most.

Joshua wrote a poem about The Smart Set titled, And Now The War Has Ended, and earlier this year Julie invited world renown composer Paul Jarman to set the words to music, with the commission part-funded by a Pozible fundraising campaign with contributions from the Voices of Birralee and wider community.

Upon arriving to the town, our first stop was the Allonville Communal Cemetery where some of those who died in the horrific event of May 1918 were buried. Having been at the Australian National Memorial (the second image shown in the video below) earlier that day, the cemetery in Allonville was such a contrast – it was small and quaint, but so, so special and beautifully cared for. Just that afternoon the local school children had visited and placed hand-made poppies (crafted out of plastic bottles) onto the graves.

Peter Francis played The Last Post to honour the fallen soldiers, before we stood for a minute’s silence.

The choristers then moved to the nearby church to sound check and get ready for the concert as locals began filling the church.

After much anticipation, we were very excited to finally share And Now the War Has Ended. This is how it went.

The people of Allonville, including friend to Birralee, Martial Louis were moved by the song, along with the Australian contingent of the audience. Martial and the town gifted Joshua a book about Allonville, while Voices of Birralee presented the town a frame with the sheet music and French and Australian lyrics for both And Now the War Has Ended and Fields of Allonville (the piece Joshua wrote first, with music composed by Joseph Twist).

The concert continued to build with the final song, The Parting Glass representing the friendship between Voices of Birralee and Allonville.

After, we were treated to a huge meal provided the the Allonville community. Each of the choristers mingled with the locals, with the locals showing the utmost hospitality producing home-made deer Pâté, wine, Cointreau and other delectable treats to enjoy.

Our pipers, Laurence and Will started playing which encouraged a great display of dancing by our group and the Allonville people who were incredibly festive.

They really knew how to party even though we only had a few hours with them! There were some tears shed leaving, with many of the group moved by the experience and feeling beautifully welcomed.

Thank you to the Allonville community! You will be in our hearts forever!

#vobarmstice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem

Day 4: Setting foot at the Australian National Memorial

Before we get started with Day 4 … click here for updates on where you can catch ABC coverage of the Armistice Centenary services (please consider AEST & AEDST). 

***

We had an early start on Day 4, heading to Megacity, for our first rehearsal with the Air Force Band in the lead up to Sunday’s Centenary Service.

 

It was a great chance to rehearse many pieces we’ll be performing with them on Sunday, which will include both the Australian and French National Anthems and the hymn Be Still My Soul (Finlandia) in the official service with many pieces prior and after the service.

 

It was a beautiful day with blue skies (only cold in the shade) so the perfect chance to see the site with its immaculately kept cemetery and pristine views from the tower.

 

It’s hard to believe the lush green fields in the distance and grounds below the tower would have been consumed by battle 100 years ago, including the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. We were reminded of the toll here with the many graves, row upon row, across the site, along with the 11,000 names listed of those missing on the Australian National Memorial wall.

VOB_Armistice_ANM_Tony

A view from the Australian National Memorial Tower (pic by Tony)

Honouring our soldiers through the best way our choristers knew, we sang Good Night Dear Heart (Words Mark Twain, music Dan Forrest) in the tower, while marvelling at the incredible acoustics.

 

The afternoon was jam-packed with rehearsing repertoire, while being a good chance to soak in the atmosphere prior to Sunday before it will be attended by people from across the world paying their respects.

Channel 10 News First captured some of the rehearsal and interviewed one of our choristers, Andy Francis, on his special WW1 connection, check it out below.

 

 

Overall it was a good day, with many of the choristers joining for a group dinner later in Amiens to unwind, which included some more singing.

VOB Armistice Choir

The lovely city of Amiens, with the spire of the cathedral in the background (pic by Tony)

Today our choristers are enjoying a break in the morning, before heading back to the Australian National Memorial for rehearsals.

Tonight, the choir will perform at the very special Allonville and are excited to share a newly premiered song to honour the town, And Now The War Has Ended, with words by touring chorister Joshua Clifford. More soon!

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

Our alumna & The Voice AU’s Ellen Reed gets set for Birralee Celebrates 2016!

Voices of Birralee will on 6 November celebrate a huge year, with Birralee Celebrates 2016!

ellenreedIn doing so, we’re so excited to welcome back Birralee alumna, Ellen Reed to sing with us. Like Birralee, she has also had a massive year – for a start, she achieved grand finalist status in The Voice AU!


We decided to check in with Ellen to find out about her seven years with Birralee, and The Voice experience!

What do you remember from your time at Voices of Birralee? 

I remember always looking forward to going to BBV every week and seeing my friends and being able to be around a bunch of kids who loved music as much as I did. The choir taught me that I could work hard at what I loved and have an amazing time too.
 
I was afforded so many brilliant opportunities to sing with incredible people at huge events like the Goodwill Games, and The Commonwealth Games, travel the world and even sing for an ex President.

What is your favourite choral piece from your time at Birralee? 

“Mother Earth” by Harley Mead always stands out in my mind. The piece is beautiful and I was so excited to be given the solo in it.

What is your goal over the next 12 months? 

I want to record my debut album in the next 12 months and keep singing and performing as much as I can!

Tell us about The Voice experience? 

The Voice was the hardest and most brilliant experience ever. Learning from and singing with Jessie J on a weekly basis was beyond ridiculous. I had an amazing time with her, and got to know the normal Essex girl behind the crazy persona. She is such a maternal figure and would always make sure we were fed, rested, had tea waiting for us in rehearsal. If someone got sick she’d turn up with vitamins and all her secret weapons. She expects so much from herself, so she expects a lot from everyone that is around her too.

Ellen_Collage.jpg
The unsung heroes of that show, were 100% the crew. Our coaches got all the thanks, but the producers, assistants, wardrobe, hair and make up, the music team, our drivers, everyone that worked with us, were beautiful and kind to us at all times.
 
Even on hour 16 of a performance day, they were still kind and happy to be there and helping. They made the entire experience even better by just being so happy to be there.

I worked harder than I ever have before but I had the most fun I have ever had on that show too.

What is your advice for those who might be interested in chasing a solo career? 

Be determined, work hard, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t (but listen to constructive criticism from those you trust), and above all, be kind to everyone that you come across.

(See Ellen perform with Voices of Birralee on Sunday 6 November when Birralee Celebrates 2016! Information here.)

poster-birralee-celebrates-2016-final

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!

THE COUNTDOWN IS ON! 

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.