From the Artistic Director: “our best Festival yet!”

One week on after the Moorambilla Festival, Artistic Director Michelle Leonard looks at the highlights of the 2013 events. 



You know what? People often say after an annual event or festival, “that was the best  yet!” Well in terms of the artistic synergies, the strength of the creative collaborations and the sheer generosity of spirit that was shown in all of the performances and workshops this year, I do feel confident in saying “this was the best yet!”

It was so satisfying to see the 2013 Festival’s artistic vision and theme  roll out cohesively across a variety of art forms. This was particularly manifest in the Gala Concert, when in the final phases of Wii Gali, the MAXed OUT Company brought their Taiko spears/Japanese swords down, and the river of children from Moorambilla Voices left the pavilion to watch the fire sculptures of the echidna, his spears and our Moorambilla logo set alight. There was such a good energy on stage. The children lifted incredibly towards that performance.

Michelle Leonard conducts Moorambilla Voices in the final Gala Concert with Sydney Symphony Fellows, under Frank Wright's stunning design for the backdrop.

Michelle Leonard conducts Moorambilla Voices in the final Gala Concert with Sydney Symphony Fellows, under Frank Wright’s stunning design for the backdrop.

The children had only arrived three days before in Baradine, coming back after their four-day residential camps in August. They all returned with a real sense of anticipation and their energy was palpable energy; they wanted to do well. They were really well supported operationally and by our incredible team of supervisors — everyone was on the same page which made such a difference to their performance outcome.


We had a little disappointment in that we couldn’t perform in situ in the Dandry Gorge as planned, due to the previous week’s storms. However, the intimate space of the historic Baradine Memorial Hall produced an opportunity for the Voices’ children to see at close range the professional ensembles at work. The resulting concert on Thursday evening supported by the remarkable Baradine community, really kick-started the whole Festival. All of the resident musicians and ensembles performed — the Song Company, Sydney Symphony Fellows, saxophonist Christina Leonard, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, TaikOz and the Hunter School of the Performing Arts.

The Song Company perform in Baradine Memorial Hall.

The Song Company at Baradine Memorial Hall.

Moorambilla Voices showcased what they could do, and as we weren’t in the Gorge, MAXed OUT could also perform with TaikOz. There was an immediate and powerful synergy between the young performers in MAXed OUT and the Hunter School. A standing ovation by MAXed OUT I felt was a hugely generous and wonderful statement by them as musicians. It emphasised that this is not a competitive environment, it’s a collaborative one and it really set the tone for what was to come. That evening gave the children a taste of what it is like to make a high standard of music together in a community setting.


MAXed OUT perform in Baradine Memorial Hall

MAXed OUT perform in Baradine Memorial Hall

We arranged for the two teenage ensembles to share a meal together, and they jammed and socialised into the evening. Down the road at the Pilliga Discovery Centre, the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus and guest artists were enjoying a barbecue. This is the heart of this Festival, when the music making provides such a positive catalyst for socialising.  That in turn feeds back into energy of the following days and the development of the Festival. It is what I call a symbiotic relationship!

Sydney Symphony Fellows socialise at the Pilliga Discovery Centre.

Sydney Symphony Fellows socialise at the Pilliga Discovery Centre.

The next day, Friday, we all moved over to Coonamble. I always remind the singers not to leave everything we have taught them in Baradine and to remember to bring it with them; that 45 minutes trip is not a vortex!

ABC Western Plains journalist Dugald Saunders was again, for the fourth year running, broadcasting live performances and interviews about the Festival all morning. This is a great way for the region to get a picture of the scope and depth of what was to be on offer during the coming days.

ABC Western Plains broadcast at Moorambilla Festival

Moorambilla Voices and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus broadcasting live on ABC Western Plains.

Moorambilla Voices and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus broadcasting live on ABC Western Plains.

Later that morning, the Song Company presented a wonderful and engaging ‘history of music’ workshop to all the ensembles at the historic Plaza Theatre in Coonamble.. The MAXed OUT Premiere Concert after lunch at the Pavillion showcased their works developed in the residential camps with TaikOz and composer Andrew Howes. I was so proud of what they achieved. They shook the room! They performed this particular sequence three times during the festival, culminating in the Gala Concert, which was more than outstanding.

We finished the night at the Coonamble RSL Club with the pumping Hunter School Big Band. What an incredible day.



Hunter High School of the Performing Arts.

Hunter High School of the Performing Arts Senior Choir.


I always love to walk down the main street of Coonamble on the Saturday morning of the Festival, as the street transforms and comes alive and active with people everywhere, shopping in the bustling creative main street markets to the sounds of workshops taking place in every available shop and space. The Moorambilla Festival supported the showcase this year of the Coonamble Ceramics Collective in St Patrick’s Hall. They produced an outstanding array of beautifully made pottery.

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We also supported their tile making workshops, and I can’t wait to see the tiles eventually displayed as part of regeneration in the Monterey Arts Space. This relatively new space is where Outback Arts now has their base.  I am so proud to see the vision for a more vibrant and public face to this region’s art now in the main street of Coonamble in this historic café. I cannot thank my mother’s family enough for having established that beautiful venue nearly a hundred years ago, and allowing it to be used for its current purpose. The Outback Archies competition at the Monterey Arts Space was a great success.


The Bee Jays jazz ensemble play for morning and afternoon tea at the Anglican Church Hall.

The Bee Jays jazz ensemble play for morning and afternoon tea at the Anglican Church Hall.

Greg Storer's Sing it Up Country workshop

There is never time at Moorambilla Festival to stay still! The Plaza Theatre was filling up again as parents from all across the region came to town for a two-concert marathon of Moorambilla Voices. Seeing them all is a real joy. They had a wonderful taste of what to expect in the Gala Concert that night.

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This concert certainly helps to relieve the children of any performance nerves they might have. Around 40 per cent of the girls in particular have never sung in a choir, let alone performed with one.  The Plaza Theatre is an intimate concert venue, with about 300 people in the audience, compared to the pavilion, where we have over 600.


I scheduled the second half of the concert for the parents. The hysterically funny and clever Howls of the House suite, commissioned by the Song Company and performed by them and Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, with their Artistic Director, Roland Peelman conducting. This had been performed in Wollongong, Newcastle, Canberra and Sydney with community choirs based there. The parents were laughing themselves silly.

Hunter stepped up to the plate again at that concert, which was impressive considering of the children were up late performing in the big band cabaret the night before! And in between all of this we had a publicity photo shoot for our documentary, while some of the musicians took the opportunity to rehearse in the space.


The Saturday evening Gala Concert brings everything together in the massive pavilion at the Coonamble Showground.



Frank Wright, Fiona Fagan and Barbara Stanley watch the Gala Concert.

Frank Wright, Fiona Fagan and Barbara Stanley watch the Gala Concert.



Sydney Symphony Fellows conducted by Roger Benedict.

Sydney Symphony Fellows conducted by Roger Benedict.

This year the entire concert ran extremely smoothly, even though we had four cameras and eight microphones trained onto us as the entire performance was filmed for an ABC documentary. All the ensembles behaved as this was a perfectly normal series of events! We finished with a stunning encore under Frank Wright’s backdrop with all 300 performers on stage.

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The documentary film crew have been with us all the time since March, when we toured the region seeing 2500 children in workshops. I love seeing the children develop as young musicians and potential regional leaders; this is one of the most satisfying parts of this project. I never take the support that we receive for granted, both regionally and through the funding bodies. I always tell the children “I know you can do that, of course you can!” and I feel incredibly satisfied that I have helped them take their first step on what I hope is a life-long journey with a love of the arts. Not all of them will choose to become professional musicians but I love giving them a chance to see what the arts can do, even if it is to appreciate music more deeply because they have actively participated in it;  a very different view to a passive audience member.

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Not that our audience was passive by any means! All the ensembles were clapped off the stage of our Gala Concert to a standing ovation and wild applause!  We all then stood back and watched from a safe distance,  Phil Relf from IKARA’s amazing work as he lit up the night sky with fire sculptures.


When I reflect on the often asked question the weeks after the Festival “why do you do this out here?”, I am reminded that all the children are keen and hungry for performance experiences and I aim to give them as many of the best quality I can I can. The more they do and the more varied the opportunity, the more store of performance experiences they can draw on.

As the choirs move onto touring regionally interstate and eventually internationally, the skills they learn in performing will help them with just about anything they do in life, not just while they are at Moorambilla. They learn how to cope with nerves, how to focus, to cope with the incredible excitement of a performance and not be distracted, how to channel the mental energy they need to keep working through a performance, to accept compliments gracefully, and above all stand tall and be proud of what they have collectively achieved. All the children did this — I was so proud of them. All of that as well as the exceptional music making is why I do Moorambilla in this part of the world.

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Thank you to photographers Gwyn Jones, Margaret Grove and Pat C Smith.

Thank you!

All of this would not be possible without the incredible generosity of our artistic collaborators: TaikOz, the Song Company, Sydney Symphony Fellows, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, Hunter School of the Performing Arts, Christina Leonard, our dancers Eric Avery and Ghenoa Gela, our composers Alice Chance and Andrew Howes, our visual artists Frank Wright, Fiona Fagan, Barbara Stanley and Mary Kennedy. Our workshop presenters this year produced a fine array of experiences for everyone to enjoy: Val Hooper, Greg Storer, Stefan Kooper, Roland Peelman, Anton Lock and Graeme Hilgendorf, Leo Hooper, Barbara Stanley and Mary Kennedy. We missed out on Pub Opera this year with Nadia Piave due to illness, but I’m sure we will catch her again in the near future!

I’d also like to thank our partners: Outback Arts, Arts NSW, Australian Government Indigenous Culture Support Program, Coonamble Shire Council, Vincent Fairfax Foundation, Clifford Chance and Paddock Bashin Productions.

Thank you also to Row Macrae, our Coonamble Coordinator, Jamie-Lee Hodges and Samantha Stratton from Outback Arts, and the Coonamble Shire Council, in particular Jenny Geerdink, and Jill Norton at the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Pilliga Discovery Centre in Baradine. Thank you also to our catering crew: Red Cross, CWA, Quota, Rotary, Global Village, Cafe 2828, Freckles, Ronnies Catering, Coonamble RSL, Koonambil and Darla Kennedy and Kim Callaghan. Chris Gray and Larry Rindfleish, Dugald Saunders from ABC Regional Radio, Coonamble High School, Coonamble Primary School, Clontarff, the Coonamble Fire Brigade and Police, Green Villa, our Festival Workshop venues — the Monterey Cafe, Plaza Theatre, Coonamble RSL, the Old Butcher Shop, Rural Transaction Centre, our Festival Angels at the Saturday Lunchtime Concert, and everyone who helped with the Festival Fire Sculptures and workshops.

A big thanks to the people who look after our participants — our camp supervisors crew, led by camp manager Dot Thompson and our Moorambilla Mums and Dad, Annie Berrell, Di Holz and Billy Mullan. We couldn’t do it without you all! A special thanks to our many unsung heroes and supporters who helped host this regional event!

We will be posting more photographs as they come to us!

The documentary ‘Outback Choir’ was made about Moorambilla Voices during the 2013 program by Heiress Films. It was shown on ABC TV in 2014 – and can be accessed here

2 thoughts on “From the Artistic Director: “our best Festival yet!”

  1. thanks Michelle………it was wonderful to be involved once again………….
    wonderful concerts……….the girls chatted for ages once we got home………….they loved it………..

  2. Pingback: Narran Lakes legends inspire Moorambilla artists | Moorambilla Blog

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