Moorambilla Voices provides the children of north-west NSW with a strong musical environment to explore the potential of their voice, from primary school to the end of high school. It’s a supportive program that leads them to the big performance: The Moorambilla Voices Gala Concert on September 24.
The program has been collaborating with the six members of the Song Company as ensemble-in-residence for four years and the children relish every opportunity to sing with them. As Tenor Mark Donnelly points out, “in rural NSW, once the kids go to high school there is no avenue or opportunity for them to sing.”
“I love the way that Moorambilla Voices normalises singing for young men,” says bass Andrew O’Connor. “The program allows them to get in touch with their artistic side and learn to be a better person as they engage with art. We’re not saying that everyone needs to be a professional singer or a star – art is just about learning to be a better human!”
“There’s a common perception that you stop singing while your voice is changing,” says Song Company tenor Richard Black. “But if children are kept within a strong musical context they can continue. Otherwise, as soon as they get to their teenage years and their voices are changing, or breaking as boys, then they stop. They lose a whole connection to music.”
Andrew O’Connor experienced a huge change in his vocal range when he was younger. “I started out as a very very high treble and now I am a low baritone. Normally around 14 years of age the voice changes; sometimes earlier sometimes later. If boys continue to sing through that period they will come out of it normalised and be able to sing more comfortably and easily afterwards.”
Soprano Anna Fraser explains that girls voices also change during their teens. “For the girls it is not as distinct a change. When the girls grow they become connected with a new colour in their voice – chest voice. It’s about exploring that, which is there already and is an extension of their speaking voice. I naturally have a low speaking voice and so I can sing low – but I can also sing very high. We help the girls not to be scared to use that chest voice, which is a more mature sound.”
Hannah Fraser, mezzo-soprano, reckons that changes in the girls’ singing voices are also a huge expression of where they are coming from at the time. “You have different emotions in your voice. Your voice is an expression of yourself. It’s about what your environment is, what you listen to on the radio and what you are surrounded by.”
“The Song Company loves to demystify classical music for young people,” says soprano Susannah Lowengren. “We all sing differently as individuals and yet we know each other’s voices so well. We work with Artistic Director Michelle Leonard to show the children how to blend and how we balance the sound across our own six voices.”
“We make it look easy and effortless but actually there’s a lot of inner workings going on,” laughs Andrew O’Connor. “A bit like a beautiful watch!”
Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.