Raising boys – through the power of music and dance

Creating new Australian music, immersing remote and regional children in creativity and celebrating their remarkable energy has always been the driving creative force of Moorambilla Voices – ever since its inception ten years ago in 2006. Every year young boys lap up the rare opportunity that Moorambilla presents them – to sing and dance and unleash their imaginative side.

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“Most Australian country boys have little chance to express themselves creatively either through singing or dancing – and we wanted to change that. Give them an option, another way of seeing themselves and celebrate it,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

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Michelle is selecting repertoire for the boys to sing and it’s not easy! “We’ve created such a huge volume of Australian music over the past ten years, it’s actually hard to pick” says Michelle.

High on the list is some ‘classic’ Moorambilla music – ‘Baiame Ngunnhu’ by Elena Kats Chernin’s, ‘Sticks and Stones’ by Andrew Howes from 2014 and ‘La Nina’ by Luke Byrne in 2010. But that’s not all the boys have to learn.

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Moorambilla has always had a deep commitment and respect for the power of the region’s Indigenous heritage. This year the program is inspired by the legends and landscape of the rare and beautiful Narran Lakes Nature Reserve.

Photograph by Noni Carroll

Photograph by Noni Carroll

While composer in residence Alice Chance’s popular Pallah-Pallah is also in the 10th Birthday repertoire, this year Alice is writing a new piece inspired by the artist’s tour to Narran Lakes. Alice works with Michelle and pianist Ben Burton, developing lyrics told to her recently by Gamilaroi Elder Aunty Brenda about a boy who took a rock from the land, and was plagued by trouble until he gave it back. She encourages the boys to add lyrics of their own. And gives them a taste of a piano accordion she bought in Belgium recently!

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After morning tea, Moorambilla contemporary choreographer Jacob Williams engages the boys in dance workshops. “Even posture is a challenge for a lot of people!” laughs Jacob. “But these regional boys dance really well. They learn a lot of material in a very short time! There was a vast improvement in just 15 minutes.”

“I love collaborating with the Moorambilla boys and developing something that will showcase their strengths. Over the next couple of days they will create movement of their own.”

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Jacob grew up in Dubbo, a larger regional centre that gave him the chance to experience dance. “I had three sisters who danced before me so I was lucky I could just join their studio. Boys don’t have a lot of expectations to dance – there wasn’t many boys who were dancing while I was growing up in Dubbo.”

Jacob works on a movement that is slow and sustained. “That requires a lot of strength and discipline and technique – it becomes more obvious if you are not in unison,” explains Jacob. “It’s about moving slow and keeping energy in your arms – the intent behind the movement. By the second day, the Moorambilla boys really understood the beginnings of it.”

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From his experience of Narran Lakes, Jacob divides the boys into groups of four around different themes – water from the lake, sand by the lakeside, animal bones, and birdlife. “I wanted large movements to reflect the expansiveness of the space without being too literal – I want to take an element of various concepts and put them into a new context.”

Jacob says boys are often braver than girls when faced with a new creative medium. “They will really have a go and commit – it’s our job to keep their focus.”

“Working with professional composers, dancers and musicians gives these boys an opportunity that they find almost impossible to access where they live,” says Michelle. “We are so proud of the legacy of creativity we are leaving with these young primary school  boys.”

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

 

Narran Lakes legends inspire Moorambilla artists

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In a first for Moorambilla, an Artistic Immersion provided a rare opportunity to creatively explore the well kept secret that is Narran Lakes Nature Reserve, located between Lightning Ridge and Brewarrina in northwest NSW.  The immersion is a vital link in the preparation for Moorambilla’s Gala Concerts in Dubbo on Saturday 19 September.

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Narran Lakes are the site of many Indigenous Dreaming stories, in particular the legend of two giant crocodiles (kurreahs) who swallow the two wives of Baime (Byamee) while they are bathing. In the chase and search for Birrahgnooloo and Cunnunbeillee, the lakes are created by the writhing bodies of the crocodiles. Once rescued, Baime warns them of the dangers of bathing in deep holes and says to them that the Lakes are now changed. “Where there was dry land and stones in the past, in the future there will be water.. black swans… and a big lake.” The lakes remain a real oasis and home of wild birds in the dry red plains of northwestern NSW. Read the full creation story here: Australian Legendary Tales, Langloh Parker, (1897)

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Moorambilla artists explored this place of immense cultural and spiritual significance for many Indigenous people and began the process of creating  initial ideas and structures for new Australian music, text, photography and dance for the Moorambilla Voices children.  The Moorambilla artists who travelled to Narran Lakes were Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, composers in residence Alice Chance and Andrew Howes, TaikOz senior artist Anton Lock, guest vocal artist Clive Birch, Jacob Williams choreographer, classical ballet, Indigenous Visual Artist in Residence Frank Wright from Walgett and photographer Noni Carroll.

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“The Artistic Immersion is about tapping into the physical energy you get from being on site – which is so very different to reading about the creation stories,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

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“We could see the depth of the shell middens, witness the way the lakes interacted with each other. We could pick up the ancient grinding stones and hold them in our hand. We could hear the wind through the lignam, the reedy bushes that were used in weavings and to make beds. We felt the fast wind that whipped across the milky clay lakes. The sky at night is also force in itself as it chases the sparks from the fire. All the subtleties of this sacred place came alive – in amongst an overwhelming sense of space.”

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The immersion was facilitated by the Narran Lakes CoManagement Committee in particular Moorambilla Voices Indigenous Cultural Consultant and Gamilaroi elder Aunty Brenda McBride from Lightning Ridge (watch Aunty Brenda at Narran Lakes and also here.

It was also facilitated by National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger Michael Mulholland, Rhonda Ashby, Lightning Ridge Language Nest Language Consultant and Ted Fields Jnr from Walgett, who welcomed the team with the smoking ceremony.

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Moorambilla creates new Australian music that comes directly from the region that the children live in. In August at the residential camps, the children will develop the pieces to create the performance in September.

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They were supported by Dayle Murray, Moorambilla Operations Manager and Di Holz Moorambilla Mum (MAXed Out). Moorambilla Board representative and visual arts consultant (and driver!) Eden Sheperd also joined the immersion.

Listen to an ABC podcast about about Narran Lakes here.

Stay up to date with Moorambilla Voices and links to performances via the website.

Text: Lliane Clarke

Images by Noni Carroll Photography.

Moorambilla Voices acknowledges the support of our funding partners, They are Australian Government Attorney General’s Department Ministry of the Arts, Arts NSW, Vincent Fairfax Foundation (VFF) and many generous private donors through our public fund. 

Composer on Tap!

Young composer Alice Chance is writing music for this year’s Moorambilla Voices Gala Concert. The composer in residence describes herself as composer on tap! “It’s because I work with the children during the day, then overnight I write music for them to sing the very next morning.”

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“This year I’m really excited to be working across so many art forms – dance, stories, music, visual arts and instrumentation – to create music for the theme of Pallah-Pallah and the Opals [for the story see here].

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“The piece begins subtly and atmospherically – building it up in layers like the colours of an opal. The final movement will have a massive overarching pattern on the top of it – somehow musically I wanted to reflect the way that opals generate their own light [for the story about the inner light of opals see here].

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Alice loves writing music for Moorambilla Voices boys. “These boys are such a special bunch of singers – they have a dichotomy where they sound beautiful, pure and angelic – typical of a boy’s treble choir – then they produce this rugged, powerful and tough sound. At the click of a finger they can change and I try and bring that out in my pieces.”

“The compositions process at Moorambilla is a pretty unique one,” she says. “Basically it’s all very quick – you have to arrive and be on your toes and be ready to write something at a moment’s notice. I love it – I love being under pressure and knowing that in the morning there is a choir waiting for me and they want to sing something – so I better get it done! I have a great time – but you really have to be on your toes!”

Alice, Michelle, Ben and Jacob work out boys pieces

Creative team Alice Chance, Ben Burton, Michelle Leonard and Jacob Williams work out the structure of the pieces

Jacob Williams from Queensland Ballet’s EdSquad, saw how much capacity the Voices girls had for dance and decided to create a much longer dance movement for them. “That meant we needed something constant musically for them,” explains Alice. “Something that would be the same every time – so that the girls could use the musical cues for the dance movement,” explains Alice. “We had one night to create it – the only way was to stay up till about 1.30am and write it!”

“I have been lucky to be able to work with Jacob,” says Alice. “We are on the same piece of paper and he has a wonderful sense of the feeling of each section – we spoke a common language. He explained to me which segment had to be flowing, or which had to be more funky, or which was overarching and beautiful – so I could give a musical cue for each count of eight.”

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Working across mediums – Alice Chance with (from left) Ben Burton, artist Frank Wright, textile designer Fiona Fagan, Michelle Leonard, QB EdSquad’s Jacob Williams.

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Artistic Director Michelle Leonard expanded the dance potential of the primary school children this year. “This year girls are doing so much more than just standing and singing. I’m excited to see that when we link Alice’s choral music through movement, we create a wider opportunity for story telling. It reflects the performance of our older MAXed OUT Company, who have been incorporating movement and percussion in their performance for some time now.”

“What I liked about Alice and Jacob’s collaboration is that they both helped the girls understand dance through the musical structure – using the music they had been singing in a different way to enhance the cues for the dance. Alice adapted the music from a 12/8 feel to a 4/4 feel, and so for Jacob, the beat was subdivided from three and then into two , which the girls quickly picked up.”

“The dance movement is a clever and stunning end to the Pallah-Pallah segment, and I love it so much that we are going to open this year’s concert with it!”

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Tickets for Moorambilla Gala Concert On Sale Here

Alice’s music for the Moorambilla Gala Concert 2014 is created for voice, piano, violin and saxophone – the two Moorambilla Voices choirs, adult vocal sextet Song Company and Ben Burton on piano, SSO Concertmaster Kirsten Williams on violin and saxophonist Christina Leonard.

Alice Chance has been a composer in residence at Moorambilla for two years and is currently in her third year of a Bachelor of Music Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where she was recently awarded the 2012 Ignaz Friedman Memorial Prize for academic merit in Composition. Alice’s work has been commissioned and performed by ensembles such as Sydney Youth Orchestras, the Australian Youth Choir, the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, The Sydney Conservatorium Early Music Ensemble, Waverley College Junior School, Maribella Womens A Capella and the MLC School Chamber Choir on their tour of the USA.

 

 

 

 

Collaborate!

Artistic collaboration is one of the hallmarks of Moorambilla. This year Queensland Ballet Education Coordinator Jacob Williams joins the residential camps.

Queensland Ballet's Jacob Williams with Moorambilla Voices Artistic Director Michelle Leonard

Queensland Ballet’s Jacob Williams with Moorambilla Voices Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

Jacob Williams grew up in the North West town of Dubbo, and from an early age watched his sisters go off to dance classes at the Dubbo Ballet Studio.

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From age 10 he wanted to dance too! So off he went to classes. Jacob began with tap, and his love of dance lead him to take classes in jazz, classical ballet, lyrical and contemporary dance. He continued dance training at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), completing a Bachelor of Dance Performance.

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Immersed in contemporary dance, Jacob learnt the value of dance education, using it as a tool to inspire young children and help them connect with their bodies. Now a teacher/coordinator with QB’s EdSquad, Jacob is collaborating with Moorambilla Voices to help the children understand their body, providing them with another way to express themselves. He began this week with the Moorambilla boys.

Jacob discusses the dance moves with Moorambilla boys.

Jacob discusses the dance moves with Moorambilla boys.

“The boys began their dance and movement workshops tentatively, holding tension in their body. After only half an hour, they were consuming the space with their movement, allowing their body to relax into each movement. I’ve focused my workshops on swinging exercises to help them release their tension in their torso and limbs.”

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Most of the boys have never worked with a professional dancer before, and they are absorbed by Jacob and his accessible creative process. Seven Moorambilla boys, who were showing potential, were chosen to attend an extension dance workshop early in the morning.

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This workshop provided them an opportunity to further their understanding of movement and dance, but also provided them an opportunity to choreograph their own movement. This movement was then taught to rest of the Moorambilla boys, allowing them to take ownership over the piece.

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Over only three days, the music and movement was created for the piece about the Pallah-Pallah story [see http://wp.me/p3N1HI-8K for the full story].

“It’s wonderful having a composer on site and on tap!,” says Jacob. “I have never had the opportunity to work in such a collaborative environment before and having Alice Chance writing music while we develop the piece is a delight and a rich source for inspiration. I am very fortunate to be involved in this project. I am quite sure that this experience has allowed me learn more than the Moorambilla boys.”

Moorambilla camp artists Ben Burton, Michelle Leonard, Alice Chance and Jacob Williams.

Moorambilla camp artists Ben Burton, Michelle Leonard, Alice Chance and Jacob Williams.

“I find this project incredibly interesting. Not only does performance emerge as a product of the collaborative process, but the process itself is also emerging. I can’t wait to see it all come together for the Gala Concert in Coonamble in September.”

 

Fan-forced Creativity!

Making fans, writing music, dancing to Indigenous stories about Pallah-Pallah – another creative day at Moorambilla Voices boys camp!

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William Eather from Wellington and his drawing (above)

William Eather and Arthur ‘Arty’ Taylor from Wellington near Dubbo, and Callum Robinson from Bourke, had never heard of the Pallah-Pallah Indigenous story before, but they’d heard other Indigenous stories. Arty knew the story of “how the kangaroo got his tail, how the hills are made and how the birds got their colours”. Callum knew the story of “how the brolga got his long neck”.

William says he was “inspired to draw Pallah because of the way she turned from light colours to plain white and black. I put her in the middle of the page, and then drew strong lines to show aspects of her story.”

Arthur 'Arty' Taylor from Wellington shows his drawing of Pallah-Pallah

Arthur ‘Arty’ Taylor from Wellington shows his drawing of Pallah-Pallah.

Arty Taylor likes the way “the Pallah-Pallah story is scarey – she got really scared on the top of that snowy mountain.” Arty loves painting and drawing and wrote a rhyme about the butterfly for Alice to consider putting to music:

“Whoosh goes the sound of the wind it is strong
The wind is so strong that if you feel it, it won’t be for long
Crack that is the sound of Pallah’s skin cracking
Poor Pallah her back has been wacking against the wind all day.”

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Callum Robinson lives on “Dunsandle”, a property 165 kilometers north east of Bourke and goes to school via the School of Distance Education, Bourke. Callum likes “how Pallah-Pallah disobeyed the rule and did her own thing, and then she had to face consequences.”

Callum Robinson from Bourke, and composer Alice Chance

Callum Robinson from Bourke, and composer Alice Chance

This was last night’s homework for Moorambilla boys – to read to each other the story of Pallah-Pallah and create text and drawings inspired by her story. The boys brought their drawings to composer Alice Chance to draw on for her ideas in writing music that they could learn and sing. Today’s mission – to help Alice create their work for performance in September – and by the end of the day we had an incredibly successful work written – almost learnt – WOW! Alice worked with Artistic Director Michelle Leonard to help the boys read music and learn how the piece was constructed.

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The boys then created folded paper fans, working with textile artist Fiona Fagan, and created dance moves with Queensland Ballet’s Jacob Williams. The fans reflect the wings of the butterfly, and are made in an origami style of paper making. The children learn that patience and creativity go hand in hand!

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In the dance segment, the children built a three-stage piece of movement that reflects the story of the butterfly on the mountain – the flight, the mountain and the snow storm. Jacob asked the boys to use plastic bags thrown in the air to signify the snow.

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Another Moorambilla day of creative education, inspiring the boys to explore their own expression in quality, sequential learning in partnership with professional ensembles skilled in working with young people.

All these activities fulfill – indeed exceed – the NSW Creative Arts K- 6 Syllabus for Student Outcomes. It’s clear that the program builds self-confidence and self-efficacy and assists these students to become resilient, prepared to keep trying to get something right and ready for performance, or for their own creative endeavours.

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Alice Chance, accompanist Ben Burton and Artistic Director Michelle Leonard working out the structure of the performance

 

This is the story of Pallah-Pallah (Balla-Ballaa) from Aunty June Barker, a Yorta Yorta woman from Cummagunya, and the story of How the Opal Came to Be, from Aunty Rose Fernando, a Kamilaroi (Gamilaroi) and Yuwaalaaray (Euahlayi) woman.

A long time ago in the dreamtimes, one of the most beautiful of all creatures was Pallah-Pallah, the butterfly, with beautiful, dazzling, multi-coloured wings. She lived happily with her family near the reeds of the Coocoran Lake. She would often wander about the high mountains they could see a long way away which were covered in white. The white on the tops of the mountains would shine when the sun shone on them. Her husband, who was named Balla-Ballaa, often told her not to leave the safety of the grasses and reeds that grew around their home on the beautiful clear water lake. But one day when her husband was out fishing, Pallah-Pallah thought she would go and have a quick look at the white on the mountains. When she flew up high, everyone looked at her beautiful coloured wings and said “she looks like a rainbow”. Pallah-Pallah flew higher and higher, and she could see the mountains covered in white. She was excited and said, “I will go right up there and see this white for myself, then I will return and tell my husband.” As she reached the top of the mountains snow began to fall. Snow beat down on the frail and weak Pallah-Pallah. She fell to the ground and was completely covered by snow. She was so exhausted she lay quiet and went to sleep while the snow fell and buried her. She slept for a long time.

She didn’t die. When she awoke, the snow was melting and as the snow melted away, so did Pallah-Pallah’s beautiful colours. The colours just disappeared, melting into the snow. As the snow melted down the mountain and across the plains, the colours ran with them to disappear into the ground near the lakes and ridges. Pallah-Pallah looked at her wings and they were no longer beautiful. She returned to her husband and family and everyone was sad to see she was no longer a beautiful butterfly, but a plain moth, just grey and brown. The beautiful colours that disappeared from her wings and went into the ground at the Morillah-stone ridges and lakes form the colours of the rainbow on the dazzling opal stones.This is how the old people told us the opal came to be.

Coocoran Lake is in Lightning Ridge and the high mountains are the Warrumbungle Mountains.

 

Baradine: Small Town, Big Heart

Zac Broughton, Braiden Jones, Riley Porter and dad Ben Broughton drive from Cobar to Baradine.

Ben Broughton drives from Cobar to deliver Zac Broughton, Braiden Jones and Riley Porter to Moorambilla in Baradine.

 

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The small town of Baradine, home to the Pilliga Forest, opened its heart again to the incredibly angelic sound of young boys voices today as Moorambilla regional boys choir took up residence. The boys have a lot of work to do preparing for the Gala Concert in Coonamble in September. 

Camp Cypress is again home for three days to over 50 boys from all over the north west of NSW, from Bourke to Gadooga, Dubbo to Brewarrina, Dunedoo to Grawin – as it has been for the past nine years.

Camp Manager Dot Thompson welcomes the boys.

Camp Manager Dot Thompson welcomes the boys.

For the next three days the boys are going to create magic in the fields of music, dance and visual arts – in ways they have never experienced before! Many of the boys are coming for the first time, but many choose to come back time again for the special Moorambilla experience.

Moorambilla Voices is more than a program about country kids learning about artistic expression, it’s a program that helps them find their voice, their passion and even their path for the future.  Find out more and how you can help make this happen at http://www.moorambilla.com

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The Baradine community has embraced the program ever since it began nine years ago in 2005, when local residents Liz Markey, Justine Lawler and Michelle Leonard from Coonamble started a boys treble choir that would celebrate the incredible creative energy of the north west region. It was a regional first, and has grown from strength to strength.

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Baradine resident and long-time community advocate Nea Worrell – has been a linchpin of the Moorambilla Voices program. Alongside Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Halcomb, Nea provides the essential catering for the children at camp and during rehearsal. She also provides extensive commentary, etiquette, and old fashioned country hospitality.

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Today the boys had their first taste of camp, working Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, composer Alice Chance, accompanist Ben Burton and Queensland Ballet EdSquad dancer Jacob Williams. This year’s theme is Earth and Sky. The boys began to create pieces around the Indigenous legends of Pallah Pallah, the word for butterfly in the Ngemba language, or Balla-Ballaa, in Yuwaalaraay language. This is the story of how the Opal was created from butterfly wings. The boys read the story of Pallah Pallah and thought about how dance creates meaning without language and how to manipulate dance ideas. The children began to explore choreography, even though many of them had not even heard the word before.

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As Jacob starts to unpack how he will work with the festival theme, Indigenous artist Frank Wright and textile artist Fiona Fagan began to sketch out the concert backdrop which focuses on the Emu in the Sky story.

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Everyone had an early night ready for tomorrow’s full day!

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

Donate now! Moorambilla Voices is more than a program about country kids learning about artistic expression, it’s a program that helps them find their voice, their passion and even their path for the future.  Find out more and how you can help make this happen at http://www.moorambilla.com

 

 

MAXed OUT Performs at National Male Voice Festival in Brisbane

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MAXed OUT Company on stage at Pemulway!

While Moorambilla Voices children count the days until the August 2014 residential camps in Baradine, Moorambilla Founder and Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and 10 young men from MAXed OUT Company travelled to Brisbane in July to perform in the Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival.

The National Male Voice Festival is a huge weekend of talks, rehearsals and performances with leading choral organisations, conductors, composers, artists and singers from around Australia. It’s all about choral music and education, new repertoire and performance, and sharing and exchanging professional experiences.

Michelle was invited to be a Guest Conductor at the festival by Julie Christiansen, the Artistic Director and Founder of Birralee Voices, to work especially with the treble choir.

This was a weekend of firsts for MAXed OUT – it was the first time that the young men had taken part in a choral festival outside of the Moorambilla Festival and the first time many of the young men had travelled outside of their north-west NSW region.

CHECK OUT THIS LATEST SHORT FILM ABOUT MAXED OUT
https://vimeo.com/100070589

“This Festival is very like Moorambilla, in that it brings young people together to rehearse, learn new music and perform,” says Michelle. “The weekend highlighted to me some of the challenges that we deal with so successfully at Moorambilla. The major difference is that at Moorambilla the children participating have little regular access to music education, they don’t sing together in class every week, and many of them don’t know each other when they arrive in the residential camps. Our kids come from up to 70 schools across the region, from 42 towns.”

“The festival had such a great vibe about it,” says Julie Christiansen. “It was a mixture of guys who just love to sing for fun and those who are studying voice or singing regularly in community and school choirs. In a couple of instances there were families with three generations of men/ boys, which also added a fabulous multigenerational element.”

“The importance of the festival is simply to set communities alight with the joy of singing and to reinforce that it is completely acceptable for guys to sing. It is also a vehicle to feed into the artistic pool of new works, encouraging creativity and storytelling and providing an arena for conductors, composers and arts workers.

“Organising the event is always a challenge when resources are limited,” adds Julie. “But we had a strong volunteer team and some fabulous assistance for the three-month lead time.”

“It was fabulous to give the young men from MAXed OUT Company an opportunity to be involved and we hope that the experience will equip them for their next performance at Moorambilla Festival.”

What was the reason for taking MAXed OUT Company instead of Moorambilla Voices? Moorambilla Voices was invited to participate in the Festival, alongside the many other choirs. But as Michelle was working with the treble voices choir in Brisbane, she wanted to give the older boys a different experience of working with other conductors. So the MAXed OUT members worked with Jakub Martinec, an international conductor from Europe and the USA who was the founding artistic director of the Czech Boys Choir and a PhD candidate University of Western Ontario. They also worked with Australian composer and educator Paul Jarman who wrote the Festival piece – Pemulway.

How did you choose which young men could get this amazing opportunity? “I wanted to bring ten young men who could represent all the communities that Moorambilla works with,” says Michelle. “With the exception of Ivan Adams from Coonamble, all of them had participated in the Moorambilla program since they had been in primary school.”

“I tried to pick candidates who would benefit in the long-term. I knew that coming to Brisbane would really boost their experience and confidence so I had to choose those who were keen and who had the right personality take positive risks in a challenging environment. Also, it’s important that they will come back to Moorambilla this year and work with the younger or less experienced singers. They will be able to be in leadership roles.”

“It  was a very different social situation for the MAXed OUT young men. They met and rehearsed with other boys from very different social situations. For example, most of the other boys were from leading private schools in both Queensland and NSW, including the prestigious Knox school. Our boys are all from public state schools.”

“Despite all of these differences, our young men rehearsed and performed brilliantly. This was a direct result of their active participation in the Moorambilla program – they knew how to behave and what to do because we have shown them how to do it.”

Who went to Brisbane? The chosen candidates who accepted the challenge were Riley Fernando, Ivan Adams and Justin Welsh from Coonamble, Jack Ayoub, Dylan and Dom Lugli from Coonabarabran, Nathan Byron from Guerie, Reece Buckton and brother Scott Edwards from Baradine and Hayden Priest from Gilgandra. Shane Rose from Bourke was selected, but in the end unfortunately couldn’t make it.

They were supported by QPAC, and Moorambilla scholarships provided the gap to ensure that they could particularly fully. Justin Welsh travelled with the boys as their youth mentor, assisted by Jack Ayoub and Nathan Byron.

“I’ve always thought that music brings people together but seeing all the people in the choirs from different towns, and some from different states, it was just amazing that people would travel that far for just a few days to sing together,” says Justin. “It was an awesome experience. Good music can bring a couple of people together, but great music can bring hundreds together! It was a great opportunity and I really appreciate being able to join the fun!”

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Before and after: Jack Ayoub enjoys some quiet time before the other MAXed OUT young men interupt him!

Before and after: Jack Ayoub enjoys some quiet time before the other MAXed OUT young men interupt him!

What were some of the advantages of going to Brisbane? While Michelle was busy rehearsing the treble choirs at the festival, the MAXed OUT members were looked after on the trip by Moorambilla education advisor Beth Stanley.

“Half of the young men had never been on a plane before, so it was a real eye opener and a special experience for them,” says Beth. “They had to cope with a whole new situation – going through security, getting to their accommodation, dealing with hotels and rehearsal schedules – I certainly think it gave them real confidence that they can function successfully outside of their own communities.”

“They were very excited – all of them were very keen to be picked and all saw it as an opportunity.”

“They responded to the different music that they are downloading onto their iphones! They really liked the Pemulway massed choir song they were given, written by Paul Jarman. They also did some busking on the river when we were on our break – they found a ukulele player and sang some Beatles songs with him! They sounded fantastic!”

“They didn’t stop singing all weekend – they helped each other to learn the new and challenging music that they were given at night in the hotel, and sang whenever we were travelling around Brisbane.”

“How blessed I was to be the one in charge of those magnificent and interesting boys!” says Beth. “Yes there were challenges, but they were such a wonderful group of boys – they taught me a lot and we taught each other a lot.”

What was Michelle doing at the National Male Voice Festival? While the MAXed OUT boys were learning and rehearsing, Michelle was “handed an instrument” of 180 primary aged boys who hadn’t sung together before, although all of them did sing in weekly choirs together.

“I love working with that energy!,” says Michelle. “The boys had an extraordinary sound and concentration. Having done Moorambilla for so long it was great to know how to channel that energy to achieve a great performance outcome.”

Michelle worked with the festival piece by Paul Jarman called Pemulway, a piece that Moorambilla commissioned by Alice Chance called Bonfire Season, a character piece called Captain’s Tale which uses unison and semi chorus and a commissioned work by Andrew Batt-Rowden, commissioned by Birralee Voices.

“Andrew and Alice will also be working with Moorambilla Voices this year, so it was a great chance for me to see how their music would work together,” explains Michelle. “It was also great to hear William Brown’s stunning work called Bellbirds for treble choir, which featured the choir in three parts and a stunning soundscape.”

“Supporting choral music is part of what I do, and who I am as an artist and musician. I am always keen to support events that are developing our unique Australian choral repertoire through recording and workshops . To do that with men and boys of all ages makes this festival a real joy.”

“I was incredibly proud to see our Maxed OUT boys on stage performing in the Festival piece. They were not phased at all by the massive audience of 1,500 people. Performance is a skill that you have to learn how to do, and they boys all showed how their years at Moorambilla have really paid off.”

“We all enjoyed working with Birralee Voices, and the wonderful facilities of QPAC and Brisbane Grammar. We would certainly be honoured to be a part of the National Male Voices Festival again!”

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