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
“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!”
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!”