Music aware of something beyond itself

Josephine Gibson has written Reverie for Lost Girls for the Moorambilla Voices regional girls choir this year. The evocative, landscape-inspired piece sings of the ancient black rocks and vast unending horizons of the historic Mount Grenfell site.


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Reverie for Lost Girls
Lost amidst the willga trees
Dusted, parched and dry
Black rocks dash the rusted soil to vast unending sky

Lost awash in waves of space
Weathered spirits fly
Black roads gash the blood red soil to vast unending sky

“Reverie for Lost Girls is about how I felt in the strangeness of that beautiful area,” says Josephine. “There is a weird and uncanny isolation among those hills that undulate in utter flatness and trees that writhe up out of the ground.”

Now on site at the residential camps at Baradine, Josephine works with Artistic Director Michelle Leonard to rehearse Reverie for Lost Girls, which uses aspects of chant that Josephine says is like “a long unbroken line that communicates text in the most intuitive and beautiful way”.

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In her final year of Honours in Composition at Sydney University Conservatorium of Music, Josephine credits her teacher Paul Stanhope with supporting her opportunity to join Moorambilla Voices as composer in residence in 2016. Josephine also sings with the Sydney Chamber Choir as a soprano.

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“Chant offers the sense of a voice soaring into space. It’s not just a single line of music in isolation, it’s how that line reverberates, whether that’s within the context of a cathedral or a powerful place like Mount Grenfell! It fits anywhere. You can romanticize it.”

Josephine is adamant that she hasn’t written what you would call “spiritual music”. “I call it writing that is aware of something beyond itself. When you perform it, you also become aware of something beyond yourself.”

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Josephine has long admired female composers, particularly Hildegard von Bingen, the pre-medieval German Abbess who wrote uplifting music, invented languages, studied science and wrote theological poetry.

“I’m honoured to be sharing the Moorambilla program with composer Elena Kats-Chernin. I love the world of tonality and writing for traditional instruments. How often do you get to write for musicians of the calibre of the Australian World Orchestra and The Song Company and Taikoz and Ben Burton and Christina Leonard? I really want to do a good job for them.”

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“I also hope that this piece communicates in some way the difficulty that girls face growing up. Young girls are often accused of being vague, because they are so rarely given the chance to be complete humans, flawed and marvellous, rambunctious and witty. The world is scary, but you know what, that’s okay. As a young girl you are valuable and beautiful.”

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Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.



It’s time to reach for the stars

Day one of Moorambilla Voices Residential Camps 2016 and Camp Cypress is ringing with the sound of 76 excited primary school boys from right across the north-west region. The very first day is always pumped with anticipation.

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Artistic Director Michelle Leonard welcomed the boys in through a rainbow of bubbles for their first session of music.

Artistic Director Michelle Leonard welcomes the boys to Baradine through a rainbow of bubbles for their first session of music.

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Alison Hinch (right), the Assistant Principal of Collenerabri Central School, has travelled in with Jaylen Walford and his nan Pauline Walford. “Our school is a small central school, with classes from K – 12 with a high Aboriginal population,” explains Alison. “This is our first year here and Jaylen and two of our primary school girls are representing our school. They’re all so excited to come!”

For Braydon Jones from Cobar Public School, Moorambilla is the only opportunity he has to sing in a choir. “I watched the concert last year and I can’t wait to have my turn to sing in the Dubbo Theatre,” he says. Like man of the boys, Braydon loves the “great food and staying with my friends in the cabins.”

Inspired by the stars and horizons of the outback landscape around Mount Grenfell near Cobar, composer William Yaxley spent the first day on fragments of his 2016 commission Kirralaa, (from the Ngiampaa language word for star). It tells the story of a falling star who wants to join people dancing on the earth. The resulting performance in September will bring to life the stars and horizons of the ancient rocky landscape.

Queensland Ballet Education Coordinator Jacob Williams and intern Tainga Savage work with the boys to create movement shapes. As the sun sets behind the Baradine Hall, the boys experiment and dance with beautiful miniature candles.

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Liz Anderson has been a supervisor for five years at Moorambilla and has three boys in the program. “The Moorambilla energy is just phenomenal,” she says “and Michelle is amazing to watch work with the children!”

Text: Lliane Clarke
Photography: Noni Carroll.

Ancient markings, red dirt and night sky legends. Welcome to 2016!

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Moorambilla Voices has launched the creative inspiration driving its 2016 program with the Artistic and Cultural Immersion at historic Mount Grenfell, near Cobar, north-west NSW.

Facilitated in consultation with Ngiyampaa Indigenous and community leaders, the Immersion experience took place in April and will drive the artists’ source material.

“This incredibly beautiful landscape has an ancient history as a meeting place for the Ngiyampaa people, and is notable for its spectacular examples of ancient Ngiyampaa rock art,” explained Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “When I first found out about it I knew that this place would form a strong foundation for our performances incorporating music, dance and visual art.”

“Combined with the rich local history and unique landscape, this year is shaping up to be quite a big one for Moorambilla Voices.”

The 2016 Program includes Sydney Tour, the Annual Residential Camps in Baradine and the Gala Concert in Dubbo and several Associated Performances and Tours.

More about the Artistic and Cultural Immersion and Mount Grenfell here…

More about the 2016 Program here…

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On a dry creek bed: The team of artists were grateful to be given this time to experience the energy of the landscape and  to appreciate the rich depth of cultural  knowledge shared by Ngiyampaa Elder, poet and powerhouse Elaine Ohlsen and elder Peter Harris, with members of the Co-management committee Rick Ohlsen, Lawrence Clarke and Philip Sullivan. Artists at the immersion this year were: Artistic Director Michelle Leonard, Composers in residence Andrew Howes, Josephine Gibson and William Yaxley, Taikoz Artist Tom Royce-Hampton, Choreographer Jacob Williams, Regional Dance Artist Tianga Savage, Lantern Artist Sara Tinning, Speaker Clive Birch, Photographer Noni Carroll and Regional Photographer Justin Welsh, supported by General Manager Dayle Murray.










Go to the bend in the river

Interweaving new Australian choral music with contemporary dance is taking composer Andrew Howes and choreographer Jacob Williams into new territory at Moorambilla residential camps in 2015.

IMG_3139 “Narran Lakes was what I call an ‘ice bath’ to my system,” says Andrew. “I jumped off the plane straight from the intensity of London and drove on the same day to the utter stillness of the lakes. It was exactly what I needed – and I didn’t know that until I got there! The stillness was the best thing. It was so dense and yet also clear.”

Andrew has just graduated in composition at the Royal College of Music in London with first class honours. He got on a plane to meet Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and fellow artists at Narran Lakes.

“At the end of the Narran Lakes journey, I hadn’t settled on any ideas but my mind was full of thoughts and fragments – mental thoughts and notes – that’s how composition works for me,” says Andrew.


“Michelle invites us to play inside our brains. To come up with ways to generate ideas – connecting story and landscape, and how those stories connect to each other.”

“I like more of a formal structure,” says Jacob. “I want a framework at the beginning and I’m eager for the composers to commence writing and committing to ideas so I can start drawing inspiration from their work.”

“At Moorambilla the children in our rehearsals create movements through choreographic activities that I devise and then the composers draw from the movements to create music. We create the movement and music simultaneously, frequently checking in with each other and watching each other’s rehearsals so that we create a holistic piece.”


Moorambilla composers work under the pressure of time – they have the children for only 3-4 days which generally means writing music overnight. “How do I feel about that?,” says Andrew. “Well I don’t believe in writers block!” he laughs.


“No seriously, I tend to think that you can make music out of anything if you can see possibilities – and Michelle thinks the same way which is why I really love working with her. There are thousands of possible ways to turn a bad idea around. We find the first good idea and improvise on that. It helps that all of the other Moorambilla artists are incredibly skilled music interpreters and fast sight readers!”

“I needed to know the level of expertise in the choir, so I sent a vocal exercise to Michelle to work out the level of the MAXed OUT choir. I am pleased to say they were at the highest level of my expectation,” says Andrew.


To create the choral piece, called Go To the Bend in the River, Andrew talked with Rhonda Ashby, Lightning Ridge Language Nest Language Consultant. “Rhonda said something that really struck me,” says Andrew. “When she told me the creation story, she said that Baime went to the bend in the river, to the black dirt, to cut off the waterway deep underground. This is the Narran River with all its billabongs, and he knew he could stop the crocodiles there.


“I didn’t necessarily want to depict that actual story but I wanted to find something within it that I connected with. So I wrote a piece using that imagery. The piece is really about about searching and finding lost things.

“I used the Gamilaroi language that Rhonda Ashby gave me – and focused on two words in particular –yanaaya (go) and baanaga-y (run). “

The resulting piece, ‘Go to the Bend on the River’ is written for the MAXed OUT choir, with its own chamber choir, Song Company, piano and drums. Andrew will also orchestrate a string quartet, sax and shakuhachi between the August residency and the rehearsals for the September performance.


When it became time to work with Jacob Williams to create a dance piece, Jacob was already looking at floor work.

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“I wanted more work on the floor this year to showcase the developing sophistication of the teenagers,” says Jacob. “Michelle liked the floor work in rehearsals so that became significant component of the dance, and then I worked with Andrew to create movement based on migratory birds.”


“We identified a smaller group of talented students to create their own choreographic response to the themes of bones, water, sand and birds as well as Frank Wright’s artwork. This movement was then taught to the larger group.”

“Then I manipulated this phrase, altering the movement qualities to reflect an internal rhythm – which meant it was not set to counts. As Andrew composed music for this section, I continued to play with movement, consulting with Michelle, and altering its rhythm until we were all very happy. This was exciting as neither of us had worked so closely with someone else before like this.”

“I call it supported risk taking,” says Andrew. “It’s hard to fail at that.”

“Because we were experimenting together we didn’t feel at risk – we just decided that we would keep working on it until we got it! And we did!” says Jacob.

“I cannot wait to show our audiences what we have created this year. What a remarkable 10th birthday gift!”, says Michelle.

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke






Opportunity Knocks – Iyasa!

MAXed OUT Company is back in rehearsal on Dhinawan, the MAXed OUT segment of this year’s Gala Concert.  Very, very few high schools offer music to HSC level in this region – with ensemble experience rare and opportunities to perform few.


Some of the teenagers have been practicing their contemporary and taiko choreography at home, calling out Iyasa! as they do. Some have memorized their music, some have been in school musicals, some have had support at home, some have not. One thing is clear in Baradine Memorial Hall – all of the 51 teenagers are excited to be back, seeing friends they only see twice a year, and working hard together for the highest standard of performance they can deliver.

MAXed OUT signs in with Camp Manager Dot Thompson and Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz

MAXed OUT signs in with Camp Manager Dot Thompson and Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz



Coonabarabran High School produces a musical every two years. Annabel Park had a few parts in the show this year and has been hard at work at home memorising Andrew Batt-Rawden’s piece Earth, Sky, Bird written especially for MAXed OUT. She’s practised her taiko dance moves too, so she can step up alongside the professional musicians at Moorambilla.

Annabel Park and friends

Annabel Park (second from right) greets her friends in Baradine.

Abigail Irving only has one performance opportunity this year, and “Moorambilla is it for me!” says the Warren Central School student. “I’m so looking forward to the Gala Concert. I love Moorambilla Voices because it gives me this chance to perform – it’s why I’ve done it for two years.”

Abigail Irving: "this is my only performance opportunity."

Abigail Irving: “this is my only performance opportunity.”

Working alongside professionals who are at the top of their field, and Australian composers writing world premieres for the Company, fires up the young performers. Nathan Lenord from Lightning Ridge Central School is happy to be back, and while he sang in his school musical about opals last week, he loves working with professionals like Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and the TaikOz percussionists.

Ryuji Hameda from TaikOz rehearses the fan dance with MAXed OUT. Working with professionals is a hallmark of Moorambilla.

Ryuji Hameda from TaikOz rehearses the fan dance with MAXed OUT. Working with professionals is a hallmark of Moorambilla.

Hayden Priest from Gilgandra High School and Katie Colwell from Coonamble High have also been practising every day at home. Anton Lock from TaikOz gave the children stretching exercises, to maintain upper body strength for their impressive Japanese fan dance, as well as many rhythmic and vocal exercises to practice. “I’m so looking forward to our Moorambilla concert,” says Hayden. “I love Moorambilla.”

Hayden Priest and Katie Colwell take a break in rehearsal

Hayden Priest and Katie Colwell take a break in rehearsal

Learning their music in the break is paying off. “The Gala Concert is going to be amazing,” says Katie. “I know we’re going to nail it.”


Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

Composer in the Sky

So the sky

So the earth

So the bird

So the earth

The big the small

One thing within the other

Andrew Batt-Rawden, Moorambilla composer in residence, is writing fast and furiously to create his choral and instrumental piece for our senior vocal ensemble MAXed OUT this year.


Moorambilla Composer Andrew Batt-Rowden and         pianist in residence Ben Burton.



Originally an oboist, Andrew is working with a big company – the children, TaikOz percussionists and flute, conductor and Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and Jacob Williams from Queensland Ballet, to create a soundscape of parts that blend as one. It’s all coming together using the artistic elements of this year’s Moorambilla theme – the Emu in the Sky [see Emu in the Sky story].


Andrew discusses the piece with Artistic Director Michelle Leonard.

“The first thing I’d like to say is that we have not created this piece in a way that I am used to!,” laughs Andrew.


“For Earth Sky Bird I created chords and a melody, and then threw it into a cauldron of a various musical elements – taiko drumming, dancing, flute, traditional Japanese elements, singing bowls, as well as piano. There is very immediate and intense process here. It’s site specific and very time sensitive, and there is a lot of momentum behind it.


The text is inspired from the Indigenous legend about Seven Emu Sisters in the Sky which originates from this region. “We were lucky to have Aunty Brenda explain the legend to us and that conversation was really important in helping me understand it,” says Andrew.


Andrew works with soloists Nathan Byron and Billie Palin.


Andrew with TaikOz percussionist Anton Lock.


“The legend has many aspects to it, but the one that I particularly was inspired about was the message that people on earth shouldn’t eat too many emu eggs – it’s a metaphor for the preservation of the environment and it has a spiritual dimension as well, as it discusses the greater universe and our position within that.”

“I commissioned a poet, Chris Mansell, to write the first verse for me that the children could use to bounce off. They then wrote some incredibly deep and phenomenal text – they are awesome kids! They will do anything for the piece, even considering putting beat boxing behind difficult lyrical lines. It’s amazing working with Michelle to put this together.”

Andrew is also working with pianist in residence Ben Burton to bring the piece to life. “Ben picked up on my rhythmic and harmonic language – and he’s been improvising parts around the material I have given him, which is great,” says Andrew.


“I play whatever Andrew comes up with on the day,” laughs Ben. “Last night he wrote something at 3am and then at 9am I was trying to work out what was going on. You are creating on the spot and the end product is something you get to work out over a period – it’s experimentation and it’s great fun.”

“For the concert we will have a small chamber ensemble – piano, soprano saxophone, double bass, violin, taiko percussion, as well as 8 professional vocalists from the Song Company. Whatever I can do on the piano to help the kids get an idea of that, and what it might sound like – I try to do. I also help Andrew and Michelle figure out what’s going to work or not – or whether it makes sense.”

“You don’t normally get an opportunity to write something with the people who are actually going to be performing it,” says Ben. “Here we have 50 kids at out disposal for five days – if you try it out and it doesn’t work you try again – that’s a great thing for a composer.”


MAXed OUT Company sings and writes text with Andrew

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“I wish I had another week!” says Andrew. “But I am really excited to see the piece within the entire context and I can’t wait till September. lucky i get them by themselves before the professional musicians come in  for another day!”



So the sky

So the earth

So the bird

So the earth

The big the small

One thing within the other


Celestial blaze of the star spirit emus

The stars, a moving passage in the night 

Six sister star spirit emus lay eggs in the universe

The link of earth and Byaamai

So far so long the world of celestial silence


One sister star spirit emu lays eggs on earth

She drinks from the rivers and creeks and roams the bush

From one comes many

Take only what you need


Six in the sky the seventh too old lay eggs now joins her sisters

Within the Milky Way

Her children now roam the bush


We walk in spirit

We walk as one

We don’t be greedy

More will come


[Text: a culmination of work by Chris Mansell, Moorambilla MAXed OUT Company, and elder Auntie Brenda and artist Frank Wright]

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke

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.”


“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].






“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].





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.”


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


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!”


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.