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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re so proud of Wide Open Sky

The national release of the uplifting documentary Wide Open Sky, that explores the musical journey of Artistic Director Michelle Leonard and Moorambilla Voices, has received incredible acclaim across Australia.

“Everyone at Moorambilla Voices is so proud of this positive film,” says Artistic Director and Conductor Michelle Leonard. “We’re particularly excited to have this chance to show the world about our beautiful region, our remarkably talented children and the communities that we are all a part of.”

The critics roared approval of the film and gave it lots of stars! The film was directed by Lisa Nicol and won the audience award for Best Documentary at last year’s Sydney Film Festival. From the Sydney Morning Herald to TimeOut, The Australian, Variety, Margaret Throsby on ABC Classic FM, and arts critic John McDonald in the Australian Financial Review, here’s just a taste of the response:

“Music, as Leonard sees it, is about much more than rhythms and melodies. It’s about sparking critical thought and opening the minds of young people to life’s opportunities and possibilities.” Variety

“These country kids are bright and ambitious. The Moorambilla Voices offers a first glimpse of a world outside their small towns, and a sense of burgeoning possibility.” Australian Financial Review

“The final concert is a triumph. And since we’ve seen how far they have come and what they have learnt, it’s incredibly emotional. The film reminds us of the power that learning about music can have on the personal development of children.” Sydney Morning Herald

“We are in Cobar, Lightning Ridge, Walgett, Dunedoo, Coonamble, Brewarrina…most of them are towns that have had racial problems in the past, but the choir that Michelle is putting together has both indigenous and non-indigenous children, side by side with no problems. Every little bit helps.” ABC Nightlife

 

We’re looking forward to our exciting 2016 Moorambilla Voices program of residencies and concerts, which again will feature leading Australian composers, musicians, artists working with Moorambilla Voices children and youth in our MAXed OUT Company.

Keep up to date on our Facebook page or check out all our events here.  And please consider a donation to help us keep going.

For the full podcast of Margaret Throsby ABC Classic FM interview with Michelle Leonard click here.

 

 

Think big, dream wide!

If you are inspired by the Wide Open Sky film, please consider a donation to help us to continue to support fabulous children like those in the film. We rely on private donations, and some government support to continue and your donation will really make a difference.

Moorambilla Voices is continuing each year – just like in the film. This year in March our Artistic Director Michelle Leonard travelled across the region to deliver music and rhythm workshops in schools to over 2,000 children.

The towns participating in the 2016 program included: Dubbo, Narromine, Wellington, Gilgandra, Coonamble, Quambone, Gulargambone, Carinda, Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Goodooga, Collarenebri, Brewarrina, Bourke, Louth, Enngonia, Wanaaring, Cobar, Nyngan, Giralambone, Warren, Trangie, Coonabarabran, Binnaway, Pilliga, Gwabegar, Baradine, Dunedoo, Mendooran, Coolah, Guerie.

 

Tour Map and Dates

Moorambilla Voices 2016 Skills Workshop Tour

All the workshops were “open door” – we welcomed all primary and high school students who are at school, as well as teachers, educators and community members.

On the first week of the tour, Australia’s premiere vocal ensemble
The Song Company
 came with us as well!

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What happened at the workshops?
The FREE Skills Development Workshops throughout the region are designed to inspire and motivate young people to explore music through innovative new approaches. The program encourages the development of music literacy. Students are challenged and encouraged to develop their knowledge in sol-fa, notational skills and part-singing, along with body percussion based on the Keith Terry (US leader in body percussion pedagogy) model, focusing on complex polyrhythmic structures.

By the end of the sessions students are empowered to sing simple melodies in small groups or as soloists and perform multi-layered rhythmic motifs that accompany the songs.

 

Click here to download or view the full program:
Moorambilla Skills Tour Schedule 2016

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For more information contact Moorambilla Voices General Manager Dayle Murray, dayle@moorambilla.com or call: 0418 228 047.

 

 

 

 

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.

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“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.”

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

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“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

 

 

 

 

 

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.