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.



Opportunities rich and rare

Moorambilla’s choral music program offers primary and high school children a unique chance to develop their own capacity in an outstanding creative environment. This year we have four music education professionals as interns in the primary program – two international and two regional – working alongside the artistic team.

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From left: Rachael Pennington (London UK), Jen McPherson (Narrabri), Jody Nott (Wellington), Michelle Leonard, Anna Williams (London UK).

With only three dedicated, tertiary qualified music teachers in the entire region, the program provides, for many students, the only music lesson they will access each year from someone who has the skills to unlock their vocal potential. The children read and write music, sing in parts and sight sing, and discover and develop their vocal capacity.

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Artistic Director Michelle Leonard with Moorambilla Voices boys choir.

“Our commitment is to provide this opportunity to every single student who has the potential,” says Artistic Director Michelle Leonard. “We also welcome community members into the workshops, as well as teachers whose active involvement serves as part of their professional development.”

Jen McPherson grew up in Ballata near Narrabri. After studying film making and completing a degree in teaching, Jen is now teaching choir in the region at Rowena and Wee Waa Public Schools. She’s also an incredibly accomplished singer herself.

“All of these children are in some ways disadvantaged by living in a rural area,” says Jen. “They are missing out on creative and musical opportunities. But Moorambilla gives those children with a natural ability an opportunity that would not otherwise be fostered.”

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Jen McPherson working with Moorambilla Voices primary girls.

Music education is proven to increase the development of neural pathways in children, and specifically benefits memory, concentration and listening skills. The benefits to the children overall are life-changing, and range from boosts in confidence and self expression, developing a willingness to explore and crucially to ask questions, and confidence in teamwork and sharing.

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1059 Moorambilla Residency Camp, Aug, 2016_Noni Carroll

“Engagement is a big word in primary teaching!” says Jen. “The children are asked to sing high and they just do it! They normally say it’s too hard! They’re doing it here because they are expected to do it. Every time they start making a sound they are encouraged to make it more beautifully. That’s what it takes to be a good choral singer. They have to find that space in their own voices.”

Anna Williams, a primary school music teacher from London in the UK, is on a Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship at Moorambilla to study primary music excellence. She’s in Baradine with intern Rachael Pennington from the UK, who works with her at the music education charity “Orchestras for All” in the UK.

“I was looking for an organization that demonstrated leadership and high expectations of what children can do with their voices,” says Anna. “So I googled ‘excellent practice in children’s singing’. Moorambilla Voices came up and here I am!”
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“The program is focused on the practical but also rooted strongly in music theory and music skills. The sol fa warm ups have really impressed me. Also drawing out the music that the kids are singing to a link to understanding stave notation has been really exciting to see in action.

“All the kids have music in front of them and they’re all expected to follow it. They may not know every note but the strong modelling in front helps them understand what they are doing when they look at the page. It encourages them to be really independent as musicians.

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Primary school teacher Jody Nott, on professional development to Moorambilla from the small regional Wellington Public School, sees this in practice.

“This program places the best in the business out in regional NSW. I particularly like the way that the Moorambilla program is cross curricula and the music sessions incorporate maths in the breaking down of the notation and the time signatures.”

“I love the way that Michelle has such high expectations of primary boys,” says Jody. “Don’t expect less because they are boys,” she says. “Expect more because they are boys!”

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Anna engages with “the power of pink positivity” message of Moorambilla Voices.  “The program’s message is that singing is a really normal thing to do. To do something well is a really normal thing to do. And to want to improve and make it as good as you can possibly make it, well that is normal. It’s a very empowering culture.” 

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Anna Williams is on a Winston Churchill Memorial Scholarship. Jen and Jody acknowledge the support of their primary school principals: Michelle Ether and Denis Anderson at Wellington Public School, Peter Caret at Wee Waa and Paul Cecil at Rowena Public School.

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.










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!

Coonamble Public

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, or call: 0418 228 047.





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.


“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.



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!


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.”




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


Moorambilla Builds Leadership in our Region’s Young People

There is no doubt that early experiences in life have a huge impact on our leadership potential as adults.

It is well documented that communication, problem solving skills, organization, flexibility and creativity build self confidence in children. Moorambilla has a nine-year track record in building children’s capacity to become leaders. Here are three examples from the MAXed OUT Company.

Annabell Park

Annabelle Park.

Dylan Crockett

Dylan Crockett.

Domanic Lugli

Domanic Lugli.

For a start, encouraging children to pursue things that interest them means they develop a passion for it, feel comfortable and are more likely to take on a leadership role in the future.


Annabelle Park, from Coonabarabran High School, remembers the moment she left the stage at the end of her first Moorambilla Gala Concert last year, when she was in year 7. “I loved that performance so much, I remember feeling I was a different person. I realized I’d changed. The person that just performed in that concert was different to the person I had been just a few months before.”


Annabelle says she doesn’t need formal validation of her leadership skills – she knows that she has found something that she is very good at, feels at home with and wants to excel in. It gives her the confidence to say: “I know I’m good at this. It makes me a stronger and confident person. I don’t really need a leadership position to be given to me here, I just do what I do best and excel in that.”


Annabelle is proud to have been given a role in the concert – the company follows her lead she they fold their Japanese fans and they must look to her as she leads the bow at the end of the concert.

“Annabelle has developed so much in the two years she has been here,” says Education Consultant Margie Moore. “She knows the importance of giving her all, and the other children watch that and model it. Even though she is quite young, she has an incredible leadership ability.”

Education Consultant Margie Moore supports the students in their goals to achieve results

Education Consultant Margie Moore supports the students in their goals to achieve results both on the ground and behind the scenes.

Dyllan Crocket is the school captain of Binnaway Central School. A boy with self proclaimed shyness, who says he doesn’t like being in charge, at Moorambilla Dyllan will take initiative, take ownership of a situation and do his best to improve it – cleaning up, helping to organize meals, spotting when jobs need doing, responding whenever asked to by the Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz.

Dylan Crockett with Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz

Dylan Crockett with Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz. Di comes from the region, understands the children’s environment and supports the children through the program.

Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz from Lightning Ridge talks through potential problems with the children before their final rehearsals

Moorambilla Mum Dianne Holz from Lightning Ridge talks through potential problems with the children before their final rehearsals

“Moorambilla helps me to concentrate and keep on top of my shyness and nervousness,” says Dyllan. “Once in English the teacher asked me to read out the textbook and I had a panic attack. That has never happened at Moorambilla. What I learn here about focus has helped me in some ways to stay like that.”

When I first started in year 7 I was picked out as one of four to play the taiko – I was given an important job. I was nervous about that but then I realised that it’s no longer about me – it’s about the entire piece of music.

“Michelle told me to just go with it – make it look good. And that has really helped me. It stops me thinking about anxiety.”


Michelle Leonard rehearses professional musicians in preparation for the Gala Concert, at which the children will perform. A high calibre of performance shows to the children the cultural experience of excellence.

Dylan Crockett in rehearsal

Dylan Crockett in rehearsal.

“The other advantage of this program is that I’m not with these kids in the playground at school in Binnaway. There are only 50 people in our high school – so it’s a small playground. As I don’t really see the Moorambilla kids as often it gives me a sort of freedom to be whoever I am.

“You have to know how to pay attention here. Ability to see the bigger picture really helps. When you are putting a concert together, you learn bits and pieces of different dances and then it all comes together. When we get to the gala concert we need to see the bigger picture. And respect. That’s very important.


Domanic Lugli in rehearsal. As a long-standing member of the program, Domanic willingly takes responsibility for the participation of other members.

Domanic Lugli, from Coonabarabran High School, has grown up in Moorambilla, from a young timid and shy seven year old boy starting out in Moorambilla Voices, Dom has developed incredible focus on and off stage. Domanic is always demonstrating to the other students who are new into the project what is expected of their behavior, in rehearsal and on stage and behind the scenes at camp.

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“Moorambilla has made me push myself towards changing,” says Dom. “It’s made me more responsible for things, so I stop the other kids from talking, stuff like that, you know, to focus. Everyone in MAXed OUT helps everyone else because you need to have confidence to get up on stage and practice – you need persistence and you need to stick with it, not get angry and keep going.”


Domanic excels in his commitment to percussion, dance and music

The skills, experiences and teaching style at Moorambilla has turned many shy and unsure teenagers into leaders and achievers. They learn the ability to understand and deal with others, crucial for children from remote and regional areas. Their need for achievement, confidence and assertiveness are not only encouraged but nurtured in the rehearsals and performances.

Maxed Out taiko LR

The Gala Concert brings all the elements together in performance, but Moorambilla is about so much more than one night.

Annabelle Park in performance.

Annabelle Park in performance.

Annabelle Park in performance

Annabelle Park in performance

Text and photography: Lliane Clarke