Christmas. Carols. Joyful singing. Love it or hate it, you can’t avoid it. So I go with loving it, especially when the joyful singing is courtesy of Gondwana Choirs.
Last night they gave their end-of-year concert, Voices of Angels, at City Recital Hall. It was everything an end-of-year concert should be: slickly directed, ably compered, with a quirky but seasonally satisfying mix of repertoire and, most importantly, fabulous performances.
Two days before I’d had the privilege of attending a carol service at my daughter’s school. Again, fabulous performances (under the direction of a truly inspiring music master) and lumps-in-throat a-plenty. But there was a key difference. There, the singing came across as a glorious expression of community, voices raised in song bringing us all closer together. But at Voices of Angels, while it was certainly a celebration of a vibrant community, there was an added element: artistry.
Lyn Williams, the artistic director of Gondwana Choirs, has long appreciated the power of the child chorister. As she says (in a podcast interview with Andrew Leigh last month), “A children’s choir is quite a different instrument, as a violin is to a cello, and it has its own special qualities. To me the children’s choir instrument has a great purity, a great power to communicate with integrity and honesty… It also gives children the opportunity to perform at a professional level.”
A different instrument. A professional level. So their voices have an unique quality which is simply not available to adult choirs. And the senior choir is not just jolly good for their age. They’re real musicians who can hold their own against the Sydney Symphony Orchestra or Opera Australia, with whom they regularly perform.
Seeing the different levels of Sydney Children’s Choir singing in Voices of Angels laid this all out. We met the Senior Training Choirs, on either side of the stage, singing diligently but with the telltale drift of eyes, the restless wriggle of the under-tens. There were the Junior Performing Choirs, a fiercely attentive army of choristers singing independent parts with confidence. Then there were the members of the Senior Performing Choirs, the Young Men’s Choir and the Gondwana National Choirs, all on stage, all singing with a steely sense of focus, the music they wanted the audience to hear almost written across their faces. I looked at pretty much every face over the course of the evening. They were all so individual in the way that they were experiencing and communicating the music. So individual in their expression, yet blending into a seamless sonic whole. Finally, there were creators, the artists who dreamt up the tunes the choirs sang, and these included Samuel Feitelberg, a member of the Young Men’s Choir, whose impressive composition The Stars Around the Lovely Moon had its world premiere.
From fidgeting, to focus, to having something to say, to saying it.
I’m not going to break down the evening into works but I have to mention Lyn Williams’ eerie A Flock of Stars, Owen Elsley’s lively arrangements of ‘We Three Kings’ and ‘I Saw Three Ships’, and a tantalising whisper of a new commission from Andy Ford, a choral opera based on Peter Pan. And Sally Whitwell’s luscious ‘Lux Aeterna’, and Joseph Twist’s ‘Jubilate Deo’ and the magical beginning with Eriks Esenvalds Stars, complete with glass harmonics and penlights. And… And… All so good.
There’s no rest for the wicked, nor yet for Gondwana Choirs after tonight’s final performance. A quick Christmas break and then it’s on, on towards a grand choral jamboree at the end of January, their first Festival of Summer Voices. I won’t be able to go – my family break – but I hope can, because this is not just an expression of community nor yet a chance to see happy smiling faces on cute kids. It’s something very special. This is art.
Thank you to Gondwana Choirs for inviting me to Voices of Angels. If you like what I write here on this blog, do please check out my book, Sanctuary, which is crowd-funding now at unbound.com/books/sanctuary. I’d love your support, either financially or by sharing the news of my book on your favourite networks, social, media or other. Merry Christmas!