Wednesday, July 15, 2009


On a comparatively balmy night for Tasmania’s midwinter, thousands of beanie wearers gathered at Salamanca Place in Hobart for the Big Sing.

No, it wasn’t an all-ages rave, but a major community event in the 2009 Festival of Voices program. With rain threatening and the crowd anticipating the lighting of the giant bonfire, children held candles while parents supped on mulled wine to keep away the chill. The atmosphere was warm, welcoming and exciting.

Amongst the sea of umbrellas, scent of diesel and sound of a chainsaw (last minute preparations for the bonfire), came a distant chanting of voices, followed by a procession of torch and flag bearers marching toward the unlit bonfire.

The crowd erupted as the bonfire was lit sending metre high flames into the clear and cool sky and sparks throughout the crowd. Just like cracker night.

Voices were readied to sing one of Australia’s most iconic songs by Hunters and Collectors, Throw Your Arms Around Me and Hobart musician Dean Stevenson, ABC newsreader Peter Gee and the Barker College Choir led the crowd in the Big Sing.

Organisers had pre-arranged downloads for people to learn the four part harmonies of the song. The reality of coordinating more than a thousand voices was more complicated on the night and while this fell a little flat, it didn’t matter as the choice of the song and the goodwill and enthusiasm of the crowd carried the experience.

While the singalong was fun, the highlight of this major family event was the performance by Suade, an all-male a capella group from Melbourne.

They had won me over a day earlier when I participated in a singing workshop at the Nubeena High School gym. Their range and harmonies without mics was exceptional. In front of hundreds in Salamanca Place (with amplification) they wooed the crowd with songs from Chris Isaak, the Beach Boys and the musical Grease, finishing with a fantastic all-voice version of Queen’s, Bohemian Rhapsody. They demonstrated great vocal range and humour that connected with the crowd who sang, danced and responded overwhelmingly to the group.

A higher stage may have rectified problems with audiences unable to see some of the performances, but overall the Big Sing was a great success and a smart inclusion in the Festival of Voices program. It certainly supported Festival Director, Jaspa Wood’s aim of providing opportunities ‘whether you are a passionate beginner or an experienced performer’. (Festival of Voices program 2009)

The Festival Bonfire and Big Sing managed to connect with those distant family memories of sitting around bonfires, singing old songs and laughing.

9-12 July 2009
Festival of Voices 2009

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