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

Festival of Voices Opening Night Concert

St David’s Cathedral, Hobart Thursday July 9 2009

There is something about the human voice that makes it a truly compelling instrument to listen to. We all have it, but some people use it with a skill and finesse that utterly eludes others. Yet for a few days every year, the Festival of Voices enables singers with skill to improve and learn from world-class teachers, while those of us who save their singing for the shower are encouraged to overcome inhibition and belt out a tune.

The opening night of the festival was a grand introduction to the talents of performers featured throughout the four-day programme. Held in St David’s Cathedral on the frostiest of nights, the church made an excellent venue: its ornate interior lent appropriate grandeur, while the high vaulted ceiling allowed voices to soar before bouncing back down to the packed audience.

Malcolm Dalglish, American choral composer and director, was accompanied on Hammer Dulcimer by percussionist Peter Jacob and the sweet tones of the Young Voices of Melbourne.

There is something so beguiling about the open face of a person who is high on oxygen and working their diaphragm like an athlete. Multiplied by the dozens of choristers and soloists that evening, this made for much joy.

The choice of music varied from traditional choral by Brahms, opera by Offenbach and Bizet, to modern gospel and folk. The accompanists achieved that fine balance of exemplary musicianship without overpowering the singers.

Perhaps the only incongruity came in the form of a laptop offering the accompaniment of a gospel choir to Grammy award winning singer-songwriter, director and producer, Myron Butler and partner Tymberlin. At times it threatened to drown out their dexterous and soulful voices, but I expect it is too much to ask for the entire choir to be present.

On show were the developing talents of singers ranging from the young members of the Gondwana Chorale, the Exaudi Youth Choir and the 60th Intervarsity Festival Choir, whose position at the rear of the church had a haunting effect.

Indigenous Darwin-based singer/songwriter Shellie Morris snuggled in down and alone with her guitar on stage, offering a small taste of the dynamism of her performances promised for later in the festival.

The grand finale was the premier performance of a work commissioned by the Festival of Voices. Hear My Song, by young composer Ben van Tienan, was realised with members of five choirs lining the cathedral. UK chorister Mike Brewer conducted singers and musicians from the altar, while Van Tienan led those in the rear, glancing over their shoulders to keep pace with each other. The effect filled every crevice of the building with an awesome combination of tones and registers that made the solar plexus pound.

It was a great opening night to a festival that matures with every year.

Singing from the heart.

HOME CONCERT, Peacock Theatre, Festival of Voices.

Singing from the heart.
On a icy clear Friday night in Hobart, Salamanca Arts Centre echoes with the voices of choirs singing their hearts out in harmony. The Long Gallery has become the Festival of Voices Club and the atmosphere is so full with the joy of singing, I find myself grinning from ear to ear .
Downstairs in the atmospheric Peacock theatre, the Home concert begins and the buoyant crowd is quickly seduced and delighted by two of the great talents of this years Festival ; Indigenous singer - songwriter Shellie Morris from the Northern Territory and later, Indiana based hammer dulcimer virtuoso and choir master Malcolm Dalglish. What a treat we are in for as these amazing performers each invite us so warmly into their lives through their heartfelt songs and stories.
Dreadlocked and sneakered Shellie Morris’s cheeky warmth and beautiful clear voice are instantly infectious. Simple songs sung from the heart, of family, friends community, country and home interspersed with quick wit, real tears and quirky humour. Stories of the unconditional love of her adopted family; respect for the elders; the search for her birth family; and memories of childhood, when aborigines were still seen as “Flora and Fauna”.
Shelley is at the festival giving song-writing workshops, as she does all over the country, in remote indigenous communities, in gaols, and inner city communities. She ends her set for the night by creating a song on the spot and the audience cheers, hoots and claps with delight as they sing along to the chorus.

Malcolm Dalglishs’ arrival on stage is initially more subdued, but his haunting minor key compositions on hammer dulcimer, accompanied by his lilting yet gravelly voice, are spine tingling.Featuring beautiful ballads of love and passion from the poetry of Wendell Berry, as well as his own intimate stories of family and community – from dark nights in rural Indiana, atmospheric old barns, hard rain to the mythic seal woman story, his songs are without exception distinctive and delightful.
Interspersed with sometimes side splitting tales from his life, Dalglishs’ extensive theatrical background is never far from the surface. Beginning with his 30 year love story with the dulcimer; he demonstrates how its constellations of chords sometimes still involuntarily mesmerise him into hours of bad new age holding patterns. Or how jogging down the road becomes a great way to create new rhythms until the snarling dogs at the end of the street force his hysterical slow motion escape. And finally the stone back wall of the theatre becomes a cliff upon which he once spent a long night on a cold mountain side, as the beautiful harmonies of the Young Voices of Melbourne accompany his moving song, The Brink.
Dalglish may have told these stories and sung these songs hundreds of times before, but he is a gifted performer and it feels is if tonight is the first, that you are one of his best friends sitting in his lounge room and its a real privilege to be here.