Sunday, June 13, 2010

Festival of Voices

Grand finale – Concert Hall, Sunday July 11, 2010
Big Sing – Salamanca, Saturday July 10 2010
Pilgrim’s Choir – Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Friday July 9 2010

By Stephenie Cahalan

Oklahoma. What an awesome number that is. Exuberance, animation, a beautiful arrangement of voices in all their ranges… I had forgotten what a classic piece of music that is until I heard it sung as part of the Grand Finale of the 2010 Festival of Voices at the Federation Concert Hall. And it if weren’t for this festival it is highly likely it would be another ten years until I would hear it.

FoV is a truly fabulous event, not just for its inclusiveness, but for its diversity. The TSO Chorus’s Pilgrim Choir, with their short revolutionary songs performed in the incongruous environment of TMAG’ s zoological collection amongst tiger snakes and Devil pelts, was a lunchtime snack of Spanish guitar and mountain harmonies.

The Big Sing, gathering Hobartians and visiting choristers onto the Salamanca strip in the dark of winter, has become our own kind of annual pagan festival. This year, however, the night was troubled by sound issues and a new configuration that seemed to render the crowd into two groups, split down the middle by the fire.

But the Flash Mob Choir, in its second year, was artfully led by Steven Taberner of the Spooky Men’s Choral. His efforts at helping the mob perfect their parts introduced a pause in the evening that allowed for everyone to muster, lighten themselves of their inhibitions and gradually join in. Leaving the choice of song up to those who vote via the Internet is smart; it means the song will inevitably be something that all are happy to at least hum along to, guaranteeing success. The Church’s Under the Milky Way worked well in this situation, lending itself to a ‘spooky’ interpretation, and the crowd responded well to being coached by the professional on stage.

Here, I make a disclosure that I edited the programme for the festival, so I helped compose those little blurbs that make you want to get along to the shows. Despite this, I was seeing many of the names on the programme perform for the first time. So, after assuring programme-readers of the talent and professional skill of those leading the workshops, seeing Lynn Williams, Austin Willacy and Dan Walker at work was resoundingly affirmed by the absolute attentiveness of the choirs performing under their guidance.

It is at the Grand Finale concert that one gets the true sense of the value and unique benefit of the event. Over the course of the week of the festival, one thousand singers have participated in workshops and enjoyed tuition by experts in their craft. So, as the choirs gathered on stage for the final concert there was a since of expectation of people who have trained and rehearsed for a big event.

And the result was euphoric - for the choristers, for the guest artists (or so it appeared!) and for the audience. It was a celebration of voices delivered in a variety of styles – young, old, novice and proficient – with a programme that ranged from pop to praise to poetic. Where else could one listen to Dido, Gluck and good old Rogers and Hammerstein on a Sunday afternoon? Austin Willacy conducting the A Cappella choir singing the instrumental accompaniment of ‘Moondance’ was so tight, and his vocals lent a new ear to Van Morrison’s classic which must have been heard a squillion times. The water tank hummed and Willacy looked genuinely chuffed with ‘his’ choir.

For me, the real thrill was to hear a song sung in an Indigenous language by the Young Voices Major Workshop Choir. A small gesture, yet another critical step in the staking of the claim of Aboriginal Australia in our cultural vernacular.

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