Excited, inspired: singing with Song Co at Moorambilla

Chloe Lankshear is clocking up firsts: singing for the first time with The Song Company, and as part of their collaboration with Moorambilla Voices, working for the first time with the children and artists residential camps in Baradine. She shares her experience with some photographs by Noni Carroll.

It’s my first project as a contractor with The Song Company and we’re working with Moorambilla Voices high school ensemble, MAXed OUT. This year there are 97 attendants, all of which are at varying levels of music training. For some, this is the very first time they will sing in a choir, see and play a taiko drum, and explore the beauty of contemporary dance. For others, this is a treasured experience with their Moorambilla ‘family’. Either way, each student has found a sanctuary where artistic expression is nurtured and cherished, all under the vision of this one extraordinary woman, Michelle Leonard. As the first choir rehearsal commences, she walks among the choir and talks to each kid individually, instructing, guiding, cultivating, and disciplining. A loving and devoted task-master.

Our first piece, a major composition called Gundabooka by Kevin Barker, sits fragmented in green paper folders for the kids to workshop. The Song Company model the excerpts for the choristers to mimic back, while Michelle and Kevin discuss the workability of each section. The young men of the group do an admirable job with their new found vocal register, as they take direction from Richard Black and Mark Donnelly on the intricacies of their recently developed instruments. Meanwhile for Steph and myself, we tutor the sopranos and altos on the importance of opening one’s mouth without swallowing their tongues, a necessary technique for excellent choral singing. It’s clear that, although the selected few have demonstrated remarkable aptitude for the arts, that the majority do not read music fluently, if at all. With days so full of choreography and drumming, it astounds me just how quickly these kids absorb all of the new work, and rewrites, by rote.

It is a truly excellent experience for any composer to be able to listen to their work read by the voices that will eventually premiere it. To be able to rewrite live, and experiment with sounds and voices, brings a whole new depth to the work. As well as modelling the major work, Song Company is accompanying a beautiful text written and read aloud by Clive Birch. The music is atmospheric of the textures and sounds of his word painting, and the tones of each singer brings new colour to his words. Soaring above his resonant voice, bird calls and long tones animate the text. There is something inherently Australian about birdcalls in contemporary composition. Many have done so before Kevin, Stephen Leek and Sally Whitwell to name a few. With such a rich history of indigenous culture, and so many dialects to explore, there is seemingly a never-ending supply of inspiration for composers and artists. Just thirty minutes down the road is the Dandry Gorge, a place overflowing with colour, textures, and light. I stopped every hundred paces to record the sound of bird calls or take in and imprint upon my mind the many different greens and blues and oranges that had been painted upon this beautiful land thousands of years prior. Returning back to the workshops I had a fuller appreciation of the research and understanding behind the education that these kids receive.

That night, in conversation with Moorambilla Voices Board member Margie Moore, I learn of Michelle’s true dedication to the program and its cause. Originally starting out as an outlet for young boys in the bush, it has grown into a program that fosters and encourages rural girls and boys to aspire to greater heights, not just in the arts, but in anything they put their minds to. A message from my friend Nathan Byron, once a Moorambilla boy himself, tells me how excited he is that I am there to work with the kids. How, without that experience and support, he might not be where he is today, a spectacular second year tenor at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Regardless of how many actually go on to pursue music as a career path, guaranteed every single one of these kids will come away from this experience more confident in themselves and their abilities to achieve excellence in whatever they put themselves whole heartedly in to.

As I approach the end of my time here, I recognise the soul that goes into pulling together such a rich program. Every kid is cared for; every art form pushes them to achieve a higher standard than the year before.

The choreography, the musicianship, the conceptualisation turning into realisation; you can’t help but be excited watching this genuine outpouring of creativity from every single teacher and performer involved.

There is so much love for everyone here that you see even the most introverted and self-conscious kids become vibrant and confident individuals. Needless to say, the upcoming Gala Concert performance in September will be a showcase of talent and hard work, fostered by Michelle and her team, and perfected by every child’s devotion to the arts. I can’t wait.

About Chloe: As a child in Canberra I joined every choir, orchestra and band that I could possibly apply for. I studied multiple instruments and was enrolled in the pre-tertiary music course at ANU School of Music for years 11 and 12. Since that time I have pursued a career in music, co-running Luminescence Chamber Singers and Children’s Choir in Canberra, running the sight-singing and aural program for that same organisation, as well as studying at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music, specialising in classical voice.

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