Harriet D’Arcy, undertaking a BMus Performance at the Sydney University Conservatorium of Music, is a Moorambilla Voices Intern this year. She writes about her experiences at the Boys Regional Choir Camp.
As the chatter of children on their morning tea break filled the room and the sunlight danced through the windows, I couldn’t help myself from reflecting on the sounds around me. Indeed, this was no dull chatter. Rather, a raucous buzz of young boys and the faint exasperated sigh of a supervisor struggling to get an over-enthused eight-year-old to stop eating, sit down, and look at their music.
But after five minutes into rehearsal with Michelle Leonard, you could have heard a pin drop in the dusty Baradine Hall. Another exaggeration yes, (because dust would of course muffle the sound of a pin dropping) but I cannot deny a palpable shift in the energy, poise and concentration of the children. Posture? Check. Breath control? Check. Intonation? …..Check. The boys were working together to create a beautiful sound.
With guidance from Michelle, their voices are blended together, matching timbre and dynamic. The hairs standing up on the back of my neck were a sure sign that a choir had indeed been born. After each rehearsal there are definite improvements, whether it be that another piece has been memorised, the children have started to get a grasp on musical notation, or even that we’ve made it through half an hour without 17 individual water breaks.
The boys’ focus is admirable. Today, as my mind wandered a tad further than it should have in the direction of the upcoming lunch break, I heard a little voice behind me whispering, “this is so weird, I’m not even at school, I don’t have to concentrate, but I want to!” I stifled a laugh and grinned into my copy of ‘Going Home’, thinking that this little statement had totally encapsulated the nature of the Moorambilla Voices camp in that the children are inherently inspired. As an educator and leader, Michelle entices out the best version of the boys’ self, and engages them wholly for two hour rehearsals. Even as eyes wander at the 1 hour 50 minute mark, the boys will bounce joyfully into the lunch line singing the melodies of the compositions that have been workshopped in the hour prior.
After warm instructions not to eat until they feel sick, the boys resume their afternoon dance and art workshops. Traditional gender expectations are shattered as the boys boogie across the floor (albeit some more gracefully than others) and express their connection to country by creating landscape-inspired lanterns and regional totem poles.
By the time 5pm rolls around the boys are tired, but never seem to loose their zest and enthusiasm for camp as they trundle off into the sunset toward Camp Cypress. It is something that gives them purpose, and for a lot of the children it encourages them to come into themselves and openly express and regulate their thoughts and feelings.
For those coming from under-resourced schools and difficult family situations, the camp offers security, positivity, reward and purpose. It provides a respite of routine, good food, encouraging feedback and nurturing praise.
Music is often referred to as a universal language, the one vehicle of expression that transcends race, religion and privilege. Moorambilla Voices epitomises this, integrating music with other art forms to connect children to each other, to themselves, and to their environment. And, perhaps most poignantly, the program encourages personal growth, and an increasing awareness of the history, and cultural diversity of NSW’s far north west.
As a tertiary music student, I was drawn to the camp initially because of its focus on regional and remote communities. I grew up in Tathra on the far south coast of NSW and after having the opportunity to board for my final three years of high school in Sydney, I became aware of the immense educational gap that plagues a majority of regional centres – particularly in regard to the arts.
Throughout my university experience I have continued to be inspired by the challenge to close this gap. As a result, when my Dad whipped out the Moorambilla film ‘Wide Open Sky’ for a family movie night (although I initially critiqued the choice of a documentary) I was quick to eat my words and apply for a position on the team for the 2017 season. Michelle’s pedagogy throughout the choir workshops is incredibly unique, and her energy and drive with the boys pushes them to improve both as individual singers and as a choir at a whole at an incredible rate. I have loved every minute of it thus far and cannot wait to see what the journey has in store next.
So, as the Baradine Hall warms up for the arrival of the girls regional choir on Saturday, the boys can rest easy knowing they have set an incredibly high standard. Their character, persistence and commitment are to be congratulated. Bravo. On day three, I fear the magic has only just begun.
Text and photography: Harriet D’Arcy