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18 December 2009


Members of the Gondwana National Indigenous Children's choir in performance Image: Members of the Gondwana National Indigenous Children's choir in performance  
© Rubina Kimiia (Gondwana Choirs)

This issue of Resonate Journal is all about the latest in Australian choral music. What are the current developments in commissioning, workshops and community choral music? What are the new works? How did they come to exist? Who commissioned, rehearsed and performed them?

If 2009 has seen an impressive number of premieres all around the country, it has been a particularly significant year for composer and conductor Stephen Leek: festivals and workshops, foreign tours, and, towards the end of 2009, a major change in life: stepping down as the director of The Australian Voices and looking ahead towards new and different challenges. In her in-depth article about Leek, Helen Lancaster takes a close look at various stages of the composer's career so far.

Leek's own composition, as well as a work by Clare Maclean, are in focus in Adelaide-based conductor Carl Crossin's thoughtful and practical article about two Australian choral classics: Leek's Kondalilla and Maclean's Christ the King - essential reading for anyone preparing to perform these works. Crossin's West Australian colleague Robert Braham, in his turn, takes a close look at works by Paul Jarman, Katy Abbott and Iain Grandage. Paul Stanhope puts on his conductor's hat and gives brief introductions to several works premiered by the Sydney Chamber Choir. Further insights into successful commissions by conductors Faye Dumont, Roland Peelman, Hildy Essex, Jonathan Grieves-Smith and Carl Crossin can be found in our little feature about commissioning for a choir.

Community music-making features strongly in this Journal. It is at the heart of Dan Walker's article about the Moorambilla festival and its young participants. It is very much there when Tony Backhouse explains his approach to choir workshops. Jocelyn Wolfe reports on the Myall Park community music initiative - a recent collaborative project between The Australian Voices and the Clocked Out Duo. Lyn Williams writes about the Gondwana National Indigenous Children's choir, and Mark O'Leary's article covers the lessons learned during the first 20 years of the Young Voices of Melbourne.

A number of articles have been written from a composer's unique perspective. Clare Maclean writes in fascinating detail about the background of her two works, Misera, Ancor do Loco and Vive in Deo, illustrating her text with score and mp3 examples. Katy Abbott takes a close look at her works Crime Scene Investigation and Aspects of Dreaming. Paul Jarman writes about two works that were composed in very different ways. In an engaging article, Matthew Orlovich writes about some of his a cappella works and the people who have helped him create them. Most recent of these works is The Blue Gum Forest, written for the 60th Australian Intervarsity Choral Festival, held in 2009 in Tasmania. He also reveals how, somewhere in the 1980s, his singing career began with a mysterious tap on the shoulder.

Martin Wesley-Smith, while writing the story of one of his works, Who killed Cock Robin?, also ponders his relationship to singing: 'I recognise that my choral writing improves in some way - is more practical, sits better - when I'm actively involved in choral music.' Wesley-Smith finds encouragement in the unorthodox arrangement - unorthodox from the point of view of traditional rules of classical composition, that is - by Gene Puerling of the war-time song 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square'. 'Exhilarating!' he says. 'Puerling breaks every rule in the book, doing things I would never have done, like putting the tenor part in one important chord one semitone above the melody being sung by the sopranos.' Singing this arrangement, originally performed by the Manhattan Transfer, almost makes Wesley-Smith want to revisit his older works to see if things could have been done differently.

Such is the richness of the field today that in 15 articles it is still only possible to scratch the surface. The focus here is on the music, and the all-important institutional and financial side of music-making, however important, is going to have to be a topic for another Journal. We hope, however, that these articles, written in as many voices as there are writers, will provide plenty of food for thought and interesting background information, as well as ideas for programming and commissioning.

We encourage the reader to follow the links provided in the body of the text and at the end of each article to further resources about the composers and their works. Using the AMC online catalogue, you'll be able to find out more, look at score samples, listen to audio clips, and of course order copies of scores and commercially available CDs, as most of the works discussed in detail in this Journal are available through our online AMC Shop.

Anni Heino is a Finnish-born journalist and musicologist, and editor of Resonate magazine.


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