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13 September 2007

Gondwana Voices 10th Anniversary International Tour

Gondwana Voices 10th Anniversary International Tour

Gondwana Voices chorister, Alexandra Stuart-Watt, aged 13 from NSW, writes about her experience of an unforgettable world tour in which Gondwana Voices – Australia’s national children’s choir - performed its Australian repertoire across the globe…

Some were preparing for their first time overseas, others were veteran travellers, but all were convinced not to let the cold, wet morning at Sydney airport stifle their escalating excitement.

After a week of whales, icebergs, and lovely home-stay families...the entire choir had fallen in love with the notion of touring.For me, the Gondwana 10th Anniversary International Tour was an opportunity to spend time with people in brand new places and situations who have the same passion as me. It was also a chance to truly view music as an art form of cultural communication through global eyes.

At the time, our four-day journey to arrive in St Johns, Newfoundland seemed ludicrous. However, it became clear that delays, cancellations and other setbacks were an integral part of group travel and an aspect of our trip that appeared intriguingly unpredictable.

Festival 500, Newfoundland, was a wonderful collection of performances, culminating in the Festival’s finale. Over the course of the week we practiced, performed and watched many of the best children’s and adult choirs from around the globe. The experience bordered on overwhelming at times; the obvious passion for choral music enveloped every venue across the Island. One of the highlights was the concert at Carbonear, a small town across the bay from St Johns. A lengthy but scenic bus trip along the coast saw us arrive in St Patrick’s Church, the performance venue of the fishing village.

After a week of whales, icebergs, and lovely home-stay families I believe the entire choir had fallen in love with the notion of touring; the music of Newfoundland, the inspirational choral leaders of the festival and, most of all, the freedom that arose from singing, relaxed and free, in such remarkably unfamiliar environments.

Contrast was a recurring theme in our touring experience; never once were concerts identical in repertoire or venue, the days’ events by no means predictable. The Polyfollia Festival held in Normandy, France was incomparable to the program Gondwana followed in Newfoundland. Although it did not provide the number of opportunities for networking, historically it was more intense; cultural variation a more prominent aspect of our performances and our travelling in the region. One of the many night performance venues was at Abbaye d’Hambye, an abbey built in medieval times. The original stone remains, an enormous archway under which we were able to perform our encore. The floodlit ruins, a path lit with flaming lanterns leading to its opening, truly created the most magical, even spooky, scene. This awe-inspiring arrangement was without doubt my favourite moment on tour; I can still recall the absolute stillness that enveloped the audience and choir as our voices faded to echoes in the darkness.

Our time in England proved wonderful, even after the amazing experiences at Abbaye d’Hambye. The small town of Farnham was a welcoming, and, in part, familiar scene. Not only did we recognise the language of the locals but finally felt safe on the ‘correct’ side of the road. The local church provided an excellent base for our learning of the piece we would perform in under a week at the BBC Proms. Shopping outings and regular siestas were interspersed through periods of rehearsal on the complex and mentally challenging piece by Brett Dean. We were lucky enough to have him with us for some time during our preparation, and so found ourselves in London itself, somehow prepared for the most important performance of our month abroad. Every concert, rehearsal and excursion culminated in that final night at the Royal Albert Hall, Prom 13. Adrenalin was channelled into the utter focus achieved by every member of the choir as the sounds of our concluding concert filled the colosseum-like hall. It was a stunning night, and the perfect end to such an experience, no words can encapsulate the 10th Anniversary Tour, to put it simply: the best thing I have ever done.

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Thirteen-year-old Alexandra Stuart-Watt is a chorister from the Gondwana Voices.


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