Since Voices of Birralee began in 1995, we have focused on teaching the most age appropriate music to our choristers, to nurture their musical development, engage them, while promoting healthy singing.
For both our new choristers and those who have sung with us for a number of years, we thought this blog would be great to discuss the decisions behind our repertoire choices.
Voices of Birralee’s Associate Director and conductor of the Birralee Blokes and Resonance of Birralee Paul Holley OAM puts a great deal of thought into the repertoire he selects for his choristers to ensure it covers a variety of styles and difficulty levels.
“We need songs we can learn quickly and have a sense of achievement in the first couple of rehearsals, balanced with pieces that are more a slow-burn to perfect. With regard to styles of music I predominantly look for folk music from various countries, jazz or pop, Australian compositions and music theatre repertoire. This variety meets the interests of the choristers and they also enjoy the challenge of mastering something more difficult. The text of the songs also has to be something they relate to while broadening their horizons.
“The main goals through teaching this music is to firstly, create a free, healthy vocal sound and secondly, by exploring music from all over the world, we learn more about the cultures represented as well as aspects of our own culture. Our third goal is to achieve excellence in music making.”
“Selecting age appropriate music is incredibly important. The musical elements (range, melodic contour etc. ) have to be achievable for the singer and the text and emotional content has to be appropriate to their age. So many pop songs unfortunately do not fit this criteria for young singers and yet that is what many choirs sing.
“A favourite composer of mine is Dan Walker. He writes very well for children’s and young adult choirs with musical challenges and relevant texts (for eg. Concierto del Sur, Mantra for the Y Generation). Also Paul Jarman is an expert at telling Australian stories through song (Warri and Yatungka, Southern Sky), while other Australian composers whose work I enjoy programming are Matthew Orlovich (Butterflies Dance), Ben van Tienen (I carry your heart with me), Sally Whitwell (Starlight Steeple) and Carl Crossin (arrangement of The Parting Glass).”
For our young training choirs, age appropriate choral selection is equally important. This year Voices of Birralee welcomed Katherine Ruhle to the organisation, taking on the role of the Birralee Piccolos conductor.
Katherine brings a wealth of experience and passion to Birralee, including being a composer of children’s music herself.
“With our Piccolos’ ensemble, I use a lot of folk songs and traditional music from all over the world. I look for songs that are easy to learn with short melodic phrases, simple melodic intervals and lots of repetition. I ensure these compositions have an appropriate vocal range for young children, with words that children and audience members can relate to. The songs teach the Piccolos about different singing and choral techniques; vowel sounds, articulation, breathing, actions, dynamics, watching the conductor etc.
“When we start young choral singing with simple folk songs, children quickly gain confidence with singing, feel proud that they can sing lots of songs, and parents get to hear their children singing beautifully and with lots of enjoyment.”
Using age appropriate music ensures the young choristers are getting the most from the experience. ‘Play-based’ teaching methods are used to keep them engaged.
“It is fantastic seeing each chorister’s confidence grow as they learn new songs, as they try new things and as they discover that they can make people really happy when they sing to them. I also love that they learn best when they are playing and having fun – so, our rehearsals are always full of music games, moving, dancing and interactive activities.
“Some of my favourite composers are Sherelle Eyles and Stuart Gillard. Both of these composers understand children’s voices and also know what children enjoy singing about. At the moment we have been having fun learning The Unsociable Wallaby by Australian composer, Michael Atherton.”
What have been your favourite pieces to sing during your time with Birralee? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.