You’re the voice!

When Brisbane-born Bernice Klein returned home after more than 40 years living overseas, one of the first thing she did was join a choir. Bernice has been involved with music in some form or another since childhood when she studied both piano and violin.

“When I moved back to Queensland just over a year ago,” she says, “I joined a singing group because I needed to make music in some form or other – not just listen passively.  It’s also a great way to get to know people with a similar interest and is amazingly good for health and wellbeing.

“Music brings me joy and is a great stress-reliever. Our choir practice day is my favourite day of the week!”

Though Bernice has sung in several choirs overseas, including the World Bank Choir, many of those strutting their vocal stuff around southeast Queensland today cannot read a note of music and, until they retired, never thought to find themselves singing in public.

Yet they are doing so in increasing numbers and in our region alone, there are almost 50 singing ensembles to suit every musical taste, from large choirs to barbershop quartets.

And with Christmas upon us they are all busy rehearsing. 

Like Bernice Klein, they have found that community singing is not only a joyful business but is also very, very good for you. 

Benefits include improved lung capacity (and therefore oxygen intake), stronger vocal chords and abdominal muscles, improved memory and concentration. 

There are social benefits, too, in the warmth and friendship of a shared passion. You are never lonely in a choir and the very act of singing, so integral to all societies, lifts depression.

As German choral conductor Markus Ortelt said on a recent visit to Queensland, “It’s not what or how you sing, it’s the fact that you DO sing that matters”. 

Markus, from a musical family, is not a professional musician but an aeronautical engineer with the German Space Agency.

Music is his hobby; he has a fine, deep voice, sings as well as conducts and when staying with Queensland friends after speaking at the International Astronautical Conference in Adelaide, he lost no time in joining in a rehearsal with a local singing group just for the fun of it.

Melissa Innes, president of the acclaimed 100-strong Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir agrees that singing is good for your health. 

An associate lecturer at the Sunshine Coast University’s School of Business and mother of four, Melissa has been president of the choir for every year except one since it began.

“For reasons not well understood, men don’t take to community singing the way women do”

Based on the southern end of the Sunshine Cost, Oriana placed second in the Queensland finals of the ABC Classic FM National Choir of the Year competition in its second year and has been five times overall winner of the Heritage Queensland Eisteddfod, as well as placing second in the 2012 International Eisteddfod in Wales.

The repertoire is mainly classical, but varied by contemporary popular music. Concerts in various venues on the Sunshine Coast and in Brisbane include performances with orchestras (including the Queensland Symphony Orchestra) and string ensembles.

This choir employs a highly-qualified music director and an accompanist who has recently been appointed artistic director.  As Melissa points out, being part of Oriana has given members the opportunity to travel overseas and sing in some world-famous venues such as St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Last year they performed in historic venues in Austria and Eastern Europe and in 1919 will tour Italy and sing in St Peter’s Basilica.

The Oriana Choir embraces all age groups (including a separate junior choir for schoolchildren) but many members are Baby Boomers or older. 

What the older members bring to the choir, Melissa says, is life experience and a perspective that younger people don’t have. They also bring a nurturing and mentoring component which enriches the performing environment for all members.

Following the Christmas concert, next year’s plans include a performance of Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man mass with the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra to mark the end of World War I.

Like most singing groups anywhere in the world, the Oriana has fewer men than women because for reasons not well understood, men don’t take to community singing the way women do.

When men DO sing it’s mostly in all-male ensembles such as The Blenders Chorus or Brisbane’s popular and decidedly youthful Birralee Blokes. 

Some say it’s because mixed-group singing is seen as a bit “sissy” but English community choir leader Chris Samuel, who has toured with Australia’s The Spooky Men’s Chorale, takes this a bit further by speculating that the type of music generally favoured by choirs is not blokey enough.

The Spooky Men have met this challenge by singing about cowboys and power tools and their CDs bear titles such as Big, Stop Scratching and Tooled Up. 

They describe their chorale as being based on “the twin pillars of grand foolishness and the quest for the subwoofer-rattling boofchord” but as Woodford Folk Festival-goers know, they do sing quite beautifully.

Redland Rhapsody Chorus doesn’t have to worry about a shortage of men because it’s an all-female four-part a capella barbershop style harmony ensemble, affiliated to the Sweet Adelines International. 

Current membership is about 50, drawn from the Redlands, Logan and Brisbane areas.  The repertoire is a range of genres from contemporary world music to rock and jazz and some classical, with a decided focus on the upbeat, and this was shown to great effect at the chorus’ gala 21st birthday concert in October.

Redland Rhapsody Chorus, now under the direction of Louise Brannon, competes both nationally and internationally and has earned several awards, including Australia’s best small chorus and most improved chorus.

It holds regular workshops with top coaches from Australia and overseas and earlier this year it was one of the groups backing John Farnham’s You’re the Voice program in the South Bank Piazza.

The term “a capella” means singing without accompaniment and female barbershop harmony groups feature tenor, lead, baritone and bass sections.

Dianne James has been with Redland Rhapsody Chorus from the beginning and says she enjoys this style of singing rather than traditional choral singing, because it involves movement and is more fun.

Asked to name the benefits of singing with so dynamic a chorus she responds enthusiastically: “They are multiple – education, the chance to learn from top international coaches who give us fresh ideas, the confidence I’ve gained not just from singing in public but through the several different positions I’ve held within the group, and the opportunity to sing in venues such as Carnegie Hall.”

And, of course, there are the friendships – not just within the group but from singing regionally, nationally and internationally.

“I have made friends all around the world” Dianne says, adding that if you belong to a chorus affiliated with Sweet Adelines International you can be sure of a welcome anywhere there is a sister choir, as she found when she lived in England for six months.

Not all singing groups are as high powered as Oriana and Redland Rhapsody, both of which require potential members to undertake a modest audition. Most local ensembles, large or small, are only too glad to welcome new members and it’s not necessary to be able to read music or have a great voice, though an ability to sing in tune is obviously important. 

Last year Dianne James founded the Bella a Capella four-part harmony group, most of whom are over 60, and new to this type of singing.  Already this 16 (and growing)-member ensemble has gained sufficient experience to undertake a few public engagements. 

As is common with such small, beginner groups, members pay no fees, but merely share the cost of copyrighted musical arrangements.

So wherever you live, this Christmas you and your family will be able to enjoy a concert or two given by local singing groups, without having to travel far or spend too much money.  And if you are now feeling inspired to join one of  them, maybe next year you’ll be up there singing too!

Retiring soon and like to sing? Enjoy singing but don’t read music? Enjoy company and fellowship? Retired and bored? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions then join the Buderim Male Choir. This community choir has been entertaining at retirement villages and raising funds for charity around the Sunshine Coast for more than 40 years. It is the only male choir on the Sunshine Coast and is seeking new members to bolster numbers and add strength to voices.  Under the expert guidance of music director Mitchell Meyer, the choir enjoys singing in the Welsh tradition. The choir meets to practice for two hours from 7pm on Monday evenings at the Uniting Church in Buderim.

If you would like to join this group of happy singers or come along to a practice session call Rod 5456 4473 or Mort 5326 3071.