All my life, I’ve loved singing. I have taken every opportunity possible that would lead me to singing: Talent shows, amateur theatre, school musicals, an entire Bachelor of Music. The passion and drive for singing has always been well and truly alive and I am one of the lucky ones who can say, “I have been singing my entire life.” However, it wasn’t till I was 16/17 that I began actually getting singing lessons and pursuing it as a possible career choice. Before that, I did what any primary school/high school student does: I sang in choir.
Choirs are a unique and exhilarating opportunity for young voices to develop in a healthy and safe learning space: They are not only learning how to produce sound, but also learning to listen and develop skills that will become essential to their musical training (if that is where they decide to go). Singing in a choir improves mental health and gives a sense of belonging, an essential experience for any young teenager. I have been very lucky through out my years to have taken part in some brilliant choral experiences: Some of my finest memories from primary school are singing ‘Rhythm of Life’ with my friends (Why WERE there a million pigeons waiting to be hooked on new religions?!), I took part in Gondwana Voices as well as the Western Australian Young Voices (previously known as Western Australian Children’s Choir) from 2005 – 2007 and I was then lucky enough to attend a high school with a strong choral background (By year 12 I was in three choirs!) In a choir, you’re learning how to pick up musical tools that you might not understand and use them to create a song. You combine with 4 – 100 voices to develop a sound that is simply not possible to create with one voice. As well as this, you’re interacting socially with people in a highly positive experience and at the end of a concert, when you’ve worked so hard for many months you can stare at the people around you and say: “Look what we’ve created together!”
So imagine as a young primary school performer getting involved in an opportunity to perform with 450 voices…! Imagine how exhilarating that experience becomes when we combine 10 different primary schools on a stage that have all learnt separate parts to come together in two/three part harmony and sing as a ‘Massed Choir’. That is exactly what the Western Australian Massed Choir Festival delivers for our Perth community every year in the first week of September. Schools apply earlier on in the year, the music teachers teach them the 8-10 songs and then they come together, practising at Churchlands Senior High School and then eventually leading to the grand stage of the Perth Concert Hall. With eight shows running in 2017 and 450 kids on stage each night, that is approximately 4000 primary school children who are gaining the benefits of choral singing. 4000 kids that are learning to harmonise, multitask (Choral-ography is an essential part of choir!), sing new languages, perform with a professional band and learn the exhilarating feeling that is singing in a choir. Anyone who watches this experience and sees the excitement and determination on the children’s faces can only know that this is a very special event: One that they can look at later and say proudly “I was in that!”
Perhaps I am biased. I think it would be strange to write this article and not mention that of course this entire thing is ran by my mother, Mary-Anne Goyder. One of the mentor teachers in Richard Gill‘s Music Teacher Mentoring Program, President of the Massed Choir Festival and one half of the mighty conductor team, Mary-Anne Goyder runs a committee of some of the most passionate and hard-working music teachers who make all of this possible. Mary-Anne became president of this committee in approx.. 2000, when I was five years old, so there is not a time that I can remember when the Massed Choir Festival wasn’t alive and well in our household. Back in 2007, I was even lucky enough to perform as a soloist with my primary school and of course, in the most stressful part of the year for mum, I broke my ankle and had to crutch myself across the stage to sing. There have been many occasions where I have been woken in the early morning (sometimes as early as 5am!) to mum practising her conducting and choral-ography, working hard at her laptop to make this all possible. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve made repertoire suggestions (some of which have made it in to the concert!), helped her record CDs and who knows? Perhaps I’ll run a primary school choir in the festival some day too!
Some of the performers involved in this have gone on to pursue music as a profession (such as myself!) and others will go on to high school and perhaps never sing in a choir, or at all, again. However, the benefits of the Massed Choir Festival go beyond our eventual professions. The commissioned songs and works that are performed as apart of the experience teach the children empathy, compassion and a sense of national pride as we sing works written by Australian composers. They are being given an opportunity to develop and extend their musical ear into the unknown (This IS an opera blog – Let’s rally our new audiences!) Most importantly, our students are given a place where they are not judged but accepted and appreciated for being “a part of the team” and on top of this all: They’re having fun whilst creating great music.
I’m extremely proud of the entire Massed Choir Festival team. There are so many people who work tirelessly to make this possible and to give these students a positive musical education. This festival is not possible without the never-ending work done by the committee, the power conductors Mary-Anne Goyder and Mirelle Hopwood, the musicians in the band and string quartet, primary school music teachers who teach the music to the students, the principals who encourage them in this endeavour, the parents who prepare and support their child and of course: The students, who work their butts off to learn this music by memory.
“Music education opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them – a world of work, culture, intellectual activity and human involvement. The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.” Gerald Ford, American President
The Massed Choir Festival is on for another four nights, Monday 18th – 21st at the Perth Concert Hall…. See you there! Tickets can be bought here.
Written by Katherine Goyder