Around this time, the various ensembles of Gondwana Choirs would be busily rehearsing for concerts and tours, working hard to delight and inspire their audiences. Our singers come from all across the country: some of them work together regularly in Sydney and Cairns, while others sing with us seasonally, as part of our annual Festival of Summer Voices and on international tours. When social distancing and isolation became a reality in Australia and choral singing in its usual forms became temporarily impossible, Gondwana reinvented itself online. After almost 20 years of singing under and working with her, I have learnt that new ideas are never in short supply for Lyn Williams, Gondwana’s Artistic Director and Founder. Together with our dedicated and courageous staff, we set about creating Gondwana Online, a web-based interactive learning environment which enables choristers to explore new musical territory.
Sally Whitwell will be offering a class on writing for choirs. Photograph courtesy of Gondwana Choirs
We gathered the best artists we could find – most well-known to us, but some new – who could open singers’ ears and minds to new possibilities. In the space of a normal choir rehearsal, often with the pressures of an upcoming performance looming, how often do you have time to learn about polyrhythms from West Africa, or to learn about choral composition, or to think about the social and political environments from which the great masterworks emerged?
Through Gondwana Online, young people all across Australia now have the chance to dive deep into an area of interest, led by a first-class artist. Connor Malanos delivers a course on beatboxing, while Naomi Crellin of the Idea of the North introduces the fundamentals of a good jazz vocal technique. Acclaimed soprano Anna Fraser has devised a course to open up the world of historically-informed performance practice and Lyn Williams herself hands over the baton and teaches an introductory course on choral conducting. I’m delighted to get the opportunity to teach on my favourite repertoire, guiding singers through the treasure trove of the sacred canon, from Palestrina and Bach to Britten and Ešenvalds.
For Gondwana, variety is a natural expression of musical curiosity and so we’re also offering a course on solos and duets from the classical period alongside a wander through the West End and 42nd Street in Songs from Broadway. Many readers will know Gondwana’s Principal Pianist, Sally Whitwell, who is also a respected composer – Sally is going to offer a class for limited numbers on writing for choirs, giving aspiring composers a chance to get their ideas out of their heads and onto the page.
While we are sad not to be singing together each week and presenting concerts to our audiences, we are delighted that more young people than ever before can experience the magic of music through Gondwana – through technology, barriers of distance are removed and we can bring people together from Kalgoorlie to Yeppoon in song.
Lasting for eight weeks, each of the weekly classes is 40 minutes and is delivered via Zoom, so people can ask questions of the presenter and interact with their online classmates.
Gondwana Online starts from Wednesday 13 May
Sam Allchurch is Associate Artistic Director of Gondwana Choirs