Article By Lachlan Snow
As a recent music graduate from the University of Queensland, I am seeking experiences that will continue to broaden my musical horizons and challenge me artistically as a singer and conductor. The inaugural two week (6 to 17 January) Choral Symposium at the 2014 Sound Thinking Summer School at All Hallows’ School Brisbane was such an experience. During the symposium I fielded many questions from fellow summer school participants as to what exactly I, and my seven comrades, were doing each day. As knowledge is power, I will shed some light on what we symposium attendees did during our fortnight of choral exploration.
Each day had the same structure, which served as an appropriate metaphor for a conductor’s development. At 08:30 we started by honing our own musicianship, the bedrock of any choral endeavour. Along with all summer school participants, for 90 minutes we warmed our voices, ears and hands in one of the eight levels of musicianship classes. I admit my “ray” and my “sow” were initially a little bushy tailed and wide-eyed but after the warm-up I was ready to tackle the day head (and hands) on.
Following the half hour morning tea break, the symposium attendees retreated back into the air-conditioning for the 90-minute lecture on all things choral. Each day a choral leader invited by Dr James Cuskelly (director of the summer school) spoke about their choral passion, topics included barbershop, phonetics, children’s choirs, boys and singing and jazz and community choirs.
I particularly enjoyed the energetic and testosterone filled technical warm up demonstrated Anthony Young and his secondary school male choir from St Lawrence’s College (Brisbane), a glimpse into the choral world of South East Asia with Susana Saw from the Young Choral Academy (Kuala Lumpur) and a discussion about music making in the boroughs of London with British composer Pete Churchill (Royal Academy of Music, London) and Soo Bishop (Merton Music, London). It will come as no surprise that a major theme of these lectures was that of repertoire.
It was fitting then that following the lecture and a stretch, with a deep breath we plunged into our one-hour choral repertoire session with the brilliant Réka Csernyik (musical director of So La Voce and former lecturer at the University of Queensland). During these sessions we sang and explored choral music from medieval Europe to contemporary Australia, including Brisbane composer and summer school teacher Tim Sherlock.
At 1:00pm we stopped for a 45-minute lunch break. To help us digest our lunch and the ideas from the first half of the day, the summer school offered free public concerts from either a guest lecturer’s choir or students from the Summer Schools’ Opera Program. Having heard wonderful choirs and singers, we had our chance to emulate them by rehearsing in either the Summer School Women’s Choir with Katalin Körtvési (senior lecturer, International Kodály Institute, Hungary) or the SATB choir with Dr László Nemes (director, International Kodály Institute, Hungary). Both of which performed at the public concert held in the All Hallows’ Chapel on the final Friday evening of the summer school.
After a much needed 15 minute break, we joined with the music educators (early childhood, primary and secondary) for the final session of the day: conducting from 3:30 to 4:45pm. As with the morning musicianship, the conducting classes were chosen according to the individual abilities of the participant. For the fortnight I had the pleasure of working with Katalin Körtvési (International Kodály Institute, Hungary), whose gentle yet firm guidance ensured that all in our level gained insight into how to improve our gesture. This was achieved through group conducting and technical exercises along with individual conducting of choral music excerpts, including Liszt’s ‘Salve Regina’.
Come 4:45pm, we lifted our weary hands for one final gesture – to wave goodbye to a day of summer school full of ideas to inspire all participants to strive for enjoyable musical outcomes in their choral milieu, be they primary or secondary school, university, college, church or community.
Voila – my insight into my fortnight at the inaugural Choral Symposium at the 2014 Sound Thinking Summer School. The experience reaffirmed my passion for choral music and I am certain it will do the same for all future lovers of choral music who attend this program, no matter their choral background or expertise.