MOORAMBILLA Voices is a youth choir drawn from 78 schools in remote parts of western New South Wales.
It is led by an amazingly energetic and excitable Musical Director, Michelle Leonard. On their first visit to Canberra, and on their first ever concert tour, this enthusiastic group opened “Sebastian the Fox and Other Creatures”, a concert specifically designed for children. Passionate pride and their obvious love of singing made it easy to overlook some vocal technique shortcomings as the choir presented an interesting selection of tuneful contemporary Australian songs, most written only recently. Why Can’t I Fly, Sticks and Stones and Wide Open Skies are fine additions to the choral repertoire even though, on this occasion, many of the words were lost in the unforgiving acoustic of the non-vocal friendly Canberra Girls Grammar School Hall.
In contrast, the acoustic was perfect for the excellent wind quartet which accompanied richly voiced Canberra actor Duncan Driver as he narrated “Sebastian the Fox”, the collection of 13 pieces written by George Dreyfus in the 1960’s. The playing from clarinet, flute, oboe and bassoon was crisp, clean and precise and perfect backing to the stories of bushrangers, swagmen and the Australian bush. The children in the audience were not as enthralled with Sebastian as they may well have been with “Peter and the Wolf” or “Tubby the Tuba” but the Australian work does serve as a valuable introduction to music and its power to generate imagination.
The final piece in the hour long program certainly did stir the imagination when, with narration again from Duncan Driver, the perfectly drilled Woden Valley Youth Choir and Vocal Fry and elements from Canberra Youth Music, all under the direction of Rowan Harvey-Martin, took us on a musical murder mystery with Kath Abbott’s 2005 work “Crime Scene Investigation”. The story of the murder of the 1st Violinist was particularly well set up with police tape surrounding the empty chair and forensic markings drawn beside it. Excellent singing and playing investigated all suspect instruments and players until clever detective work concluded that the wretched percussionist had used the horse hair from the string bass bow to complete the dastardly deed. All in all a clever little piece which incorporated good music and storytelling in the finest of music theatre traditions.
Presenting works for children is a fine initiative of the Canberra International Music Festival. I’d simply urge some deeper thought into venue selection when choral works are to be included in the program.