Sunday afternoon and we are fighting for a car park with the frenzied outlet shoppers at the Convention Centre complex, on our way to see some world music choral action. It’s the twentieth Boîte Millennium Chorus outing and the theme this time is Haven.
The stage setup is a little odd – the chorus has over 300 members, so the stage is almost wider than the front of the audience seating. This means that some members may not have been able to see the musicians, tucked away in the left hand corner. The focus is as it should be, on the Chorus, but I’d have liked to felt that the band were more a part of things.
The opening is one of my highlights of the concert – Mitch Tambo playing out of this world didgeridoo for a couple of minutes in ceremonial paint. It’s a reminder of how versatile and amazing the sounds that can come from a simple tube can be.
Arnold Zable is next up, reading the first of six pieces spread through the afternoon musing on the theme of Haven from different views, encompassing some of his experiences travelling and living in other countries. Some cover widely varying experiences from others such as The Reporter, stuck in what amounts to prison on Manus Island. These short interludes are pithy and poignant and worth the admission price alone. Blatant politicising is eschewed in favour of the personal tale, bringing humanity into the situations confronting so many.
The day’s format is to have different choral directors rotate through the songs, so there is a changeover, often including changing the accompaniment set up each song. It’s efficient but it also makes for lots of breaks. One thing I missed was more interaction with the audience, as each director/soloist came up played, bowed and walked off wordlessly.
The Chorus is comprised of volunteers, mainly non-musicians, who just want to sing. It’s a great concept and outlet for those who always wanted to sing but never felt they could. The results are pretty darn fine too with lots of variation and contrast. Several songs included choreography, although part of the fun was to watch the singers dance like no one was watching and enjoying the music flowing through them.
One small quibble – the Chorus was hard at times to clearly hear the lyrics over the backing singing. Part of it is audio mix, part of it is the dominance of lower toned voices against the sweeter ones , complicated a little by the dynamics of having hundreds of singers trying to get it exactly right timing wise.
Highlights included Marrandil by Dr G Yunupingu (in Yolngu), Lari Bazar and Mon Moulin Pas Moulin Kopra from the Seychelles, which included more drumming (and thumb piano at some point) and rhythms, with the humour of Stella Savy in her direction obvious. Geoffrey Williams’ The Boat was great as was Todo Cambia (with Sally Ford singing). Solid Rock, the Goanna classic, brought it all home with more of Tambo’s lovely didge playing, and a section in Pitjanjatjara.