When the seed was planted for a ground-breaking collaboration between the Vienna Boys Choir and the Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir (GICC), it was clear that this project could provide remarkable opportunities to all those involved, juxtaposing a choir whose choral heritage dates back several hundred years with a group who represent a culture tens of thousands of years old. The final part project evolved to include the world-class Sydney Children’s Choir in the performance of Songs Of My Country in Sydney and Cairns, truly a showcase of a remarkable trilogy of choirs.
We were thrilled that more than 5,000 people attended Songs of My Country in October to be mesmerised by the Vienna Boys’ Choir, the Sydney Children’s Choir and Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir. In Cairns, they were also joined by over 200 local singers who formed the Cairns Songfest choir especially for this performance.
The concerts were a culmination of a year-long collaboration between the choirs, which began with the visit of the Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir to Vienna in May. The CGICC singers joined the Vienna Boys’ Choir at Palais Augarten, the historic palace where the choristers live and rehearse. After teaching the boys a few GICC favorites, the choirs performed together at MuTh (short for Musik & Theater) concert hall in Vienna. As Artistic Director Lyn Williams recalls,
I will never forget the moment I announced to the choir that we would be travelling to Europe to sing with the Vienna Boys Choir. A moment of awestruck silence was followed by intense googling; Vienna Boys Choir, Vienna, Austria, boys, passports, winter coats … our world was about to change!
The Sydney and Cairns concerts featured the world premiere of Boori Guman, a new work commissioned for the project that was made possible by a grant from Arts Queensland and the Cairns Regional Council. The work was written by Australian composer Owen Elsley in collaboration with Gimuy Walubara Yidinji elder Gudju Gudju and tells a traditional story from the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji people of the Cairns region of the Rainbow Serpent and the first fire.
The compositional process began in March with Owen and Gudju Gudju joining Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir at their annual music intensive camp – read Owen’s Composer Notes here. In an important part of the cultural collaboration between choirs, the CGICC and the Vienna Boys Choir visited Crystal Cascades and Copperlode Dam. These sites are integral to the story of Boori Guman. Here Gudju Gudju told his stories, which were also performed by Yidinji dancers. Everyone shared a spectacular meal of traditional foods and participated in a smoking ceremony around the fire.
Gondwana Choirs has also produced a children’s book of the Boori Guman story, featuring text from Gudju Gudju and beautiful illustrations from the Cairns GICC choristers. The vibrant images bring to life the Rainbow Serpent and the three warriors who attempt to steal his fire – Judulu the pigeon, Jinjarlum the grasshopper and Bajin the little bird.
The project encompassed all that Gondwana Choirs lives and breathes: learning music by living Australian composers; introducing audiences to traditional songs from the Torres Strait; commissioning new work; international collaborations; and, performing to high standards set by Artistic Director Lyn Williams.
A project involving three choirs in multiple locations on two continents is a considerable undertaking. Firstly, thanks to Creative Partnerships Australia, whose Fund Matching Grant enabled Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir to get to Europe through a successful fundraising campaign. Thanks to the Vienna Boys’ Choir for being such enthusiastic collaborators in this exploration of song and culture, and to the Austrian National Tourist Office for their partnership throughout this entire venture. Sincere thanks as well to the corporate partners and individual donors who supported the many different parts of this project. Without you, this ambitious project would not have proceeded and reached 6000 audience members in five cities in four countries.