By Stephanie Eslake, TSO News 2022
Beethoven’s Ninth is one of the best-recognised choral works: its lively ‘Ode to Joy’ still feels charged with inspiration despite having been composed two centuries ago. It was a fittingly bold work for the TSO Chorus to present earlier this year – the first time in 25 months these talented volunteer singers could perform on the Federation Concert Hall stage, COVID restrictions finally permitting. TSO Chorusmaster June Tyzack recalls how it felt “liberating and uplifting”, marking a triumphant return for the talented artists she leads. Unstoppable after this resounding comeback, the TSO Chorus performed another epic – Mozart Requiem – in November.
“Singing from memory in both these works gave choristers greater capacity to connect with and respond to every gesture of the conductor, and to deliver a message directly to the audience,” June reflects. Throughout the year, these choristers also sang in the atmospheric TSO Obscura series in May alongside didgeridoo player William Barton; they performed Britten’s War Requiem with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra Chorus in August. Their contribution to choral music in Australia is substantial, and now they are preparing to open their studio doors, and invite the audience into the music for an event even greater in scope than their impressive string of recent concerts.
In 2023, the TSO Chorus will welcome the public into Voices en Masse – an epic-scale performance of Brahms’ A German Requiem. It will feature hundreds of choristers from across Australia including members of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and West Australian Symphony Orchestra Chorus; soprano Eleanor Lyons and baritone Simon Meadows will feature as soloists. Any member of the public can venture into the Federation Concert Hall to sing along with them.
“I think singing is for everyone, and singing in a choir is an experience like no other,” June says. She prepares to navigate this huge project that balances internationally acclaimed professionals with beginners still finding their voice. She adds: “The experience of these choristers will guide the novice, and elevate the community chorister.”
It’s the first concert of its kind for the TSO. The big event takes place on 5 February, but the practice begins earlier. Singers can start their own private practice from their homes (or the park, or the beach) before two formal rehearsals on 3 and 4 February. There’ll also be two preparatory rehearsals on 31 January and 2 February in the TSO Studio for those wishing to fully immerse themselves in the experience of being a chorister.
It will be all-encompassing to participants and audience members alike as the Federation Concert Hall will be configured to allow singers to perform from the stalls.
While there will be highly experienced performers on stage, no level of experience is actually necessary for anyone keen to get involved. Instead, there will be links to learning tools for those who register. A general ability to follow along with the music score will be helpful to participants, and the score provided will come with expression markings from conductor Simon Halsey – the guest maestro in residence who June says “is passionate about engaging with the community and letting everyone experience choral music”.
“He is dynamic, energetic, charismatic, funny, and has inspired masses of amateur choristers to sing iconic choral works with professional orchestras and soloists around the world.
“Backed by experience and research, with anecdotes and good-natured banter, time flies in Simon’s rehearsals.”
Simon is an English conductor who specialises in choral music, having received his education at the Royal College of Music. As a director, he has worked with the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, BBC Proms Youth Choir, and London Symphony Chorus. And as a chorister, he has sung in the King’s College, Cambridge and New College, Oxford choirs.
Perhaps it’s starting to sound a little intimidating to the community chorister. But June has some passionate words to say about that.
“To some, a choral-orchestral concert may seem to be high-brow and elitist. And whilst not all repertoire is for all people, music is certainly common to all – as is the voice,” she states.
“By choosing [music] appropriately, inviting the community into our workplace to witness what we do – not just as an observer, but as a participant – can be life-changing.
“Having access to the state’s most accomplished musicians – and the voices of an auditioned choir – can be an experience that radiates out, inspiring their less-formal groups, school music programs, and therapy groups, where music and singing play significant roles in mental health programs, to name just a few outcomes.”
TSO Chorus Coordinator Nadeena Beck echoes these sentiments and believes music provides a range of benefits to those who engage – “physical, mental, cognitive, and social benefits”.
The University of Oxford has published research to this effect, highlighting the way group singing “helps forge social bonds…exercises the brain as well as the body…has shown to be effective in pain relief…can play a role in sustaining a healthy immune system”.
Nadeena adds: “To be immersed in hundreds of voices singing in harmony is a powerfully emotional and exhilarating experience in itself! It will definitely send shivers up your spine.”
(That sensation is called frisson – and if it happens to you, you might have a special brain.)
“The opportunity to sing with a professional orchestra, incredibly experienced singers, and conducted by the best choral director in the world is a fantastic opportunity,” Nadeena says.
If you’re already feeling excited to throw your voice with the TSO Chorus, another event is coming up soon – and you might already know some of the songs.
Christmas with the TSO is a festive carol-singing event happening on December 10. It’s an unofficial singalong, so you’re not invited to the rehearsals like you will be for Voices en Masse, but you’re certainly welcome to bring your whole family and enjoy the Christmas cheer.
For the TSO Chorus, it’ll be work (albeit fun work). June says they’ll be getting ready for “many hilarious moments and thoughts about the summer holidays – despite bleak winters and snow-infused lyrics – to lighten and colour these end-of-year rehearsals”.
Bring your family and take part in some light carol singing in the Federation Concert Hall when you watch the TSO Chorus and orchestra perform Christmas with the TSO, 7.30pm December 10.