CIMF, Concert 4 / “From Little Things”. At Fitters’ Workshop, April 29. Reviewed by CASSIDY RICHENS.

PASSIONATE performances by Canberra’s Woden Valley Youth Choir, the Djinama Yilaga choir and Sydney-based vocal ensemble False Relations provided a heartfelt and unforgettable musical experience.

Resonating magnificently in the Fitters’ Workshop, long high notes and beautiful harmonies of the Woden Valley Youth Choir performing Stephen Leek’s “Kondalilla” together with the soulful sounds of William Barton on didgeridoo, created an immersive and intriguing start to the evening.

A whipbird distinct amongst sounds of wind and nature in Barton’s masterful performance of “A Little Thing”.

False Relations opened with Paul Stanhope’s “I Have Not Your Dreaming,” moving from gentle moments to percussive sounds. Their exceptional performance of Margaret Glendinning’s poem “I Hear the Songs” – a tribute to Aboriginal advocate Oodgeroo Noonuccal earning them loud applause.

Comprising Sydney Conservatorium graduates Liam Green (tenor), Austin O’Toole (tenor), Gabe Desiderio (baritone) and Archie Tulk (bass), this young group of friends were outstanding. Their blended harmonies and assured performance of expertly arranged compositions featured a high, clear falsetto voice above the melody and low harmonies from the bass, with baritone filling in the tricky stuff above and below the melody.

A contrasting solo performance of Karlin G Love “Matins & Lauds” by multi-award-winning clarinettist Oliver Shermacher encouraged us to listen and hum. We did. Also from Sydney, Shermacher’s playful figurations and multi-faceted performance on clarinet an infectious, delightful addition to the program.

Candelo musician Melanie Horsnell accompanying the choir. Photo: Peter Hislop

The mixed voices of children and adults from the Yuin community offered striking performances of songs in Dhurga language. Established in 2019 and led by renowned Walbunga/Ngarigo artist Cheryl Davison, the Djinama Yilaga choir performed eight songs throughout the evening, including “Yaway”, “Bayunga”, “Dhanga” and “Our Way”.

Two children up front, the eight-piece choir moved between unison and harmony, their performance a call to sleeping ancestors and the songlines of south coast. Candelo musician Melanie Horsnell accompanied the choir on guitar and led them in a performance of her own composition “Sugar and White Man”.

Performing under the expert direction of Olivia Swift, with accompaniment by Lucus Allerton, the Woden Valley Youth Choir performed with an exceptional level of musicianship, youthful exuberance, and true pitch. All from memory, their dynamic performances of Paul John Rudoi’s “Gamaya”, Tracy Wong’s “Jom-Ayuh-Mari!” and Alex Turley’s “Never Too Small” expressing words of concern.

William Barton, moving between didgeridoo, voice and guitar.
Photo: Peter Hislop

Accompanied on Djembe, the minimal, mantra-like vocal style of the round-based piece “Gamaya” called for peace. While, Turley’s work, commissioned by the Choir, used a single line of text from Greta Thunberg sung over and over, reminding us that we are never too small to make a difference! The ostinato rhythm of Wong’s “JAM,” sung in the composer’s Indigenous language, Malay, brought a sense of unity and a lighter tone, inviting us to leave our worries and enjoy the music making. Swift also conducted a two-choir performance of “Baba Waian,” a traditional Torres Strait Island lullaby later in the program.

Moving between didgeridoo, voice and guitar, Barton called to his ancestors in “Maranoa Lullaby,” which he sung in “Kalkadunga,” the Indigenous language spoken in the Mount Isa region. Shermacher added a haunting melodic dimension to the expressive performance.

False Relations performed wonderful renditions of Billy Joel’s “And So it Goes” and Paul Simon’s “Feeling Groovy”, before the Festival’s artistic director, Roland Peelman conducted the concert finale. Brimming with pride, he led a collaborative performance of “From Little Things Big Things Grow”, Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly’s musical tribute to Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji Strike in 1966.

More than just a choral concert; “From Little Things” was an immersive experience that celebrated the beauty and diversity of our shared home. A musical narration of connectedness, peace and reconciliation. A representation of spiritual traditions.

Feature image: Roland Peelman with the full ensemble. Photo: Peter Hislop

This review was originally written and published by CASSIDY RICHENS from CityNews on 29 April 2023.