15 February 2024

CSO seeking voices to strike the right note at Llewellyn Hall

| Dione David
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Singers in a choir

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) choir is auditioning for more singers. Photo: Martin Ollman.

How do you get to Llewellyn Hall? Most can simply take a right at the roundabout off Childers Street, but for the select few, it boils down to one thing: practice.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is calling members of the public to audition to sing in the CSO chorus. Voices are needed for two special events: Messiah on Friday, 21 June, and Saturday, 22 June, conducted by Brett Weymark, and Beethoven 9 on Wednesday, 7 August, and Thursday, 8 August, conducted by Jessica Cottis.

The only requirements for the voluntary opportunity are that you can sing and read music. Though current choristers and those with experience will have an edge, there are other qualities renowned chorus master Tobias Cole will look for.

“I want to see that there is the right attitude, showing that a singer is ready to go to new places,” he says.

“Other than that, it’s practice and preparation: learn the music, listen to it, sing it over and over, give yourself a chance – because there’s going to be some work ahead.”

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Tobias will run rehearsals leading up to the performances in Llewellyn Hall alongside celebrated guest soloists and the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.

He says Messiah is probably the most famous concert piece for choruses and covers the gamut of emotions.

“What’s more, it’s clear it covers those emotions. The singer understands it, the listeners understand it and it’s in English,” he says.

“The libretto (texts) were selected from the Book of Common Prayer in The Bible by renowned patron of the arts Charles Jennens. He was on a mission.

“As science was beginning to flex its muscles of enlightenment, he could feel in the world there was a pull away from the mysticism and the magic of religion. He was able to find texts which, when given to the composer Handel, could illuminate that magic.

“There’s surprise, incredible joy and transcendence. There’s deep sadness and despair, and there’s incredible hope and optimism.”

Tobias Cole

CSO Chorus Master Tobias Cole says performing in a choir can be a “transcendent” experience. Photo: Michele Mossop.

CSO CEO Rachel Thomas says having members of the Canberra community join CSO musicians on stage is as exciting for the orchestra as it is for the amateur singers chosen to perform – often for the first time – in front of a fully engaged audience.

“The CSO is Canberra’s orchestra. As well as staging amazing musical events such as these two hugely popular specials and our collaboration with the Hoodoo Gurus at next month’s Symphony in the Park, we’re delivering transformative community programs that enable all Canberrans, regardless of background or socio-economic status, to enjoy the benefits of music,” she says.

“Inviting talented singers from our community to join the CSO choir is a lovely way to deepen our local connections.”

Black and white picture of Canberra Symphony Orchestra CEO Rachel Thomas

CSO CEO Rachel Thomas says the volunteer opportunity could deepen the orchestra’s connection with the community. Photo: Martin Ollman.

Tobias says performing in the chorus in a major production brings immense rewards.

“You enter a world with its own architecture and its own emotions then dominate your life, especially in that week leading up to performances and for many weeks after,” Tobias says.

“It’s only achieved in the company of others, with all the connections you’re making with other people, with the music itself, with your voice and body and with the words. In that moment you’re physically living those words because you have to articulate them with your whole body, your breathing and your muscles. It can be transformative.”

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Tobias says for anyone who has experienced the joy of choral singing, performing with the CSO Choir is an opportunity to recapture the magic before too many years pass and the wonders of choral singing fade from memory.

“The overwhelming response is that it’s one of the most thrilling experiences of their lives,” he says.

“That’s something that’s kind of forgotten in that lull between performances, but when you’re in it, you know, this is the stuff of lifelong highlights.

“I try to face forward during performances, but I remember during one performance, I just had to look at the choir. I glanced at one particular singer who was living in that moment and said everything that had to be said about that piece, and it shot through me, this overwhelming emotion – this is what it’s about. It’s capturing a universe in one note.”

CSO Chorus auditions will occur on Saturday, 2 March, from 10 am to 5 pm in the Peter Karmel Building at the ANU School of Music. Applicants will be allocated a 10-minute timeslot and are asked to prepare their vocal part (soprano, alto, tenor, or bass) for all relevant audition excerpts from the production/s they are available for in English or German.

The excerpts and the rehearsal and performance schedules are in the audition pack.

For more information, visit the CSO.

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