You’ll remember the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games here on the Gold Coast. Katie Noonan performed with a group of local children in a show that was televised to millions of people around the world. Those children were members of the Gold Coast Choir and that performance was part of a vision of the Choir’s Director Anthony Phipps. It’s just one of many performances children aged 5 – 17 are exposed to through their involvement in the choir each year.
“When I first created the choir in 2012, my long term goal was to have the choir perform at the Games,” Anthony said. “Achieving that goal was very fulfilling. I was overwhelmed while they were performing, thinking of all the years that had led to this one moment and how all those children involved would remember this for the rest of their lives.”
“What an inspiration the choir has been for them, and what an incredible example for them to know what is possible in life if they never give up believing in themselves. That to me, is the greatest satisfaction I had from the Games, the difference I made in their lives.”
The Gold Coast Choir is a performing choir for children aged from 5 – 17. They rehearse weekly during school terms and they do not enter eisteddfods, instead focussing on public performance opportunities and seasonal performances for friends and family of choir members.
Aside from the famed Commonwealth Games performance, the Choir has performed a run of 17 shows at Warner Bros. Movie World, are regulars at Broadbeach Carols events and host their own events at Helensvale Community Centre and Mermaid Bowls Club – which is also where they rehearse.
“One of our philosophies is to put children into as many different performance settings as we can,” says Lee Murphy, the Choir’s Marketing Manager and Anthony’s 2IC.
“It gives them the opportunities to learn about actually performing,” she said. “And the more opportunities they have, the more rounded they’ll be as singers.”
The Gold Coast Choir formed in 2012 to fill a gap. Before that time there wasn’t another children’s choir on the Gold Coast. More than a hundred children were members of the choir during 2018 with 70 of those children performing as part of the Broadbeach Carols event in December.
“We never knock any children back,” said Lee. “So we never set a goal [for choir numbers] at the beginning of the year.”
“I truly think a lot of people believe music is good for the soul, and it’s something that can be enjoyed by any child or adult, at any age and any stage in their life,” she said.
And of course Anthony agrees with that sentiment. A seasoned performer (a tenor and a violinist) himself, Anthony completed a Bachelor of Music Education at the Sydney Conservatorium and is the Music Director at Broadbeach State School.
“Music teaching was something that I thought would be necessary to keep me financially stable,” he said. “Unfortunately the performing music industry is very volatile, and most full time musicians just live day to day on their income. I was really after a comfortable lifestyle where I could balance teaching and performing.”
Anthony’s approach to directing the choir is really something to witness, and I speak from personal experience, having had my son join the choir on his fifth birthday. The choir is split into six distinct groups who rehearse at different times with some overlap. Watching (and hearing) them come together during a performance is pretty special.
“I started with just three levels, but as the choir has increased in numbers, I have increased the levels accordingly,” Anthony said.
“The levels overlap too which gives each level the opportunity of being the leader or the follower. So they also learn off each other, and going up to the next level is never a fear or concern.”
“I used to get a little nervous about how it would all come together, but as time progressed I stopped worrying. I realised they always come together if I follow the simple plan of great repertoire and enough rehearsal time…. and I suppose just believing more in myself and my ability,” he said.
One of the elements that helps keep those five and six year olds engaged and excited about participating in something like a choir is Anthony’s approach to play-based learning. He says it’s something he studied at university, but not to the degree he uses it now.
“I find the more I can teach through games, the more students are learning specific concepts I set out to achieve. Making it fun removes inhibition and boredom that can be associated with rote learning.”
The Gold Coast Choir has a repertoire far beyond most other choirs, from contemporary pop and rock songs through to Broadway classics, and it’s that diversity that sets the choir apart from others. There’s also the fact that rehearsals are open to parents, that children of all ages are invited to perform solos and engage at their own level and that parents form a camaraderie around rehearsals and performances. These things really set the Gold Coast Choir apart from similar youth music projects.
Lee says the team now have their sights set on growing the number of children participating from the northern Gold Coast. With that in mind, they established a rehearsal venue at Helensvale and recruited Kirralee Scott (Miami High) to lead the northern arm of the choir.
The Gold Coast Choir rehearses on Thursday afternoons at Broadbeach and Friday afternoons at Helensvale (hours vary depending on age group). The Choir is now recruiting new members for its 2019 season, although children are welcome to join at any time through the year. Get more at goldcoastchoir.com.au.