F-HEAL-good faith

Songs of Hope and Healing

QPAC, Concert Hall

March 27

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“Songs of Hope and Healing” is an event… not just because of the range of ages within audience, but its collaboration of more than 400 artists in presentation of a smorgasbord celebration of stories and songs in concert fundraiser for the HEAL Foundation, which promotes arts education for young refugees. The joy of the benefit concert is immediately infectious, both through loveable, charismatic emcee Sharon Orapaleng and the melodic opener ‘We are the Future’ and following ‘I Sing Because I am Happy’ from the QPAC Choir.

And so the tone is set for an Act One journey through tranquil numbers from Brisbane’s Voices of Birralee youth arts organisation to a bounce along with The Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University Brass Ensemble. Eclecticism features in Act Two as well, which opens to ‘Tribal Beat Sound System’ and a Bach/Zepplin mashup from contemporary percussion ensemble, Percussimo before progressing through an array of musical numbers.

As is noted in introduction to audience favourite a rousing Boxties-led celtic number ‘Mo Chile Mear’ (My Gallant Darling), to sing is a small act but almost a universal one and to share in the joy of artists united in celebration of our common humanity is not only a rich experience but a supremely moving one, cemented by the words of HEAL Chairperson Adele Rice AM, reminding of how much poorer we would without the richness of the contribution of refugees that have been welcomed to this country.

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Affable headliner Isaiah Firebrace of X-Factor and Eurovision fame does not disappoint, especially when he closes Act One with his original song ‘Don’t Come Easy’ which suits his rich and mature voice. Indeed, not only do his smooth vocals shine through the high-energy track, accompanied by backing vocalists from the Aboriginal Centre for The Performing Arts, but they build beautifully with the instrumentation of Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra Camerata.

Certainly, “Songs of Hope and Healing” is a logistically ambitious undertaking, but it is an ambition realised for an important purpose. From the sounds of one of country’s finest concert musicians, Vietnamese-born Australian pianist Hoang Pham, to the quirky and energetic African song sounds of Tichawona Mashawa and Tibetan Tenzin Choegyal’s ‘Snow Lion’ about living fearlessly in times of upheaval and awakening your inner strength to face the challenges of life to see its infinite possibilities (which is an absolute highlight), the one-night-only event really is ‘FHEAL-good’ entertainment, especially knowing that so many of the performers have their own refugee stories. Its billing as a special benefit concert is true on many levels given the faith it inspires around ideas of courage and hope.

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Swedish celebrations

Thank You for the Music – an ABBA Celebration (QPAC Choir)

QPAC, Concert Hall

June 6

If ABBA ever was to reform, (and chance are “absolutely zero” according to Bjorn Ulvaeus) down under would be top of the list on their comeback trail. Australia was, as it seems, the first country that took ABBA to heart. And evidently, the love affair still lingers, forty years after the ‘70s super pop group first toured the country, visiting every state capital except Brisbane… well, at least for those in attendance at the QPAC Choir’s annual showcase ‘Thank You for the Music – an Abba Celebration” trip down memory lane to mark the anniversary of that landmark live concert tour.

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QAPC choirmaster and super ABBA freak Timothy Sherlock not only looks the part in bedazzled jacket, but conveys an infectious energy. And the 140-voice QPAC choir more than rises to the occasion, responding to the crowd’s ‘We Want ABBA’ introduction chants and glowstick punctuation with performance of a selection of some of the most popular ABBA songs, as part of the Queensland Cabaret Festival. Indeed, this is a show full of familiar tunes, each remembered as favourite until the next number in the setlist starts playing. And seeing the audience’s collective reactions upon recognition of each starting medley makes for a night of many shared joys.

‘Mamma Mia’ kicks off the first medley, featuring also ‘SOS’ and ‘Waterloo’, but there are lesser known numbers showcased too. In each instance the choir’s voices harmonise beautifully, creating a melodic ‘Super Trouper’ and an absolutely heavenly ‘Chiquitita’ in recognition of its significance as one of the most famous charity songs ever. They are most wonderful, however, when on show in stripped back numbers such as the QPAC Chamber Choir’s rich harmonic vocals in an acapella arrangement of ‘One of Us’.

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Appropriately, the eight-piece live band is also given its chance to sign, particularly in the instrumental ‘Intermezzo No. 1’ from ABBA’s self-title third album (the first of only two songs by the group not to contain lyrics). The orchestral rock tune is a perfect selection given its piano and guitar-led instrumentals and accompanist Tina Liu and guitarist Toby Wren are particularly excellent in share of its flamboyant sounds.

And if that is not enough fun, there is show on screen of the corresponding album covers as complement to its set list, which are entertaining in themselves for the fashion alone. And there are clips too, from the 1977 documentary film “ABBA: The Movie” about the pop group’s Australian tour, commercials featuring ABBA, including for the Japanese electronics manufacturer National (now Panasonic) and interesting titbits of information and trivia shared by Sherlock in emcee mode.

Special guests for the evening include 3rd year students from the Bachelor of Musical Theatre course at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University who begin with boisterous share of the title track from 1979’s disco album, ‘Voulez Vous’, providing the first of many opportunities for an audience clap along to the energetic but quite lengthy number. In absolute contrast one of this year’s graduating students Georgia Bolton presents a soaring ballad refection on the end of a romance in ‘The Winner Takes It All’, which was written by ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus after separating from wife and fellow band member, Agnetha Fältskog.

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“Thank You for the Music – an ABBA Celebration” is indeed a celebration of the band’s extensive, diverse catalogue of music, offering audience members the chance to sing and sway along (because it is difficult not to move in time to tuneful numbers like the hugely popular ‘Fernando’). The music has a timeless appeal and when the evening ends with the ‘Dancing Queen’ audience on their feet dancing, jiving and having the time of their lives, it is on the highest of highs. This QPAC Choir event captures the timeless magic and excitement of one of the world’s most successful and entertaining live bands and like someone in the Supertrooper’s sights, as one of its audience members, you will be surely be smiling and having fun.

Photos c/o – Darren Thomas

Musical memories

30 Years of Musicals (QPAC Choir)

QPAC, Concert Hall

June 24

Since its first musical production of “The Pirates of Penzance” in its opening year, 1985, QPAC has hosted 134 productions of 57 different musicals, making the QPAC Choir’s 30 Years of Musical special tribute concert a terrific trip into the musical past in rendition of many much loved show tunes. Thanks to the handy program list, I could quickly calculate that I had seen almost 50 of the shows listed, over 30 of them as QPAC productions. Not bad given that I’ve only been a Brisvegan for less than half of this time. Regardless of one’s musical experience, however, it is easy to appreciate the concert’s setlist of solo songs and melodies, as tune after recognisable tune fills the Concert Hall during The QPAC Choir’s showcase concert for 2015.

The catalogue takes audiences through a selection of iconic songs from a range of major musicals, including “Chicago”, “West Side Story”, “Mamma Mia” and more. With Tina Liu as accompanist and musicians from the Queensland Youth Orchestra, audiences are treated to an assortment of arrangements. The Rogers and Hammerstein medley that serves as one of the show’s opening numbers certainly shows this, in its inclusion of songs from “Oaklahoma” and “The Sound of Music”, and even a playful ‘Nothing like a Dame’ from “South Pacific” which allows the smaller male contingent of the choir a particular chance to shine.

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Joining the QPAC Choir are talented third year music theatre students guest artists from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, who, accompanied by the Head of the music course, Paul Sabey, add a change of pace thanks to (amongst others) a soaring duet of ‘All I Ask of You’ from “The Phantom of the Opera” (QPAC’s longest running musical in 1996/7) from Hayley Maybury and Oliver Samson,,a peppy ‘Popular’ from “Wicked”,  by Emily Monsma and a melodic Andrew Lloyd Webber tribute.

The real star, however, is choirmaster Tim Sherlock, whose swaggery moves during the end of show “Jersey Boys” medley sum up the show’s infectious energy. Indeed, although the large choir is made up of singers of various ages and performance experience, it is clear that everyone of stage is having a joyous time and with toe tapping medleys such as that from “My Fair Lady”, they are not the only ones.

Accompanied as its sounds are by projection screen display of scenes from the theatre and movie productions of the shows being highlighted, “30 Years of Musicals” offers a wonderful trip down musical memory lane. It is also a very fitting focus as part of the centre’s 30th celebratory program, given that 40% of the venue’s patrons visit to see a musical. And with “Anything Goes”, “Strictly Ballroom”, “Les Misérables”, “Cats” and “The Sound of Music” all selling tickets now for their upcoming seasons, it is a trend that thankfully seems set to continue.