Community choir moves into Docklands

Community choir moves into Docklands

By Jess Carrascalao Heard

Community singing group THECHO!R, led by award-winning choral conductor Jonathon Welch, is welcoming new members as it starts back at rehearsal in its new home at Community Hub at The Dock.

Each Wednesday night, sounds of pop music, theatre tunes, folk songs and new works sung with gusto float across the harbour from the first floor of the hub, with the balcony door left open to keep rehearsals COVID-safe.

Mr Welch, who is also THECHO!R’s Artistic Director, said though their old home at Brenan Hall at St. Vincent’s Hospital held many memories for the group, they were excited to move into the area.

“This is such a beautiful, fresh, inspiring space for us to start this new journey coming out of COVID,” he said.

Members of the non-auditioned choir travel far and wide to be involved in the group which caters to all levels of musical skills, from beginner singers to those who are adept at reading and interpreting music.

The closest attending members live in the nearby towers in Docklands. Others, like Tineke Westwood, travel for hours to be involved.

Every week, Ms Westwood makes the journey to and from Traralgon. It’s time she feels is well spent have the chance to sing in what she describes as a “judgement-free zone”.

“That’s what’s so beautiful. When we are here and we rehearse, we’re all the same. So, we’re all concentrating on the music, the words and everything. So, there is no difference,” she said.

Docklands local Viv Walker became a member of THECHO!R after being encouraged to join when she met Mr Welch in Wagga Wagga, where she lived until 2018.

Mr Welch had visited the New South Wales town to lead a massed choir event, and Ms Walker, who at that time would soon be moving to Melbourne, plucked up the courage to ask him if he could recommend a choir.

“He said, ‘I can! THECHO!R … look us up, let me know when you get here.’ And I’ve been here ever since,” she said

For Ms Walker, as well as the sense that she’s spending her time with like-minded people, one of the key highlights of attending choir is the boost in her singing skills.

“Each week it’s not just a rehearsal. It’s a full-on singing lesson. So, Jonathon works a lot on technique, which is fabulous,” she said.

In leading the choir, Mr Welch said his philosophy is that competence builds confidence.

“Whatever it is that you focus on, that’s where your attention goes, and the energy that comes back to you from that focus can help in so many other parts of your life,” he said.

As a trained opera singer, Mr Welch feels that his vocal skills are what he brings to the table, and though rehearsals are a fun, light-hearted and enjoyable experience for the group, he is also meticulous in imparting his technical knowledge.

He sees his position as both a professional musician and a community choir director as an opportunity to help bridge the gap between the two musical spheres.

As such, he has also organised workshops and performances for the choir with other acclaimed singers and performers including Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham and singer-songwriter and comedian Eddie Perfect, and contralto Liane Keegan.

Mr Welch established THECHO!R in 2009, not long after another group he leads for those experiencing disadvantage and homelessness, the Choir of Hard Knocks, shot to fame when they featured on a documentary series on the ABC.

Mr Welch continues to work with the Choir of Hard Knocks today, but a couple of years after they were established he said felt inspired to start a separate group which encompassed the broader community. He encouraged members of the community to come and have a sing, with no auditions and free tryout sessions to “try before you buy” •

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