River City Voices is a not-for-profit auditioned “symphonic” style choir based in Parramatta, western Sydney. They will perform large scale classical and contemporary choral works under the artistic direction of Sarah Penicka-Smith. Aiming to become integral and permanent players in the diverse musical landscape of western Sydney through exemplary choral performances that reflect, engage and inspire the community.
We love hearing about new projects, especially ones that are adding to cultural vibrancy outside of our capital CBD’s and enabling audiences to go to performances close to home.
Q&A with their General Manager Inara Molinari
classikON: You’re starting next year with a Come and Sing in May. Bel a cappella did one recently and Pepe wrote about how it was a fabulous experience, tell us what you have planned for your Come and Sing.
Inara: In the words of our Artistic Director, Sarah Penicka-Smith, “We’re hoping to start with a bang – literally – Carl Orff’s famous ‘Carmina Burana’, music which even people who don’t yet know they love classical music will recognise.” Carmina was the first CD my son wanted to buy when he was young even though he was hardly a classical music buff! He just loved the spine-tingling opener “O fortuna!” As a brand new choir with no established public profile, we felt it was important to choose a work that people would get excited about singing and listening to, and from the first dramatic percussive notes announce to western Sydney, “We’re here to stay”!
“Come and Sing events give singers who don’t have the chance to rehearse with our choir regularly, whose choirs are too small to perform a major work, or who want to stretch themselves, an opportunity to mix with singers from different places, and to make new friends and serious music at the same time.” (Sarah)
Building partnerships through collaborative performances is a fundamental goal of our new choir. For Carmina, we’ve teamed up with Our Lady of Mercy College’s Music Academy. Based in the heart of Parramatta, the school has an ambitious music program, and staff was keen to be part of this project. Their chorale will join as part of the children’s chorus, as well as some of their percussion students, providing students the chance to learn from professional musicians and perform in a major work for their parents. Sydney Philharmonia Choirs who are on our Advisory Committee, have generously agreed to lend us their scores, and we hope to attract some of western Sydney’s finest soloists and musicians to join us. So if you’re reading this, drop us a line!
The “Come and Sing” workshop on the 4/5 May will be intense but fun.
Our choristers, who will have been rehearsing from February, will lead the non-auditioned members of the public who will join for the weekend. Music will provided in advance to the registrants so they can brush up on their notes before the weekend. Sarah’s a very skilled conductor and has a lot of experience with extracting the maximum performance potential from singers in a very short space of time. So we expect it’s going to be an amazing performance. But ultimately, the Come and Sing is a celebration of the choir’s beginning, one that we’re sharing with the wider community right from the get-go.
classikON: In August, there is Cumberland Gets Anime-ted, in collaboration with the Sydney Cherry Blossom Festival, Auburn Botanic Gardens and Cumberland Council. Tell us more about what you have planned for your second project?
Inara: This project really is one of those unique instances where everything just fortuitously came together. I’ve been somewhat of an “activist” in my local community for the past few years and more recently was appointed to the newly merged Cumberland Council’s Arts Advisory Committee. Through working closely with various cultural and arts organisations who are presenting really, innovative, engaging and relevant work, I also became aware of the lack of major cultural infrastructure in Parramatta, Sydney’s second CBD, and larger scale music organisations. This was in fact a big impetus for setting up River City Voices.
The Sydney Cherry Blossom Festival, is an event run by Cumberland Council that is growing bigger every year and attracts nearly 90,000 people from across Sydney over two weekends. So of course, when thinking about places for the choir to perform, I immediately thought of this festival. What I didn’t realise was that Sarah is a mad anime fan and that another member of our Advisory Committee, composer and music lecturer Dr Paul Smith from the Parramatta campus of University of New England, wrote his doctoral thesis on exploring music, composition, and the aesthetic forms of Japan, specifically anime and manga! And with council’s now talking about “animating precincts”, we just had to get Cumberland Anime-ted!
Paul and Sarah have selected the most suitable pieces and Paul will re-arrange them specifically for massed mixed choir. We think it will be a first for western Sydney if not Sydney! Performances will take place over the two weekends of the festival at the end of August next year. Without giving too much away, we’ll be teaming up with the Japan Foundation, Japanese performance artists and there’ll be interaction with the audience and particpation. And if your readers haven’t listened to anime/manga film and game scores, I think they’d be quite surprised how well they lend themselves to a large symphonic choir. We’re really hoping to shake up the festival and particularly tweek the interest of locals, particularly youth. The Cumberland Youth Strategy 2017-2021 identified that 20% of Cumberland LGA residents are aged between 12 and 25, 41% are born overseas, and more than 50% enjoy community festivals. Recognising this, we thought the festival a perfect vehicle to palpably share with young people that classical singing is accessible, and really just another art form they can enjoy in addition to what they already love.
And it’s important to note that Cumberland Gets Anime-ted is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW. Securing this grant gave us the green light not only for the project but to forge ahead with establishing River City Voices.
classikON: Before you get to these, you need a choir! What will it be like to be a member of River City Voices?
Inara: Coming from a preventative health background as well as music performance background, it’s fundamentally important to me that members of this choir feel a sense of belonging, camaraderie and purpose. The physical and mental benefits that come from making music and sharing that with a cohesive group of like-minded people are well documented. Right from the start, Sarah and I, along with support from our fledgling Board and Advisory Committee have been working to build into the organisation an ethos and culture that places our members’ well-being at the heart of what we do.
On a practical level, our choristers will be required to rehearse weekly and meet any challenge we throw at them, and in turn we’ll provide a friendly, fun and supportive learning environment with training from music practitioners who excel in their field. Did you know that Sarah was recently accepted into the prestigious Dallas Opera Hart Institute residency program for Women conductors in October/November – one of six from a field of international candidates!
From February next year, we’ll be rehearsing at the Granville Town Hall every Thursday. It’s an historic building in a prominent position in the town centre. We’ll be opening up the doors and welcoming residents to pop in and listen from its quaint viewing gallery, and I’m hoping our presence creates a bit of a buzz on Thursday nights. Granville has a really thriving restaurant scene now and I’d love to see choristers meeting beforehand for dinner or having a drink at the pub or one of the many Lebanese coffee shops afterwards, and really becoming a valued and anticipated part of the local community.
Performance-wise, our goal is to plan programs that provide an opportunity to regularly perform large-scale classical and contemporary choral works as well as more unique regionally relevant programs in a variety of different venues across western Sydney – we’re already in discussion for events in 2020! However, we can lay the foundations, but without choristers, frankly there is no River City Voices!
Are you passionate about singing, or currently sing in a community choir or musical society and want to expand your repertoire, or have professional singing ambitions? Then, read on about how you can become part of River City Voices.
Chorister Auditions – Bookings open NOW!
When: 23 Oct at 18:30 – 25 Oct at 21:30
Where: Studio 404, 404 Church St, Parramatta, New South Wales 2150
Book an audition time on the River City Voices website >>>