Festival celebrates positive power of music-making

Published 04 July 2008

choir.jpgA five-day festival in Sydney next week will celebrate the power of music to foster social relationships, enhance personal wellbeing, and promote creative expression.

The festival will bring together 65 people from NSW, Victoria and Queensland for four days of choral workshops with a prominent conductor from the United States, followed by a free public concert on the fifth day. All the participants are over the age of 60.

The second biennial Australian National Seniors’ Choral Festival will begin on Tuesday 8 July and conclude with the concert – at 2 pm in the Verbruggen Hall of the Conservatorium of Music – on Saturday 12 July. The festival is a joint project of the University of New England (UNE), the University of Sydney, and the Conservatorium High School, Sydney. Its Patron is the internationally renowned Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe.

Dr Terrence Hays, the Artistic Director of the festival, is a musician and music educator who has conducted research – both in Australia and abroad – on the benefits of music-making for individual and community health. Dr Hays, who lectures in Creative Arts in UNE’s School of Education, said the aim of the festival was to celebrate the passionate engagement of many older people with music, and promote the benefits of such an engagement. “Music-making is more than just playing or singing the notes on the page,” he said. “It’s about health and wellbeing and providing opportunities for people to express themselves artistically. The meaning we derive from music is not necessarily associated with a formal knowledge of music practice, theory or history, but rather through our own life experience.”

The festival’s Principal Conductor is Heather Buchanan, Director of Choral Activities at Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, New Jersey, and the accompanist is the distinguished Australian music educator Wendy Huddleston. The Sydney-based coloratura soprano Erika Simons will perform as soloist with the choir in a program that will include choruses from works by Mendelssohn, Mozart and Vivaldi, choral anthems, folk songs and spirituals.

Dr Hays said that participants in the inaugural Australian National Seniors’ Choral Festival in 2006 had found it had enhanced both their sense of wellbeing and their appreciation of music. “They felt a sense of achievement in learning new skills, and experienced the joy of artistic self-expression,” he said. “The festival provided fresh insights into the possibilities of ‘positive ageing’ for everyone involved.”

People seeking last-minute enrolment as participants in the festival should contact Dr Hays on 0410 562 452.

The Web site of the Australian National Seniors’ Choral Festival can be accessed by clicking on the choir image (taken at the inaugural festival in 2006) displayed here.