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Mission Songs Project songbook to be launched at spectacular massed choir concerts

BY Diana Wolfe | 26-Jul-2018
In an inspired collaboration between Jessie and Melbourne’s renowned Boîte Millennium Chorus, the rare secular songs that were once performed on Aboriginal missions have been arranged for choirs and will be sung by a mass choir of 200 voices at the Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 12th August at 2.30pm. Directed by Indigenous opera singer and musician, Jessica Hitchcock (Short Black Opera, Kate Miller-Heidke band) and accompanied by professional musicians, the choir will perform the incredibly moving songs of loss, love and longing that have been recently re-discovered by Jessie Lloyd in her field research, family conversations, and musical touring.
#boitemillenniumchorus #missionsongsproject
Jessie Lloyd’s acclaimed Mission Songs Project is taking a major step towards becoming an established part of the Australian folk songbook, with the launch of the Mission Songs Project Choir Songbook.

In an inspired collaboration between Jessie and Melbourne’s renowned Boîte Millennium Chorus, the rare secular songs that were once performed on Aboriginal missions have been arranged for choirs and will be sung by a mass choir of 200 voices at the Melbourne Town Hall on Sunday 12th August at 2.30pm.

Directed by Indigenous opera singer and musician, Jessica Hitchcock (Short Black Opera, Kate Miller-Heidke band) and accompanied by professional musicians, the choir will perform the incredibly moving songs of loss, love and longing that have been recently re-discovered by Jessie Lloyd in her field research, family conversations, and musical touring.

Reaching back to the early 1900s, the songs chronicle Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life on the missions to which they were removed, after being forcibly taken from their families. And although profound grief and loss lie beneath many of the songs, the lyrics, melodies and instrumentation are universally uplifting, and many are tinged with dry humour.

These unique songs consist of almost-forgotten stories that shed light into the history of our Indigenous elders, families and communities, and explore day-to-day life in the missions. They include Own Native Land, written by Jessie’s Grandfather Albie Geia, which is a plea to end his virtual slavery and have his land returned; Down In The Kitchen by Jessie’s Grandmother Alma Geia, a wry statement on the parlous state of mission food; and the famous war-time song Now Is The Hour, known also as the Maori farewell, adapted and given more spiritual lyrics on the missions.

The beautifully-illustrated 80-page songbook includes sheet music, chords, lyrics and arrangements for vocal parts in soprano, alto, tenor and bass and lead vocal, as well as the story behind each song. It promises to become a valuable resource for choir leaders, schools, musicologists, musicians and people wishing to learn more about the lives of Indigenous Australians and the songs they sang.

Boîte Director, Roger King OAM, said the Boîte was thrilled to be working with Jessie and her Mission Songs Project, and helping to share these culturally-significant songs with a wider audience.

“We’re honoured to be partnering with Jessie to produce the first Mission Songs Project Choir Songbook, and launch it through these special concerts,” he said. “We have our 200-voice adult choir performing at the Melbourne Town Hall, as well as Schools Chorus concerts in Melbourne, Ballarat and Albury; this is our most extensive concert program to date, and one that we hope will resonate with all our audiences.”

In addition to the one-off Millennium Chorus concert on August 12th, the Boîte Schools Chorus of 1,000 school children across Victoria will perform the Mission Songs at five separate concerts in Melbourne, Ballarat and Albury/Wodonga.

About the Boîte Millennium Chorus

The Boîte Millennium Chorus started in 1999 as a one-off major celebration to usher in the 2000s and highlight the work of The Boîte in bringing culturally diverse music and musicians to Australian audiences. It was so successful, and the audience response so overwhelmingly positive, that The Boîte arranged another concert the following year. Since then the choir has grown to become the most popular, anticipated and well-attended concert in The Boîte’s packed world music event calendar.

The Chorus is a major community engagement project that creates opportunities for Victorian singers and audiences of all ages to participate in a large-scale arts event. The project is socially inclusive and accessible to people of all genders, ethnicities and abilities. The regional choir program ensures that singers from across the state can learn repertoire, engage with other cultures within Melbourne's community and from across the world, as well as perform in a grand concert at a prestigious venue. It addresses the human need to participate in the arts and storytelling, celebrates Australia's cultural diversity, and supports the wealth of musical talent in our community.

The Boîte Millennium Chorus is supported by Creative Victoria.

About the Boîte Schools Chorus

The Boîte Schools Chorus is a unique non-auditioned choir project for schools and community youth choirs, and is one of the only non-competitive inter-school activities that school children can participate in. It invites students into a new world through song, builds confidence, broadens horizons and develops valuable performance and interpersonal skills. Since 2004, the Boite Schools Chorus has involved over 9200 students from across Victoria in 38 concerts in Melbourne, Frankston, Ballarat, Bairnsdale and Albury. Each year the chorus focuses on a different cultural theme, which has included Africa, Pacific Islands, Seychelles, East Timor, South America and Indigenous Australia.