This community event was a showstopper, highlighting the annual Festival of Voices. Four the first time, all four of Hobart’s state colleges combined to showcase the stunning array of talent in today’s generation of young musicians.
Claremont College was first off the ranks, and their solo vocalists delivered a soulful, emotionally charged performance of jazz, pop, and R&B. The first performer contrasted his gentle falsetto and dark, narrow vibrato which captured the audience, and was accompanied by pianist Randall Muir. The second performer showed musicality and her heartfelt expression was a gem in every moment of I Can’t Make You Love Me. The performers switched smoothly from solo to backing vocals, as band members ascended the stage to perform an original song, titled Unspoken. Their driving and boppy 90s beat made you want to get up and dance, with sneaky bass licks complementing the rhythmic guitar. They transitioned smoothly an upbeat rendition of Stevie Wonder’s I wish, evoking schoolyard nostalgia with a dash of funk.
Hobart College rose to standard and presented a glowing variety of solo performers. The first vocalist took to the stage with the well-known chart Some Kind of Wonderful, with an unforgettably sleek tone and a stark confidence. The vocalist used the stage to her advantage and held the atmosphere with her presence, her voice mingling with her backing vocalist in an interweaving call-and-response. The audience was tapping its toes by the time the second vocalist stepped up to deliver a sassy, beautifully polished version of Why Don’t You Do Right?, lending a youthful vivacity to an old jazz standard.
The next vocalist was classically trained, but on this occasion, she performed a gospel song. She projected the clear and mellow tone of an opera singer with throaty interludes, as the hall rang with her rich, soulful tone and expressivity in both her presentation as well as her voice. Following these performers were the Olinda Groove Singers, who caused the audience to swoon with a heartfelt version of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours. Sung acappella, this 80s hit was imbued with the gravity of a choral arrangement, which was then livened up with a mashup of Just the Way You Are and other hits from the movie blockbuster Pitch Perfect 2. The ensemble was confident, but the amplification failed them and the balance of voices was difficult to hear in the cavernous auditorium.
The next college to ascend the stage was Rosny, beginning with a group of singers performing Sing on Through Tomorrow. With a variety of vocals overlaid in this well-known musical number, it came together well. They engaged with the audience over their lyric books, singing with clear diction and showing a varied dynamic range. The first singer to perform solo gave a rendition of Orange-coloured Sky, bringing a sultry tone and hot, textured scat-singing evocative of Ella Fitzgerald. She showed good microphone technique, bringing it away from her lips to soar in volume.
The next performer sang Close to You, with a deep, resonating timbre to his voice and engaging the audience with expressive eye contact. He came into his own onstage, possessing the space and moving with the music. The next singer performed New York State of Mind, demonstrating an amazing vocal range from deep, rich low notes to bold, high ones that were en pointe while bringing a wild emotion to the song. She contrasted dreamy, quavering long notes with edgy, rhythmic passages and nimble melodies, closing the Rosny set with a flourish.
The Elizabeth College vocal ensemble began with an acappella arrangement of “Misty”, a classic jazz standard, well suited to the evening weather outside. They defied the crummy acoustics, accomplishing a marvellous blend among the diverse range of voices, bringing sharp contrasts through excellent diction, illustrating a wide dynamic that varied from soft pianissimo to a ringing forte. Their precision in tone colours, volume and phrasing gave the piece great shape, while the tempo rubato provided a sense of movement, evoking the feeling of being in love – the up-and-downs and melancholy it brings.
Hannah Price’s leading solo was a thumping good performance (with the music arranged by her accompanist) of One Way Ticket. The atmosphere was haunting and unbound at first with her bare vocals in a unique, straight-up tone, changing to a building, nail-biting pace with the drums, double bass and piano joining her. The ensemble pulsed with contrast, transitioning back to the husky silence and raw vocals, and returning again to a shuffling, jiving beat.
The next and final soloist from Elizabeth College was accompanied by a band, complete with a “wonderful, wonderful horn section … who are absolutely wonderful”, as the vocalist described them. This performer shone with vivacity, seeming completely comfortable onstage, and sang Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind with amazing skill and musicality, dazzling the audience with bold, big vocals. She contrasted a deep, sometimes growling tone with a gentle, husky lilt that charmed the listeners and demonstrated an exhilarating range of dynamics. Her interactions with the band and the audience sparkled as she deftly manipulated the microphone and danced to the smooth beat of the accompanying musicians, raising the roof off the hall and a roar from the audience.
The final act was a combined ensemble of all the vocalists and players in the colleges; a brainchild of Hobart College head of music Lachlan Court. Starting off with Blackbird, the huge choir delivered a bell-like, polyphonic take on the Beatles’ classic, which rang beautifully in the hall. There was the air of community, and of everyone supporting each other, as the voices melded in a rippling, diverse harmony full with dissonance and bittersweetness. The conductor played around with the chord, opening it from a tiny stillness to a loud, resonating accent, playing on repetition of the lines for emphasis. The ending chorus was warm, melancholy, and memorable as they settled down to an echoed conclusion.
The next piece was a jazzified, idiosyncratic version of “Seven Nation Army”, replete with scatting vowels and acappella tricks such as vocal slides, allowing the ensemble to explore many techniques while bringing a new aspect to the well-known song. Despite only learning the piece the day beforehand, the soloist delivered confident, soaring verses that fit together, and was on-key, with the experimental, intuitive-sounding chorus like a many-layered slice of opera cake. Both arrangements of the music were done masterfully by the conductor of the ensemble, who humbly received accolades from the Master of Ceremonies for all the work put in, saying: “It’s not me who does the hard work, it’s these guys up here doing the singing.”
All in all, the show blew my socks off. It was fantastic to see so much talent in the youth of Hobart. I am very excited for what else these murky, frosted winter nights produce in the coming weeks. This was a veritable gem of a performance that will stay with me, and hopefully one day I will be able to tell someone as a grey-haired nanny at the bus stop that I saw so-and-so sing in a choir at the Hobart City Hall, back before they were cool. #hipsternanny #choralglee #FOV