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 12 August 2018.
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 Sunday 12 August, the Boîte Schools Chorus of 1,000 school children across Victoria will perform the Mission Songs in separate concerts in Ballarat (1 September); St Kilda (2 September) and Albury (12 September).
Boîte Millennium Chorus: Mission Songs Project
Melbourne Town Hall, Swanston Street, Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 12 August 2018 – 2.30pm
For more information, visit: www.boite.com.au for details.
Image: Boite Millennium Chorus 2017 – photo by Paul McVitty