Burnside choirs Senior Chorale and Bel Canto took out gold awards at the Big Sing National Finals last month. Both choirs were directed by Ms. Densem and battled it out amongst some of the top choirs in New Zealand. This writer was lucky enough to be one of the students sent on the trip, and I can say that it was definitely an unforgettable experience. If not for the singing, the stellar accommodation, hosting four showers per approximately twenty people, was certainly memorable.
But what is the Big Sing? People often hear about it at school without really knowing what it entails. For the non-musicians out there, it is a nationwide secondary school choir competition. Hundreds of choirs compete from all around New Zealand each year, with eighteen choirs and four guest choirs making it through to the finals. These choirs were selected from Regional competitions held earlier this year, where Burnside choirs won awards including best mixed choir, best performance of a New Zealand piece, best stage presence, and tied for best male choir and female choir. Finals took place on 29-31 August, some memorable Burnside performances included ‘A Boy and a Girl’ and ‘Ave Maria‘.
Competition was of an incredible standard this year, but Bel Canto and Senior Chorale both managed to gain Gold awards. Awards are given on a point based system, where if you reach a certain standard, you receive that respective grade. Choirs can win Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards, and one prize is awarded each year to the choir that gets 90 points or over. This year the prize went, for the fourth time, to Choralation, from Westlake Boys and Girls Schools in Auckland. There were some long faces from Burnsiders, many of whom had hoped to take out the prize again this year. Ultimately, however, it was felt that Chorolation’s prize was well-deserved, with a standing ovation given to the choir. Their repertoire included a new contemporary piece composed by David Hamilton and Tsubasa Kawamoto. Bel Canto leader Bethany Waite and co-leader Kristin Li were happy with the performances; Li said “I can’t even put into words how proud I am of everyone in the choirs… I know how much work was put in to reach the standard we are at”. Some of the comments received afterwards were especially gratifying; Senior Chorale leader Julian Chu-Tan claimed “so many people came up to me and told me how moved and touched they were by our music” and went on to say that “despite not getting platinum, I couldn’t be happier with our result. We showed the audience what the Big Sing is about. It’s about sharing our music with the world. We showed them how Burnside makes music… Not only did we get gold, we left a lasting memory and impression on everyone that heard us… I feel as though I can leave the Big Sing behind with the greatest memories”.
When not performing, students would be rehearsing, watching other recitals, or walking about town; enjoying the sights and stores of central Dunedin. The sights were often appreciated in the pouring rain and cold ─ another souvenir of Otago. Each day would consist of a number of sessions, with around five choirs performing within each. There were bitter-sweet emotions running high on the five hour bus ride back to Christchurch, with numerous year thirteen students lamenting over their last Big Sing. Senior Chorale and Bel Canto soloist Sam Dempsey said “I’m really sad that it’s my last year but I couldn’t be more proud of everything we’ve achieved in the past five years”. And indeed, Burnside has historically done very well in the Big Sing. Bel Canto and Senior Chorale (previously known as Cantabile), in all their years competing have never received a lower grade than Gold, including multiple Platinum awards for Bel Canto.
But with great results comes, understandably, great effort; Bel Canto rehearses four times a week, and Senior Chorale three. I know first-hand the pressure and huge amount of work that comes with having so many rehearsals ─ sometimes it feels like too much. But once you get to the Big Sing, you know that it was worth it.
All the effort really comes through at the Big Sing. Anxious, nervous, excited; millions of emotions fly through us back stage, but once the lights go up nothing really compares.
All the effort really comes through at the finale. Anxious, nervous, excited; millions of emotions fly through us back stage, but once the lights go up nothing really compares. When you are on the stage, the audience tells you why you train so hard. They tell you in their claps and cheers, and you feel it in your body, the love of performing and the love of singing. The adrenaline, the sound of your voice combining with those around you, and the chance to share your love of singing with the audience. That’s why we do it, and that’s why the Big Sing is always a fantastic experience.
Auditions for Senior Chorale and Bel Canto take place for seniors at the end of the year, and you can see these and other Burnside choirs at the Chorale Extravaganza, on the 24th of October.
More videos from the Big Sing can be found on http://thebigsing.wordpress.com/.