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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

Interview with Janet Swain about Festival of the Voice

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Festival of the Voice at Brunswick Picture House & associated venues

Festival of the Voice  |  Brunswick Picture House & associated venues  | 24 May till 2 June

Hear the voice!

Brunswick Heads is hosting a unique community event running from 24 May till 2 June. Called the Festival of The Voice, it’s all about celebrating the power of the human voice. Choir director extraordinaire and singer with The Loveys, Janet Swain, is on board tickling tonsils around the Shire!

So tell me, Janet, what exactly is Festival of the Voice?

The human voice is an extraordinary instrument, and our festival explores this; we are interested in its potential to reach into the human heart. This festival will be an outrageous celebration of what those little folds can do! It is THE inaugural Festival of the Voice in our region, a collaboration between the guys at Brunswick Picture House and Janet Swain from Song Dynasty Music.

What was your inspiration?

I moved to Mullumbimby five years ago, after living and working in Singapore, and I immediately started a bunch of choirs and singing groups because that is what I do. When I went to Mullum Music Festival for the first time I was really inspired by the community engagement and the style and variety of the festival, and I remember thinking that Brunswick Heads would be a great place for a Festival of the Voice. We are using four venues in this small town – Picture House, the Memorial Hall, St Thomas Anglican Church, and Brunswick Public School. The intention was that it be quite small and contained, especially this first one. However, we all know that the Picture House doesn’t do small, and once Brett Haylock was on board it grew into what it is now. Essentially we want to inspire everyone to have a go, to explore their voice, to see and hear wonderful cutting-edge performances, and to have fun! The program is jam packed with really interesting and varied events. Our workshops are for everyone.

How have you got community involved?

It was really important to me that we involve our local singing community, including kids, and we have several concerts where heaps of people are singing – Great Big Kids Sing which will have 200 kids from six local schools, and Community Choirs Will Change the World. And of course there is The Oliver Project – our reworking of the Oliver story written and directed by Ollie Heathwood. This show involves many local children.

What seeded your love of singing and music?

I grew up in a very musical family – both my grandfathers and grandmothers were choir directors and musicians in small country towns in Victoria, and there was always some kind of singing in my life. My parents are both singers, and my brother (Andrew Swain who leads Dustyesky) and I always sang – for as long as we can both remember. I thought everyone sang! For me, singing is a lifelong exploration – of repertoire, of building technique, of trying out different sounds, of connecting with other cultures, of telling and listening to stories. The vibration from sound is also incredibly powerful and I am learning to use it in meditation and healing. I can’t imagine my life without singing!

You have kids performing Oliver for this. What’s the secret to working with kids?

We have worked the kids hard and demanded a lot from them! As my mother Elizabeth says all the time, ‘Confucius said “a lion chased me up a tree and I liked the view from the top!”’ Never underestimate what children can do when given a push!

Tell me about some of the highlights that we can expect?

We have our Gala Launch this Friday afternoon at 5pm – Welcome to Country, followed by a 20-minute performance by opera diva Emilie Le Masson – all in the Garden of Good and Evil at the Picture House. Join us to kick off the festival in a grand and gorgeous way. There will be food available, BYO champagne, and then stick around for the Cheeky Cabaret at 7pm.

Our program for this inaugural festival is varied and eclectic, from six exciting workshops to cabaret performances, community choirs, kids singing, sound yoga and meditation, and classical choral works. Shout Pray Sing (on Friday 31 May at 7pm) is an hour-long experimental show featuring many of our performers and workshop leaders in an art gallery kind of setting, with live solo and choir performance combined with lights, video, and recordings, and featuring Dustyesky and local singer Áine Tyrrell. Amulet is a show of stories and songs by a multicultural choir from Sydney. I am encouraging singers to come to world-class performer Michaela Burger’s three-hour voice workshop called Freeing the Natural Voice, and to her two incredible cabaret shows. And also, if you have never heard a choir sing fast and furious Vivaldi and Bach, I encourage you to come to the Bruns Does Baroque concert – it’ll blow your mind and quite possibly singe your eyebrows. And then there’s The Oliver Project – but you’d better book your tickets soon because it will sell out!

You can see the whole program at www.brunswickpicturehouse.com and we are on Facebook and Instagram.

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