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"Come to the Woods" - the return of Paul Holley

Some things take more effort and time than others. You start something, and something else unexpectedly shuts it down. You wonder, “Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this? And can I ever get back what I seem to have lost?”

Well, that’s pretty much how everyone in the Oriana Choir felt in March 2020, when Covid 19 brought things to a not-quite-screaming halt. We had, only a few weeks earlier, started rehearsals for “Come to the Woods”, which was to be our Season 1 concert programme. Suddenly, ‘normality’ became an elusive concept. But optimism has always been part of Oriana’s outlook on things, so the project was not cancelled; it was rescheduled to season 3, 2021, with hope that the situation would be better.

The hope was well placed. The situation is much better. The timing was spot on. The pressures of Covid necessitated putting off Season 2, but Season 3 is ‘all systems go’. And a big part of the credit for that belongs to our Seasonal Music Director, Paul Holley, whose energy, enthusiasm, and a remarkable ability to communicate his musical ideas and demands, have inspired Oriana’s choristers to really go the extra mile in preparing this marvellous programme of American music.

This season is Paul’s second encounter with the Oriana Choir – well, the third, if you count last year’s prematurely ended attempt. Way back in 2009 when Oriana was still a relatively new kid-on-the-choral-block, Paul was our conductor and music director for a season called “Haydn Seek”. He was able to balance the demands of working with his beloved Birralee Blokes, and rehearsing and conducting Oriana, and he did a superb job. I was fortunate to be a member of Oriana by then, and I remember it being a very enjoyable, and educational time. The repertoire was an intriguing mix of music as diverse as Haydn, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Mendelssohn, Robert Burns and others.

It’s an unqualified joy to have Paul back for “Come to the Woods”. His approach to teaching, rehearsing, conducting, and communicating what he wants from his singers is demanding, yet friendly and accepting. This extract from his biographical entry on Oriana’s website sums it up:

“His personal warmth and passion for choral music have inspired many singers to discover and develop their skills and achieve personal fulfilment as choral musicians. With over 25 years of teaching experience in secondary schools and many years of working with adult community choirs, Paul knows how to connect with singers of all ages and enjoys collaborating with them in the music making process. “

The music for “Come to the Woods” is a wonderful potpourri of songs from American composers covering a century of music-making. There are show-tunes, spirituals, art songs, folk songs and more. You will find yourself running the gamut of emotions. You wouldn’t think that such an eclectic mix would hang together as well as it does, but it does.

The centre piece is the title song of the programme, “Come to the Woods”. A simply amazing work. It is a choral tone-poem, telling the story of a day’s visit to the woods, running through several changes of mood and atmosphere, and it is truly wonderful to hear, and to sing. One of the most demanding pieces that Oriana has tackled in its sixteen year career, it’s been a challenging but oh-so-rewarding exercise for the choir. And we have Paul Holley’s inspiration, encouragement and guidance to thank for what we’ve achieved.

As I said at the start, some things take more time and effort than others. But I can honestly say that “Come to the Woods” has been worth all the time, and all the effort it has taken to bring it to fruition. A big ‘thank you’ to Paul, for getting us there.

You can look forward to a very special musical experience. Secure your seats now by clicking on the link below.

Ian Rix, Oct 2021


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