Dreaming of a chorus

The Bendigo Youth Choir celebrates 30 years this year, MADDIE WINES reports.

THIRTY years ago Valerie Broad dreamed a dream.

She dreamed about a youth choir. 

A choir which encouraged its members to strive for excellence and during the process teach them about self-confidence and team work.

At the same time, she wanted the choir members to become ambassadors for Bendigo. 

She wanted the choir to be accessible to everybody, not just those who could afford it.

She wanted it to focus solely on young people and music. 

Looking back, Mrs Broad said her dream came true with the Bendigo Youth Choir. 

"I love seeing how the kids have developed," she said. 

"Some of them come in and are so shy they can hardly squeak.

"After a couple of years they are cheeking me.

"They are ordinary, everyday, self-confident young teenagers and I love to see that happen.

"Watching them develop, they (have) become such wonderful young people."

"There is a saying.

"It says, 'the fact that children can make really beautiful music is not as significant as the fact that music can make beautiful children'.

"It's a place for them to feel comfortable and to learn life skills in the most beautiful way." - Valerie Broad

"It is just so true."

During its 30 years, the choir has travelled to different parts of Australia and overseas, including Western Samoa, Canada, Prague and America, to perform.  

Mrs Broad said the choir was not just about singing in a group but had become a second family for lots of the children. 

"Kids come and it's like having a second family," she said. 

"They feel safe and they feel secure.

"They know we support them in everything they do.

"It's a place for them to feel comfortable and to learn life skills in the most beautiful way." 

She said the choir would not be where it was today without the support of many different people over the years. 

"There have been a large number of people over the years and although I am the choir's founder, it is never done on your own, it is done with the support of some wonderful people," she said. 

"One of things about the choir is that all of the people associated with it have volunteered all of their time and nobody has ever been paid.

"When you think of the years some people have put in - it's amazing.

"It has been a team effort that has brought the choir to international standard and it's due to the talents, skills and great generosity of so many people." 

One of those volunteers is choir manager Penny Goonan, who has been part of the group since it first started.

Mrs Goonan was teaching at Quarry Hill Primary School when Valerie Broad called for people interested in joining the choir. 

She said she thought it was something her students might be interested in and went along to find out more. 

After the meeting, Mrs Goonan was contacted by Mrs Broad and asked if she would like to help with the choir's management.  

Having known Mrs Broad for a number of years the school teacher accepted. 

Mrs Goonan said she had seen the choir change a great deal over the 30 years but said it continued to remain popular. 

"When we first started the choir was for children aged between eight and 18 years," she said. 

"It was a younger group because we only had one choir.

"After a little while we introduced a reserve choir, so the younger ones between the ages of eight and 12 could learn some basics because by then, the main choir had progressed with what they were doing.

"Then some of the young people really loved it, so it extended beyond the eight to 18 years of age (bracket).

"Recently we have had some kids who have got up to age 23."

Mrs Broad said she loved the sound of the choir and its 30th anniversary was a great achievement. 

"They sing really interesting works and it is really beautiful to listen to," she said.

"That is something that everyone always comments (on).

"People that go to concerts and have never heard them before are just stunned by the beauty of the sound.

"Keeping something going strong for 30 years and becoming more known is a wonderful achievement.

"Every week when I go to the (Wednesday night rehearsal), it keeps me going for the rest of the week until the next choir night." 

As part of the 30th anniversary celebrations the choir will launch the Women of War project this year. 

Project organiser Gail Godber has composed a song which the choir will perform at the ANZAC Day ceremony in Bendigo in April. 

She said the choir intended to collect stories and photos of women from the local community who worked during the war. 

Mrs Godber said the memorabilia would be displayed in the Bendigo Library from the middle of the year as a symbol of recognition.   

She said it would form a multimedia exhibition which included music by the choir.  

"These people didn't do active service as such, so there is no record of any of the contributions these women made," she said. 

"Many of them worked six to six and a half days a week and still had to raise their families, still had to keep family farms going, as well as doing the vital work men weren't there to do.

"I think the saddest thing is when the war ended they had to slip back into whatever existence they had before with no recognition.

"People probably weren't interested in their stories.

"For some it would have been a time of absolute freedom and liberation. 

"It was probably the first time some of them received money for anything."

The choir will celebrate its 30th anniversary in November. 

Visit www.facebook.com/bendigoyouthchoir for more information. 

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