St Monica’s College, Cairns – June 15, 2012

Our visits to Cairns are getting bigger and bigger. With a new school being added for each visit, we certainly feel we are becoming part of the community!

I was invited to do a quick workshop with the lovely girls at St Monica’s College in the heart of Cairns. Walking through the grounds, I felt like I was taking a step back in time. The school gives off a vibe of history and tradition, and I soon discovered that it is more than just a feeling. Music teacher Jo Langtree told me the school was originally a primary school attended by her grandfather, then her mother, then herself, and will have her own children attending soon. How wonderful to have that connection to your workplace!

With only 1 hour to make an impact, I took a deep breath and prepared to meet the 40 strong choir. They arrived with cupcakes and tea – a great start! After a quick talk about breathing, posture and technique, the choir performed the pieces they were rehearsing for the eisteddfod the following week. As a group, they have a beautiful blend and excellent intonation. We worked on using dynamics and articulation more effectively. The girl’s have a great teacher in Mrs Langtree and clearly enjoy being part of the choir. I really enjoyed my brief workshop with them and hope they had fun at the eisteddfod. I look forward to seeing them again – perhaps when they tour to Sydney in 2013!

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Pembroke College, Adelaide – May 30, 31 June 1, 2012

It’s always great to be invited to Adelaide to work with a school. First reason is it’s my home town and secondly, the music schools there are amazing! The students are all highly talented and motivated individuals, and it is clear the motivation comes from the dedicated music teachers that work with them. Darryl Pope is one of those teachers. He has recently moved from Wilderness College to Pembroke College after about 20 years dedicated service.

Pembroke College has a long history of great bands and choirs, and this year’s batch of students are no exception.
Darryl invited us to headline their annual Jazz Cabaret and do some workshops. John worked with the stage band and concert band and was absolutely blown away by the extremely high standard. A great treat for the students was a visit from the University of Adelaide Big Band for a combined workshop. It was an opportunity for the students from Pembroke to discover how they could continue their musical path, even if they didn’t choose to study music full time.

Meanwhile, I took about 50 vocalists from the choir through the first stages of improvisation. They all had a go at scatting and learned that it doesn’t have to be a scary venture! 6 volunteers (chosen by me) participated in an exercise where they scat in pairs, trading 4’s, having a conversation with each other. The results were quite hilarious as we tried to guess what the conversation might be about. They learned a blues head in 3 part harmony and we picked 9 volunteers to scat in the concert the next night.

The Jazz Cabaret was a hugely successful night. A full house at the Norwood Concert Hall gave the students a real buzz. All the groups performed, and had John and I perform with them at different stages in the night. Also performing were trumpeter Ross Irwin (most would know from The Cat Empire), vocalist Liz Tobias, trombonist Nick Pietsch and bassist Marty Holoubek.

On Friday morning we were invited to do a short performance in the chapel for the senior assembly. The chaplain gave an inspiring talk about finding your talent, that everyone has a talent but sometimes it can take a lifetime to discover what it is. John then spent some time with the drummers who are in the drum line group before we headed to the airport.

It was a very inspiring 3 days at Pembroke and we look forward to visiting them again.

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St Ives – June 5, 2012

My psychic powers must have been finely tuned a couple of months ago. I was driving past St Ives High School on my way to do some private teaching and I casually wondered what was happening in their music department. Did they have a choir? Or a stage band? Or a concert band? The very next day I received an unsolicited email from the St Ives music teacher, Kimberley Lovell asking us to bring our workshops to their school.

St Ives is surrounded by other state high schools with major music programs, and feels that it is time they pulled out all the stops to build music department.

John had a great time with the concert band and stage band. They are all young and enthusiastic players who are keen to have more opportunities to play.

My job was to take a group of talented singers and turn them into a vocal ensemble. 11 singers (10 girls, 1 boy) came to have a go at singing in harmony. After working out who was soprano and who was alto, we got down to business learning 2 choir charts – “Blackbird” by Lennon/McCartney and “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars.

Towards the end of the day, we all came together and performed what we had learned for each other.

In the evening, we were joined by St Ives Public School, lead by Gerald Steinmann, and St Ives North Public School, lead by Peter Blythe, and everyone played for family and friends who came to watch. John joined the stage band for his crazy antics on “Caravan” and even sat in with St Ives North for a little rhumba tune. The high school students helped out by playing in any empty chairs in the primary school bands. Our newly formed vocal group, only 11 hours old and a little short on numbers, did me proud!

John and I surprised the students by inviting 2 young musicians to play a couple of tunes with us. William and Harry Morrison (John’s nephews) brought their guitar and bass and braved the horrendous storm to play “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Pink Champagne”. St Ives trumpeter, Travis Loughhead, even sat in on the blues.

The vocalists have all committed to attending regular rehearsals with Mrs Jodi Thomas, and will actively recruit other singers to build the numbers. And with great bands already at the 2 local primary schools, St Ives High School can look forward to enthusiastic and talented musicians heading their way in the coming years.

It was a great night for all.

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Gold Coast – March 22, 2012

The hardest thing about being a professional singer is that once a date is booked for a performance or a workshop, it doesn’t take into consideration unforeseen circumstances – like the flu!

This year’s bug hit me before I was able to have my flu shot. After spending 3 days in bed, I took a deep breath and headed to the airport to go to the Gold Coast. We had a big week planned – starting with a day of workshops at Varsity College.

One of the talks I do in my vocal workshops is about vocal health. I have now added a new topic called “Why You Should Not Fly When You Have a Head Cold”. As we started our decent into Coolangatta, my ears blocked and I couldn’t hear a thing except my own breathing. Chewing didn’t help. I just had to hope they would unblock themselves in time for our workshop. Unfortunately, that only gave me about an hour to recover.

As they say in showbiz, “The Show Must Go On”. I didn’t want to disappoint the students at Varsity by pulling out. John started the day by doing a mad drum solo for all the students, and talking to them about the power of focus. The focus needed to learn music and the way you can draw the audience in to focus on you on the stage.

I headed off with the choir, who were all very aware that I was under the weather, and did their best to focus and not chat too much. By lunchtime, my ears unblocked, and I was able to hear the girls (and 1 boy) sing. They have a beautifully, blended sound and were a pleasure to work with.

John had great fun with the band who were very enthusiastic and capable. They were not aware on this day that they were about to lose their dedicated teacher, Mr Simon Petty, who had been lured away to another school. I’m sure they were very disappointed once they learned of this news.

In the afternoon, we all came together, did some rhythmic exercises (BEMBE!) and the band and choir performed for each other. Then, with the help of piano teacher, Glenn Walton, John, Simon and I had a jam on a blues tune for the students.

It was a great day and we hope to visit there again.

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Bathurst – March 6 and 7, 2012

John and I always love going to Bathurst. It was where we did our first workshop together and we always take the opportunity to catch up with the friends we have in the area. The high school has a strong music program, built by a dedicated teacher, Andrew Smith, who first met John when he was a young student going to jazz camp. He now encourages his students, and his own children, to come to jazz camp and get the same great experience he got.

While I taught my new arrangement of “Caravan of Love” to the choir members, John enjoyed hearing Swing Factor in their workshop and is confident that this is a program that will continue to thrive. As well as having a junior band within the school, Chill Factor, the area has several primary schools with strong music programs that act as a feeder program. A few years ago, John helped set up a combined primary school’s big band called Serious Fun. Students from 6 different primary schools put forward their top music students to audition for places in the band, and they rehearse and perform together on a regular basis. The first group of students to come through the program have now graduated from high school. They earned great marks in their HSC exams, and one of the students has been accepted into the Generations in Jazz Academy in Mt Gambier to study for a year with Graeme Lyall. It really has proven itself to be an exceptional program for outstanding young musicians. It is now time to refresh the local interest in the program as these things need money to keep going.

To generate some interest amongst the students, John and I decided to do a 2 hour workshop for the local primary schools at Bathurst High School. Called “Musical Madness” we started with one of John’s crazy drum solo’s, then split the group up into instrumentalists and vocalists. The 82 students, from Blayney Public School and Eglinton Public School, had a great time and asked very thoughtful questions at the end of the workshop. Thanks also to Julia Ireland and Peter Hanlon for bringing their lovely students along. We look forward to seeing them again.

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Mackay – March 2, 2012

It’s always very exciting for John and I to be invited to a place we have never been before. Not so much for the chance to view the local scenery, but to be able to meet the people that make up the personality of the area.It is also interesting for us to visit different schools and see what fresh ideas we can pass on to other schools around the country.

While we are jazz specialists, we have both had extensive experience in other areas of the music industry – pop, rock, musicals, cabaret. And just as well as we found ourselves, for the 2nd day in a row, at a school that was working on their musical!

St Patrick’s College in Mackay are in the final stages of rehearsal for their adaptation of Cats. I was very excited as I (secretly) adore this show. It is a very challenging show for young performers. The score changes keys and time signatures regularly – often in the same song. The ranges stretch the most experienced of singers, and don’t get me started on the harmonies – ALW, we need to talk about the illogical alto parts!

The students at St Pat’s have been learning their parts diligently, and building the stamina required to sing and dance at the same time. I met with the very talented singers who had been assigned featured roles. and their biggest obstacle was developing their cat’s personality – and therefore, voice. There is a fine line between singing too “pretty” and sounding like….well, sounding like a cat being strangled in a dark alley. For many it was quite a challenge to overcome, but they all did amazingly well when the cast came together in the afternoon and performed all of Act 1 for me. What a treat!

Meanwhile, John was putting the St Pat’s band through their paces, then headed off to nearby Mercy College to work with the younger musicians there.

It was a fun and challenging day for all. A big thank you to Bianca Johnston from St Pat’s and Judith Hodge from Mercy for making it possible.

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Proserpine – March 1, 2012

Several years ago, John and I were invited to workshop a school in Brisbane who were having a band tour. They had travelled all the way from Proserpine, in Central Queensland, on a bus that broke down every 5 minutes. The bus dramas didn’t dampen the students spirits and we enjoyed working with them.

A whole generation of high school students later, John and I were invited to perform at the North Queensland Wine and Jazz Festival in Mackay. I seemed to recall that the Proserpine student’s bus broke down the first time in Mackay, so I figured they must be reasonably close by. Thanks to Facebook, I had kept in touch with their enthusiastic director, Deb Tunbridge, and we decided that, come hell or high water, we would get to “Prossie” for a workshop.

Usually workshopping jazz bands and singers, we were asked to help the students prepare for their production of “Chicago”, one of my favorite scores. I spent the morning with all the solo vocalists, while John whipped the young band into shape, then in the afternoon we put the vocalists together with the band. Even John and I sat in with the band for a little bit of “And All That Jazz”.

Thanks for having us Prossie. It was well worth the trip!!

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Port Macquarie – February 21-24 2012

John and I travelled 5 hours to Port Macquarie on the NSW north coast. At jazz camp this year, we had 7 students come from the area who were so enthusiastic about their music, and learning and playing jazz in particular, that their teacher, Sharon Green, decided to bring jazz camp home!

Over 4 jam-packed days, John and I workshopped bands, choirs and solo vocalists from St Joseph’s Regional High School, St Paul’s High School, Heritage Christian College, North Haven Primary School and even local community band, Black Magic Big Band.

As well as digging into the workshops, the students joined us in performing at the Panthers club in town. It was a great night of performances from all the students that was very well attended by friends and family. We had the pleasure of performing with local musicians for a quintet set – Geoff Kearns on piano, Chris Trotman on sax, and young multi-instrumentalist Laura Small, who did a wonderful job on bass. We got off to a bit of a shaky start when our GPS took us to the wrong club – there is another Panthers club just out of town. We arrived there just in time for a round of Bingo!!! Thankfully we were able to find our way to the right venue in time.

It was very exciting for us to go to a new region that has so much support for the arts in their schools. We are looking forward to building a long lasting relationship with the musicians in this beautiful part of Australia.

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MOTIVATE – ENERGISE – INSPIRE Workshops for Jazz Bands, Vocalists and Choirs

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Drummer and leader of Swing City Big Band John Morrison and vocalist Jacki Cooper are passionate about music education. With years of playing, teaching, and international touring experience behind them, John and Jacki can design a workshop especially suited to … Continue reading