"Dorothea McKellar's century old poem still holds true today as ever”
Some songs hold tremendous meaning! The song we are learning this week at Melbourne Contemporary Choir Macleod and next week at MCC Carlton and Kew is one such song. The image shown here is the original print of the music I played as a youngster when I sang in a children's choir that my mum directed at the time - it's even got my name written on the front cover! We were producing a performance for the 'Centenary of Federation' in 1988 and this is one of the songs we discovered at the time at the local music store down on the Mornington Peninsula. Remember when you used to go to the music store to look for music instead of downloading the digital PDF print? This was one of those song discoveries. Written by a husband and wife team going by the name of Mr and Mrs Music - Hatch and Trent. This song featured every night at the close of the Chanel 7 broadcast (before TV ran all night). Jacky Trent sang a solo version of this song set in the Australian Outback. The words are derived from a poem by Dorothea McKellar who first penned the poem at the tender age of 16 using the working title "Core of My Heart". It was latter published after several revisions with the now familiar title "My Country. Over the years I have rummaged through my music box and pulled out scores to play at the piano, and this one in particular seems to be timeless. There is an SAB arrangement in existence out there but is a little dated and the harmonies actually don't do the tune justice. Jackie Trent has since passed away but had an iconic voice, but I was fortunate enough to have communication with Tony Hatch recently who has had a tremendous career in the music industry and brushed shoulders with A grade celebrities, presidents etc. Now residing in the UK it was really lovely to hear from him and his interest in our rediscovery and plans for a cover of his song. He described some of the history of the setting for McKellars poem. At the time he paid 50% of royalties to the McKellar foundation which was welcomed by the family who indicated that it was very generous of the writer to recognise her work in this way, particularly with so many unauthorised versions circulating at the time. The poem is now in the public domain but the lyrics are timeless speaking of the writers longing for her home country. Written at a time when she was separated by distance from her 'opal hearted country'. I would encourage you to read the full poem here.
"I love a sunburnt country,
The words are timeless and resonate so much with me - I leapt at the opportunity to breath new life into this piece with a fresh SATB arrangement MCCHOIR commissioned from our long time collaborator and musician extraordinaire Jared Haschek. In true 'Jared style' he has enriched the song with beautiful contemporary chord structures - alto's and tenors are going to relish this arrangement when committed to memory. The arrangement has really brought the song into a space where it will be appreciated by a new generation, who are yet to discover the poem and the somewhat familiar tune. Hatch has selected verses which lend themselves to a musical treatment and provided us with a memorable hook and stirring chorus. Jared has added some musical tension in sections of the song with careful chord structures in lines such as "her beauty and her terror"
Here's a little snippet of the new arrangement to whet your appetite. I can't wait to record this with the whole choir.
"An opal-hearted country,
I'm so excited to teach this tune at Melbourne Contemporary and think it will have huge potential for us as a choir. Somewhat different from our regular pop repertoire, I think the writers have written this tune that will transcend traditional generational boundaries so often associated with popular music.
Incidentally next year marks the Centenary Celebration for Qantas who famously recorded "I still call Australia Home" with the Australian Children's Choir - flying them all over the world to record the TV advertisement using the famous tune by Peter Allen. I think 'My Country' is perhaps a prequel to this other iconic, much loved Australian tune. I'm really hopeful that our cover of the song might find a place in the Quantas centenary celebrations next year. My ultimate dream would be for us to shoot a music video of the song in the outback with the choir. We are so fortunate at Melbourne Contemporary to have the opportunity to sing so many new and original tunes, and this is our first commissioned re-arrangement of an Australian work. Both the lyrics and tune have been written by Australian's and now this new arrangement follows suit with and Australian arranger and choir to perform it.
"Core of my heart, my country!
We will definitely record this one and plans are underway for Jared to arrange this with a beautiful string setting which we plan to record at The Base Recording Studios here in Melbourne.
Many an afternoon was spent as a young boy with my feet up at the piano after school, banging out this tune on the ivories and Jared has just done an amazing job of honouring the original work, yet tastefully giving it depth and feeling with this arrangement for four part harmony. I would really love to record this with an icon Aussie star like John Farnham or Silvie Palladino (there I go again, dreaming out loud!)
One of our leadership team, Linda had first peak at this new arrangement and attended MCCHOIR Carlton Mon, MCGOSPEL Tues, MCCHOIR Kew Wed, and then came last Thursday to MCCHOIR Macleod, because she thought she may get a chance to sing it (sorry Linda). We are definitely looking at it this week!
"But then the grey clouds gather,
Its been a good 30 years since I performed this song as a kid in a children's choir and I can't wait to produce an amazing music video of it with all of our 100+ singers, I'm sure we can find a spot with some amazing old gums and make this really special project together.
The original poem was first published in 1908 so this year these words celebrate their 111th birthday - it's only fitting that the 'Choir of Choice for Contemporary Singers' give it a birthday present i think. It's quite remarkable how those words penned over a century ago still hold just as true today and they did then, and I believe will resonate with Australians once again with this new rendition of 'My Country.'
Melbourne Contemporary Choir
Jason or (Jase) as he likes to be called is Founder & Creative Director of Melbourne Contemporary Choir (MCCHOIR) and is a passionate musician who wants to bring his love for music to a broader audience.
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