Hark the Voyces of angels

19 December 2022

With a triumphant mix of traditional and obscure festive fare, Voyces end the year on a high. Angela Ho sings the praises of the choir’s sweet sounds on a hot summer’s night. 

‘Christmas’, Voyces · 
St Joseph’s Church, 16 December 2022 · 

It’s the festive choral event that attracts a regular Perth crowd, promising a program of “old Christmas favourites and obscure finds”. And Voyces, delivering true to form, nail their annual summertime offering while grappling with the logistics of the rewarding, if slightly challenging, venue.  

The 27-strong ensemble, accompanied by organist Jonathan Bradley, navigates a fully rounded setlist incorporating music from the likes of choral composer favourites Jonathan Dove and Sir James MacMillan alongside the usual suspects. It’s an evening top and tailed by organ, and filled with pure, buttery vocal harmony.  

Musical director Robert Braham seems to have a knack for selecting repertoire that brings out the best in his choristers without sacrificing performance joy and quality.  

Three thick, black lines on the concert program divide the evening into four distinct sections, indicating when the audience should applaud. There’s a surprise in staging at each turn that makes good on the ensemble’s mission to uplift the profile of choral music in Perth through engaging settings.  

A choir stands in front of an altar, a cross high above them between arched windows. The audience sits in pews flanked by high columns. The walls are cast in soft green light.
This is Voyces' Christmas concert.
The acoustics of St Joseph’s Church elevate the choir. Photo: Nik Babic/Artshoot Media

So it’s a surprise to hear the opening organ notes sound from the balcony nestled in the back of the church for the first song of the evening, “Let Us Gather Hand in Hand(from Conrad Susa’s Three Mystical Carols III). No opening preamble or theatrics, unless you consider the ensemble’s glittering vocal cohesion a drama of its own. 

Seating is unreserved, and it’s heartwarming to see concertgoers in row upon row of filled pews search for the source of the sound. The triumphant first quarter is performed from the back of the venue in a way that invites audiences to listen in whatever way makes sense to them.  

Robin Nelson’s “Out of Your Sleepis a first taste of Voyces’ lively tenor and bass section, while “The Magi’s Dream” by James Whitbourn reveals the ensemble’s impressive sensitivity to dynamic range.  In the melodic and harmonic texture characteristic of Dove’s word-painting style, “Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars” is sung with a jubilance that reveals the choir’s love for the piece. The cupola at the front of the church seems to hold the sound with a spectacular resonance that brings the venue to life.  

The program’s middle sections see Voyces descend to the front, shifting from a traditional choral arrangement to an antiphonal staging that proves a test for ensemble listening during Roy Massey’s arrangement of “Long the Night”, a traditional Ukrainian melody. To their credit, the young singers are collaborative and responsive performers capable of self-adjustment under Braham’s direction.  

A man stands in front of a church altar, his back to the audience, one arm raised. He is flanked by two lines of singers holding music sheets. They are dwarfed by pillars cast in a pale blue light.
This is the Voyces choir led by Robert Braham.
The young singers are up to the challenges of the antiphonal staging. Photo: Nik Babic/Artshoot Media

And while the expansive, pristine white interiors of St Joseph’s pay dividends for the evening’s acoustics, the tyranny of distance presents some synching challenges for part of the Christmas singalongs, with Bradley off to the right aisle. The organist rejoins the choir for a contemporary, revamped version of “Deck the Halls (arranged by Adrian Lucas), complete with a dramatic and comedic ending that prompts scattered applause even where it is not marked.  

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmasdon’t elicit the boisterous community singalongs you might expect of an outdoor Christmas concert. Instead, the audience’s tuneful murmuring rounds out a classy evening of music with restraint and dignity.  

We enter the church at the curtain-fall of daylight and leave in darkness, so lost in the gift of music that we forget the world outside has, too, found stillness.  

Voyces will release the 2023 program in the new year.

Led by Robert Braham, Voyces deliver an evening filled with pure, buttery vocal harmony.  Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

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Author —
Angela Ho

Angela Ho studies journalism and law, and has reported for the ABC and 10 News First with Media Diversity Australia. A lover of niche harmony, she’s classically trained to count rests as a violist, hold an alto line and, most recently, handle the Perth Bell Tower bells. The swings are Angela’s playground frolic of choice.

Past Articles

  • Close encounter stirs the soul

    Violinist and composer Rupert Guenther welcomes us into his inner world for a soul-searching evening of improvisation, writes Angela Ho. 

  • Guiding light for state of riches

    Perth Symphony Orchestra lights the way in a captivating collaboration delivered with poise and polish, writes Angela Ho.

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