Choir collaboration a cause for celebration

Composer Ben Fernandez was so inspired by a piano performance he did for the CeleBRation Choir that he composed a song for them during lockdown – complete with vocals for the choir to sing.

The Alert Level 4 lockdown brought up a range of emotions in everyone. Ben decided to channel his feelings into music, creating an album of songs inspired by different emotions he felt during the lockdown period.

“One of the highlights for me (during that time) was the piano performance that I did for the CeleBRation Choir in April 2020,” says Ben. “In this tune I try to convey the joy that I felt performing and interacting with the choir.”

The CeleBRation Choir is a community singing group for adults living with an acquired neurological condition, such as stroke, aphasia, Parkinson’s disease, dementia or traumatic brain injury. Led by music therapist and doctoral student Alison Talmage, the choir has been running since 2009. Not even the pandemic could stop the choir, who gathered over Zoom to sing, chat and maintain a sense of connection during lockdown. It was during one of these Zoom meetings that Ben played for the choir as a guest musician – an event which left a lasting impact.

The composition, titled ‘Celebration’, was not only inspired by the choir but written for them to perform. “'Celebration' has in a way become the theme song of my album as it echoes the role that music plays in our lives especially at times when we have nothing else to turn to,” comments Ben. 


Recording 'Celebration': Alison Talmage led and conducted the choir while Ben Fernandez played the piano.

Ben’s recording proposal was a wonderful surprise to Alison, who says that “the Choir receives many community performance opportunities, but never before a professional invitation like this.” However, the recording process was not without its share of challenges.

The choir received a backing track, musical score and lyric sheets from Ben and gathered for their first practice – only to go back into Level 3 lockdown two days later! They continued to practise over Zoom, but didn’t have the chance to practise face-to-face until the recording day itself. Nevertheless, the big day was a success. In December 2020, Ben released his album, ‘The Music Never Stopped’.

For four members of the choir, their collaboration with Ben continued with a live performance of ‘Celebration’ at the Pah Homestead for the album launch, which Alison describes as “a joyous occasion with the choir feeling included and quite famous!”

Listening to the recording is a joyful experience for Alison.

“I felt very proud of the choir, and grateful to Ben having the vision and courage to collaborate with people who are often marginalised. The song's clear message about the value of music resonates with the choir's philosophy of bringing people together to make music, to support one another and to maximise their communication abilities. The song will remain in the choir's repertoire, and the recording is a tangible reminder of the best moments of 2020!”

You can listen to the recording of 'CeleBRation' below.



This article was originally published by the University of Auckland.

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