In Conversation with The Boîte's Eyal Chipkiewicz

    Embracing Australia’s diverse musicians and introducing world music genres to wide audiences, The Boîte has been a key player in Victoria’s multicultural music scene for the last 40 years. Kicking off this milestone year, The Boîte will once again hold its long-running Singers’ Festival at the Convent on 11 – 13 January.

    We chat to The Boîte’s Eyal Chipkiewicz about the organisation, their upcoming Singers’ Festival, and how joining communities in song can facilitate social connection. 

    Tell us about The Boîte and what you do.

    The Boîte is Victoria’s iconic multicultural music organisation. Our yearly program of concerts is the cornerstone of our efforts to support people who have recently arrived in Australia to feel at home and develop connections. Through these concerts, we introduce brilliant musicians playing music that often nobody here has ever heard before. The confidence boost that ensues from being recognised and respected in this way is a crucial element in developing a sense of belonging and settling the social and emotional turbulence of migration.

    The Boîte also channels music into the lives of children through the Schools Chorus Project, in several hubs across Victoria. These massive choirs are designed to introduce children to the sounds of the world and provide them with an unforgettable opportunity to perform at a grand venue. These experiences deliver, all at once, the power of music, the importance of diversity and the value of collaboration.

    The Boîte Singers’ Festival is a jam-packed three days of vocal fun and inspiration held on the second weekend of January since 1999.  Tell us about some of the highlights – and delightful surprises – of this year’s festival program. 

    Highlights of the festival include three exciting full-day workshops on Friday 11 January. Su Hart’s vast knowledge of tribal singing and genuinely fun approach to learning will make for a fabulous workshop. Geoffrey Williams will be tackling the timeless music of Marvin Gaye with brand new, original arrangements drawing from his unique brand of funk sensibility. And finally Helen Begley and Penny Larkins will expand the singing horizon to include a little bit of storytelling and acting to deliver a fully rounded experience for participants.

    Over the weekend, highlights include Avi Misra’s "Finding your Voice with Hatha Yoga”, connecting body, breath and mind; Phia (Sophia Exiner)’s “Contemporary Songs” workshop, exploring her highly imaginative arrangements of contemporary independent (often local) songwriters; Yung Philly’s rap workshop; and the Sevdalinka Choir, showcasing an urban love song genre from Bosnia-Herzegovinia.

    Festivalgoers can pick from more than 30 workshops including improvisation, songwriting, conducting, and more. For those just starting out or still a little unsure of themselves, what programs would you recommend? 

    The festival caters for singers of all skill levels and aims to be very broad in interests as well. For those who are just dipping their toes in the sea of song, we highly recommend Ximena Abarca’s “Xinging” workshop, an invitation to find your unique voice through improvisation, body percussion and movement, or Su Hart’s “Sounds of the Forest” workshop which will surely be a lot of fun, delivered with Su’s typically supportive approach. Beginners may also enjoy the choirs stream over the weekend, which will give them a taste of what being part of a community choir is like. 

    Many of us love to sing in the shower or with the backing of a loud karaoke jukebox – but singing in public can be pretty intimidating. What are some of the benefits of being part of a community choir?  

    Community choirs are one of the best social activities you can undertake – social researchers agree, teachers agree, singers agree, even introverts agree. Most community choirs are un-auditioned and don’t have burning artistic ambitions, but rather get together to enjoy the social, mental and physical benefits of singing together, which include exercise and oxygenation, the sense of belonging to a supportive community, the beauty of collaboration and the gradual cultivation of public presence with the reduced pressure that comes from being part of a large group.

    The Boîte’s new youth choir will debut at the festival this year. What led you to establish ‘Voices Unbound’ and how can young people get involved?

    One of The Boîte’s key objectives for the next few years is to approach and connect with younger generations. Voices Unbound aims to bring together like-minded young people from diverse ethnic backgrounds in a safe and nurturing space to develop connections across cultural and language boundaries. It will be led by sensational Chilean-born singer Ximena Abarca who in 2003 won first place in Protagonistas de la Musica (the Chilean version of “The Voice”), and has been in Australia since 2010. Voices Unbound will launch during the 2019 Boite Singers’ Festival with two workshops (on Saturday and Sunday) and a performance at the festival’s Grand Finale Concert. 

    With the support of several community choirs, we have a number of scholarships for young singers to attend the festival and try out Voices Unbound. The scholarships will cover the cost of a weekend pass to the festival ($135) and lunch on both days. Applications open through bit.ly/sf19-scholarship  

     What’s next for The Boîte?

    As 2019 is The Boîte’s 40th Anniversary year, we will be looking back at our history and reflecting on the impact of using the arts as a positive force toward cohesion and harmony. Looking forward, we’ll be embracing new cultural communities, consolidating new partnerships and approaching new generations and their current needs.

    Hundreds of hours of music will resound in some 20 venues across Melbourne, including our 40th birthday party on 1 June. Other important projects include a partnership with Debra Cheetham to teach The Boîte Schools Chorus song from her Dhungala Choral Connection Songbook, a series of events with musicians in partnership with Casa Cultura and the Fete de la Musique winter solstice festival and the Alliance Francaise. We are also very much looking forward to strengthening our presence at the Convent through many more events during 2019 and beyond.

    The Boîte Singers’ Festival 2019 will take place at the Convent on 11 – 13 January. Check out the full program and find out more about The Boîte.

    Image credit: Helga Leunig.