Carmen interests: Archie and Jack MacDonald

NZ Opera’s production of Carmen, Bizet’s tale of love and betrayal, gypsies and bullfighters, opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal this week and amongst the cast is a chorus of ten Christchurch schoolboys.

So what’s it like to be 12 years old and in a professional production of one of the world’s most popular operas? I asked twin brothers Archie and Jack MacDonald about how they got into singing, choirs, and their advice for other youngsters who might want to sing on stage.

How did you both get into singing and performing? Is that something you’ve been doing for a long time?

Archie: Well, we got into our first 2 big choirs [Christchurch Schools Music Festival special choir and the Christchurch Boys’ Choir] in year 5 but we’ve just been in heaps of school choirs and have always loved playing guitar and singing with our big sister, and it’s just sort of been a passion that we’ve always had all of our life.

Is singing something that you’ve always done together?

Jack: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever been in a choir that the other one hasn’t been in. And we busk together too. Either in the Riccarton Bush Market or the Re:Start Mall.

How much practising and rehearsing do you have to do for Carmen?

Archie: There’s quite a lot, particularly in our own time at home. We’ve been given a [music] file just to rehearse and get it all sorted… We’d do some at least every day for the last 2 weeks.

And for Carmen you’re singing in French. Is that a thing that you’ve done before?

Jack: We’ve sung in different languages before but not as much as in Carmen, so it took a few hours just to figure out the pronunciation and write it down in our music, and then there’s the notes and you have to put them all together and that’s hard but we’ve got the adult chorus to help us…  when you’re acting as well, you’ve got to know what you’re singing about so that you can have facial expressions and act how you would if you were saying it in English.

Don Jose and Carmen
Don Jose and Carmen. Image credit: Marty Melville

And what’s it been like being part of an opera production?

Jack: It’s been fun. Last year we were in Evita with Showbiz but this is like another step up. We’ve got different costumes from everyone else and we’re running around [the stage] teasing soldiers, running up stairs and things – it’s been full on but fun.

Is it good to have other kids around (in the children’s chorus)?

Archie: Yeah, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. Definitely a solo act is a bit trickier and a bit harder but everyone’s really supportive and it’s just great, ya know? But it’s a bit more fun with more boys.

It must be very nerve-wracking going in for an audition.

Archie: Yeah, you can never really take that away from an audition. You always want to get in and have heaps of time with whatever you’re auditioning for.

Jack: Yep, just being by yourself in front of someone and singing is quite hard… but then you feel good coming out of it.

So what’s the most fun thing about singing?

Archie: Definitely performances.

Jack: Yeah, performances in front of a crowd.

Is it more fun with an audience? What’s that like?

Archie: When the lights go up you’ll just see a crowd sitting in front of you and you’re just like “I’ve gotta do this. I can’t really muck up.” So yeah, it sort of boosts you a wee bit more and you’re really wanting to work hard.

Jack: Well, you feel nervous but then when you go off the stage and you’re done you’ll feel happy, like after an audition and you’ll think that you’ve done your job well. As long as you give it everything and work hard.

Children's chorus, Carmen
Children’s chorus, NZ Opera production of Carmen. Image credit: Marty Melville

Is music something you’d like to do for a job one day?

Archie: I’ve always thought it would be a lot of fun to be involved in music but I’ve never really seen it as necessarily something to base everything around, as in, have as my job but it would be heaps of fun to just stay involved. I’ve really got a taste for how much fun it really is and I’d love to keep that going for as long as I can, really.

Jack: Yeah, I really like cricket but then getting into a good team as a job, that’s gonna be hard so I have to have something else to work on… I’m sort of still thinking about it.

Do you have any advice for other kids who want to be on the stage performing and singing?

Jack: Give it everything and enjoy it. And just work hard.

Archie: I’d probably say don’t hold back, just go for everything that sounds fun. Never think “there’ll be some people who are better at this role than me”, because it’s great to have an experience of just an audition. It sort of gets you a bit more used to things and less nervous for later on in life. The more you do things, the more you get to enjoy it, the more hobbies you get to have when you’re older. So just really get into it. Take every opportunity. Absolutely anything really. Go for anything and everything you like the sounds of.

Being in choirs seems to have been a big part of it for you.

Archie: [Christchurch Boys’ Choir] has taken us from having not too many musical opportunities to just singing with so many amazing groups and heaps of cool opportunities coming up.

Jack: It was only Boys’ Choir that was in Evita. We sang at the Crusaders vs Lions game (we sang Conquest of Paradise) and now Carmen. And they’re after boys to audition for Sister Act. Whenever we’re backstage we’re always singing and stuff because we’ve all got decent voices we can pick out a harmony while we’re sitting there… I really recommend the Boys Choir as a really top thing that will get you into heaps of things like this, end of year concerts, concerts in between, or maybe one thing a year like performances with Showbiz.

Archie: (about end of year Battle of the Bands at intermediate school) It was pretty cool because with the Boys’ Choir we’ve got audiences much bigger than a school of 500 people and we’re a bit more confident with that sort of thing. If we weren’t in the choir or involved with any productions or anything that’d sort of be massive and our hearts would be pounding. It would be crazy, you know, really nervous. It’s quite cool just to know, we were very confident going into that and it’s because we’ve just sung in front of so many people…

Archie and Jack will perform in the children’s chorus as part of NZ Opera’s production of Carmen, Isaac Theatre Royal on 13, 15, 18, 20 & 22 July.

Find out more

Carmen (highlights) streaming music Cover of Kickstart Music 3 : 9-11 Yrs : Music Activites Made Simple Cover of Is singing for you?

Te Matatini: Excellence in Māori Performing Arts

Te Matatini.  The many faces.

Wednesday marked the opening of what is one of the biggest events on the National Māori calendar.  Eagerly awaited by thousands, this biennial event is the paramount event for Māori performing arts. An extravaganza of live performance and a bringing together of some of the best exponents and practitioners of the art form from across iwi and the motu.

Places at the Nationals are hotly contested within individual rohe. Top qualifying groups from each district make the National competition. The amount of work that goes into the stand of each group is immense. Original composition, choreography, vocal excellence, beauty and excellence in the language as well as physical fitness are all required.

Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival
Crowd watches performers on a big screen, Hagley Park, Te Matatini 2015, Flickr File Reference: 2015-03-05- IMG_5900

Participation at this level also requires a mastery of a variety of art forms – from mōteatea to poi to haka and traditional weaponry.  Hundreds of hours of relentless practice and commitment are required from members of groups that take months if not years in the preparation of what they will share with the mutitudes when they take the stage. The result is a feast for the senses and the soul, each group bringing the best they have.  The best groups embody all the aspects of ihi, wana and wehi.

Various components of each set are judged and scored.  Each set consists of waiata tira, mōteatea, whakaeke, waiata ā ringa, poi, haka and whakawātea.  Individual items as well as other components such as  excellence in the Reo, original composition, kākahu,  kaitātaki tane and kaitāki wahine are all judged and scored to help decide the overall winner of each judged item and to decide the eventual overall winner.

Everyone has their own favourite kapa and star performers, the choreography that causes “ohhs ” and “aahhhs”, the brilliance of new original compositions. Te Matatini inspires excellence in all the performers, and has been known to spark many a conversation, ignite hapū, iwi  and rohe pride.  Occasionally results have been known to cause debate or some controversy, but one thing is for sure – Te Matatini never disappoints.

If you’d like to find out more, Te Matatini have their own website where you can find more in-depth information.  Māori Television is live streaming and on offering on demand services to New Zealand, Australia and America. The Facebook pages of Te Kaea and Māori Television are offering up to the minute social media updates. Every group gets their moment in the spotlight with the top scorers in each pool qualifying for finals on Sunday (you can find a full programme here.)

If you would like to learn about Māori performing arts in more depth, we have some great resources available in our libraries. As a starting point, you might like to look at our Matatini – Māori Performing Arts resource list.

Find out more

Aurelia Arona,
Ngā Ratonga Māori / Māori Services

Music within a book

Cover image of "Making music in New Zealand"I would love to be a musician. Not even a professional musician, just someone who can casually pick up an instrument and effortlessly create songs that make others want to stop and listen. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who would be offered money NOT to sing. My perfectionist tendencies paired with my lack of patience have prevented me from learning how to play the guitar (or any other musical instrument for that matter) because, well, if I’m not good at something instantly, I just give up. Forget all this “you’ll get better with practice” rubbish. I want to be a musical genius NOW.

If you want to read about other New Zealanders with the music bug, here’s some New Zealand fiction featuring musicians

Book cover of Ready to FlyOr if you prefer to draw inspiration from real life:

And for those of you who do possess both talent and dedication, the library has a bunch of “teach yourself” resources for aspiring musicians.

I can still live vicariously through other New Zealand musicians, though. I can watch them, listen to them, and read about them. Heck, if I really like them, I might even follow them…on Twitter.

With a Song Not Just in my Heart

cover of The Best Singer in the World
I love to sing. It’s a relatively new found passion, but I’ve sung like  no one was listening all my life;  in the car, in the shower, in the garden, at the supermarket or mall to accompany the piped music… I’ve just stepped it up a notch or two in the last couple of years, by getting involved in the lively and thriving Christchurch singing and music scene.

When I joined my first group singing class aimed at people who think they can’t sing, I wasn’t aware of all the great classes and groups that were out there.  There are workshops, choirs and ensembles all over town and where ever I have gone, I have found  everyone to be welcoming and supportive.

You can sing virtually anything from world music and gospel to waiata, show tunes, contemporary songs and barbershop. Whatever you fancy, there’s a group for you. If you are 5 or 105, you’ll find kindred spirits to sing with. You can also go to open mike nights at a variety of venues around town when you get braver, take individual lessons to improve  or even join an organised rock band course.

“But I can’t sing”, I hear you say? After thinking I couldn’t either, I now believe everyone can sing. So many of us were told we couldn’t by parents, teachers or siblings and often build up a fear or a belief that we are terrible singers. While we all may not be able to be or indeed want to be a Te Kanawa or a Pavarotti, we can all enjoy singing.  It’s wonderful to be in a large group where you can hide in the crowd while you practice and gain confidence.

You can choose to just sing casually at practice each week, or join groups that also perform at events and concerts around the town and even overseas.

I’m sure it’s good for my brain as I age, as I now retain dozens of songs in my head from the different groups and activities I do each week in a variety of languages and styles, and have learnt to sing harmonies.

Cover for Sing Your Heart Out

I’ve found it to be a wonderful mood lifter. On my choir practice night, I sometimes force myself to go after a long work day because I know I will leave feeling happier and invigorated.

I’ve met a whole new group of wonderful people, and we get together socially as well as support each other’s solo efforts. You also find out about live music events, workshops run by internationally renowned musicians and singers and spend time with positive, happy people.

I’ve discovered new artists and songs when hunting for songs to work on and the library has a huge collection of music on CD to borrow, so you can search for songs you’d love to try and you can download your favourites on Freegal. Musical scores are available too for those who can read music, which, by the way, is not essential to be involved in singing.

The Christchurch City Library CINCH Community Information site has a wide range of choirs, singing teachers and classes listed, and the library catalogue has books to help you on your singing journey.

My journey has led to so much fun and laughter, while gaining skills and confidence and great new friends. I can’t recommend a good warble enough  for you mental well being and sheer joy!