A pair of Griffith alumni are leading the country’s largest ever vocal ensemble as part of the Queensland Musical Festival (QMF).

Queensland Conservatorium graduates Jonathon Welch AM and Emma Dean are the creative forces behind a massive choral collaboration at the Riverstage on 15 May.

Thousands of singers from around the country will gather to belt out the classic Australian pop anthem, ‘Absolutely Everybody’, and record the performance in a special music video.

The project follows on from previous mass choral projects, masterminded by fellow Queensland Conservatorium alumnus and former artistic director of the Queensland Music Festival, Katie Noonan.

Those projects raised awareness and funds for DV Connect and mental health charities. This year should be the biggest yet and has been designed to promote social connection after COVID.

Professor Brydie-Leigh Bartleet

Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre (QCRC) Director Professor Brydie Leigh-Bartleet is also leading a research project exploring links between the ensemble, connectedness and community wellbeing.

“We are delighted to be partnering with QMF again for this important project,” she said.

“In 2019, we conducted research into the precursor of Absolutely Everybody called Help is on its Way.

“For that project we worked with over 300 participants, and the findings strongly confirmed that most participants experienced a highly positive, creative, and collegial singing experience that enhanced their own mental well-being.

“We’re looking forward to continuing this research in 2021 with Absolutely Everybody.”

Queensland Conservatorium alumnus Jonathon Welch

Jonathon said the project gave amateur singers the chance to build a performance repertoire, meet new people and reconnect after lockdowns.

“It’s very much about getting everyone back to sing together after the past year,” he said.

“We’ll have drones filming from above and cameras in the crowd — it’s really about creating a snapshot of this time in history and celebrating being able to come together again.

“It’s an opportunity for people to strut their stuff after a very isolating, tough year.”

Jonathon is the former Director of the ARIA award winning Choir of Hard Knocks and now helms the social enterprise Play It Forward, using singing to improve the lives of those marginalised in society.

“I saw how music brought together communities facing adverse situations and address social justice issues,” he said.

“Singing is something that everybody can enjoy, regardless of age, cultural background or religious affiliation.”

Jonathon completed postgraduate studies in opera performance at the Queensland Conservatorium and received an Honorary Doctorate from Griffith University in 2008.

“The Queensland Conservatorium provided me with a musical family,” he said.

“I learnt from the best, and I still use the skills I picked up working with all those great conductors and singers.”

Fellow Queensland Conservatorium alumnus Emma Dean arranged the music for the massive choral project.

“It is epic — we have been rehearsing for a couple of months via Zoom, so it will be exciting to hear it all come together live,” she said.

“I love working with people who don’t consider themselves singers — the look of pride and joy on their faces as we create this massive musical tapestry together is amazing.

“One of the silver linings of COVID has been the ability to share music online with a global audience — we’re hoping this project reaches people across the world.”

Emma, who has toured with fellow Griffith graduate Kate Miller-Heidke and runs a community choir, said her time at the Conservatorium gave her the confidence and contacts to embrace large-scale projects.

“The talent in this town is world-class, and I find a lot of the people I work with today have been through the Con,” she said.

“When you have amazing teachers and people who are curious and passionate, I think magic happens.

“The Con has a culture of encouraging young musicians to explore and push the boundaries.”