Some Christmas traditions may recede, but one that sticks through the blizzard on a cold winter’s day – or a heatwave on a sunny afternoon for some of us – is the echoing sounds of carollers. Christmas songs being sung by choirs is a quintessential festive scene whether you are in a snow-covered town or on a tropical paradise.
It’s a supportive group; a gathering of jolly souls. No audition is required to join.
I step into the grounds of SMK3 Tourism School in Sanur to be greeted by an unlit parking lot and empty classrooms. Relying on my hearing, and following my gut feeling mostly, I make my way past the vacant spaces to the main hall where I gradually hear a faint hint of life. Whilst hymns are sung, laughter also creeps along the open space.
The leader of the posse is Brendan O’Donnell. A Melbourne-born man with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music up his sleeve that he acquired from Monash University. He is the engineer behind the community, the cog in the wheel, the conductor.
Brendan is a former ‘Sing Australia’ conductor; studied piano and was active in various choir groups for many years prior to falling in love with Bali. In 2008, he made the move to reside in the island and one year later, he formed the Bali Community Choir, which now entertains more than 60 members.
“You look like a soprano,” he tells me and instructs me to grab a foldable seat. I join a group of ladies, whom I find out within seconds are a very talented bunch. I get handed a music book, and just like that, I feel as though I am a part of a family. Aside from music, lighthearted wit powers the room. It’s a supportive group; a gathering of jolly souls. No audition is required to join.
Picking up where they left off before my arrival interrupted the rehearsal, they jump back into Silent Night. Both junior and senior talents blend beautifully in unison that will take you to happy places; perhaps that one Christmas morning in your childhood that you’ll remember forever; or a crisp winter night in spent with a loved one. But Brendan pictured it perfectly – it should sound like a lullaby! Soft and haunting.
The line up boasts traditional Christmas staples, such as the fun and energetic Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer; Joy to the World, but my personal favourite was the Ukrainian Bell Carol. You’ll hear warm, tender voices of school teachers, students, and Bali residents from Canada, China, to New Zealand in harmony. It is an eclectic mix of characters and different walks of life.
The Bali Community Choir had recently finished their annual concert. This year’s event witnessed 150 people and silent auctions that gathered IDR 12 million, which was given to the Sulawesi earthquake relief and the John Fawcett Foundation (a humanitarian non-profit organisation assisting needy people in Indonesia in the field of sight restoration and blindness prevention). However, their proudest moment had to be singing at Garuda Wisnu Kencana for the 10th anniversary of the Bali bombings.
The choir is constantly practising each week for the festive season with a repertoire. Another focus apart from Christmas is performing at Anzac Day at the Australian Consulate, Catholic weddings, memorials and services. Additionally, they come to private villas to sing and socialise.
This holiday season, you can catch the Bali Community Choir singing noëls at Bridges Bali in Ubud on Saturday, December 15th for the restaurant’s fourth revival of the Christmas tradition. Bridges Restaurant is set to launch the Holiday Season menu on the same day, whilst Christmas hymns and bells fill the delicately decorated space. Around 20 members of the Choir will be serenading you this year at 7 PM, with the special dinner menu being served from 5 PM onwards. Prices are at IDR 450K++ if you book the Holiday Season menu in advance, or IDR 550K++ at a normal rate. Be sure to book by December 13th to +62 361 970095 or visit www.bridgesbali.com.
Alternatively, watch the Bali Community Choir perform live at The Wicked Parrot in Sanur (Friday, December 21st at 7 PM) and Biku in Seminyak (Saturday, December 22nd at 6 PM).
Both junior and senior talents blend beautifully in unison that will take you to happy places; perhaps that one Christmas morning in your childhood that you’ll remember forever.
To contribute or polish your soprano and alto ranges, all are welcome to Bali Community Choir’s weekly practice every Tuesday from 7 pm to 9 pm at the main hall of SMK3 Tourism School, Jalan Tirta Nadi II, Sanur. Brendan is reachable via WhatsApp (+62 813 5312 0682) or email ([email protected]).