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New women's chamber choir launches in Auckland

Luminata Voices is a project-based ensemble made up of experienced choral singers from across the city. The choir’s musical director Vanessa Kay joined us for a Q&A.

How many members does your choir have?
We have a pool of singers who let us know their availability for upcoming concerts. In our next planned concert, we have 21 singers.

How long has your choir been in existence? 
Since March 2021.

Is your choir auditioned or unauditioned? 

Is your choir currently accepting new members? 

When and where does your choir rehearse? 
On Monday evenings at Epsom Girls Grammar School.

You’re the choir’s director; can you tell us a bit about your musical background? 
In addition to being the musical director of Luminata Voices, I direct the senior choirs at St Mary’s College in Auckland. I’m also the choral director of North Shore Youth Music  which includes Con Brio Choir, the North Shore Children’s Choir and Songsters.

I completed a BMus(Hons) in Conducting and Musicology at the University of Auckland, a Postgraduate Diploma of Secondary Teaching at Dunedin College of Education and in 2020 I completed my MMus in Conducting with Dr Karen Grylls (ONZM).

I have previously been a music teacher and choral conductor at both Westlake Boys’ and Westlake Girls’ High Schools, and am currently a music specialist at Murrays Bay Primary. I served on the Auckland committee of the New Zealand Choral Federation for six years and have been an adjudicator at The Kids Sing and the Sing Down Under Festival.

Along with my many musical commitments, I’m mum to three busy children and wife to David, an orchestral conductor and professional musician.

Can you describe your choir, including any particular aims/missions you’ve identified as a group? 
Luminata Voices women’s chamber choir is a new high-calibre women’s choir based in Auckland. Through the avenue of beautiful choral music, we want to create an opportunity for the light of women to shine bright, and to share our talents with the world.

We aim to perform women’s choral repertoire to a high standard, to commission new works for women’s choir, to make recordings of women’s choir repertoire, to become one of New Zealand’s leading women’s choirs, and — eventually — to tour overseas.

Our ensemble is project-based. With a project lasting around 10 or so weeks, singers can choose which projects they are involved in. We believe it is important to create this flexible environment for women, so they know that they can be part of excellence and also be everything else they need and want to be.

The singers from Luminata Voices are available to perform for private and corporate events, in a wide range of genres, and we are flexible in size configuration.

We are grateful to our funders, sponsors, supporters and everyone who has helped us so far. Please contact us if you are interested in sponsoring or partnering with Luminata Voices. We are an incorporated society with a charitable purpose.

Does your choir work with any collaborators/ accompanists? If yes, what does their contribution add to the life of your choir? 
Luminata Voices collaborates with a number of instrumentalists for concerts — in particular Cathy Bennett, who is a collaborative pianist and an important part of our team.

Cathy attends rehearsal each week to work with us on our accompanied pieces and performs with us in concert. Her expertise and knowledge from years of collaborating with choirs definitely adds to the high standard of performance that Luminata Voices works towards and she is a valued member of the Luminata Voices team.

What’s your favourite performance memory with your choir? 
As we have only had one performance so far, it would have to be our launch concert in May. It was such a wonderful afternoon full of choral singing, waiata, friends, family, food and drink. There was such a wonderful atmosphere and it really did feel like were at the beginning of a beautiful journey with this choir.

What makes your choir unique?
I suppose that we are a women’s choir made up of a collection of women who have previously sung at a high level and enjoy working towards excellence. Many of us have not sung in a choir for a number of years due to family and work commitments, so for many of us, Luminata has come at the right time for us to be able to feel like we can contribute to the choral scene again.

We also have women who sing with other ensembles and who have never not sung in a choir, so we are a real mix, but overall, we support where each of our members is at and I think that’s important.

Does your choir have a favourite warm-up exercise you can describe to us? 
Ooh, not yet, but I do make everyone do crazy arms vs. brain movement ones that I’m not sure everyone is keen on! Haha.

Does your choir have a ‘signature’ or favourite piece to perform? 
Not yet; we are trying to establish having a waiata that we perform at each concert but as we have only had one performance, we are still working on it.

How is your choir dealing with not being able to rehearse in person during lockdown? 
We’ve stopped now that we have decided to postpone our next concert until 2022, but until recently we were having online rehearsals. We tried breakout rooms a couple of times, which was different, but also nice to see a smaller group of people in your own section. Not sure how much rehearsing was done but I think that was the point — the connection has been really nice over this lockdown.

Why is singing important to you and the other members of your choir? 
I think it’s not just the singing, I think it is more than that. I think it is working together to create something really beautiful that will be a blessing to others (the audience). Singing together is fabulous — especially with like-minded people who are there for the same reasons as everyone else — and as so many of us have not done it for many years (and especially as it is so different when a group of women get together — there’s something extra special about that!) It just makes for a great experience all round!

What’s the most valuable piece of information you’ve collected on your choral journey? 
I’m not really a solo singer, so I feel at home when I sing in a choir and I believe we are better collectively. That whole “only as good as your weakest link” adage has encouraged me to be the best I can be, both for myself and my fellow singers, in every choir I have been in. However I’ve always known that I can’t do this alone — everyone in the choir is important and we are a real team.

Looking ahead to an open-bordered, post-pandemic world: which venue would your choir most love to perform in, and why? 
I would love to perform in Carnegie Hall, and also travel back to the UK to sing in some of the beautiful venues over there! Really anywhere where as a choir, you don’t have to work hard to create a resonant sound — where it picks up even just the quietest moments!

If you’d like to find out more about Luminata Voices, visit the choir’s website or Facebook page.