Review by Taylor Kendal
In the blink of an eye, another year is quickly coming to an end, which means it is the finale of this year’s season of Morning Melodies at Arts Centre Melbourne. As always, it has been a spectacular programme of talent and wonder of the arts to help kick of the week for so many, particularly after losing seasons due to the pandemic. And what better way to wrap things up like a nice little package than an hour of dazzling and heart-warming Christmas melodies to ring in the Christmas cheer. Hamer Hall is decked out beautifully in festive lights and decorations, a row of nutcrackers standing dutifully at the back of the stage by the empty band seats, and a huge, glowing Christmas tree stands in the centre of it all. Everyone is buzzing with excitement as they take their seats, and the sweet woman beside me is handing out little mentos to those around her. After what has been a rather sudden descent into December, it really is starting to feel like Christmas time.
The audience was greeted by The Mince Pies, the Art Centre Melbourne Staff Christmas Choir, serenading us with some classic carols to start the morning off, and each member donning a Santa hat and a warm smile, ready to welcome us all into the Christmas spirit. The Salvation Army Melbourne staff Band, lead by bandmaster Ken Waterworth, opens the festivities with a wonderful medley of timeless tunes, playing with yuletide gusto and proficiency of a well-oiled machine. The opening carol Song of Joy was brought to us by Thomas McGuane and Sarah Krndija, fresh out of their roles in Disney’s ‘Frozen’ and Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5 the Musical’ respectively. While both McGuane and Krndija bring an immense talent and wonder to the performance, their singing was slightly overpowered by the band, whether they were playing a little too loud, or the vocals were too low, there were moments where some of the lyrics were lost.
Hosting the festivities was Gorgi Coghlan, who provided a warm and engaging nature, and her renowned talent for presenting in front of an audience. But with these skills, she also brings one hell of a set of pipes, giving us stunning renditions of Oh Come O Ye Faithful and O Holy Night; the latter being one of the most gorgeous arrangements I have heard, with Coghlin’s flawless tone, accompanied by David Cameron on guitar.
Thomas McGuane brought to the stage an almost crooner like air with his set; a fun, upbeat medley of Jingle Bell Rock, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, and Winter Wonderland. His stage presence is magnetic, as is the playful smile and warmth he exudes on his performance. Sadly once again, the vocals were drowned out by the volume of the band, something that was unfortunately a common occurrence during the 11 o’clock performance. Contrasting, McGuane’s performance of The First Noel was hauntingly beautiful; stripped back with him playing guitar and David Cameron accompanying on the piano. It was raw and it was bare, and utterly stunning.
Through the performance we were introduced to the Pasefika Vitoria Choir. Beginning in 2016 by Pacific Island Creative arts Australia (PICAA), the Pasefika Vitoria Choir was formed to promote Pasefika music here in Melbourne, embodying Samoan, Tongan, Rarotongan, Māori and Tokelauan languages in their music. Their rendition of Away in a Manger, sung both in Samoan (I sincerely hope this is right, it was never stated but Samoan was used in another song, so I assumed) and English was utterly magical. The harmonies were astounding and frankly I could listen to them for days, as well as their beautiful arrangement of Mary’s Boy Child.
Sarah Krndija’s soprano stylings brought an air of magic to the morning, capturing the essence of Christmas with a lively (though audibly muted) performance of It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas (the band was phenomenal, but the audience was there to hear the vocalists too). Her rendition of Grown Up Christmas List, a more modern favourite was angelic, conveying the pure want of a better world within the lyrics.
Rounding out the show were some wonderful numbers from the trio together and ending on a spectacular high note with We Wish You a Merry Christmas, joined once again by Pasifika Vitoria Choir onstage for the finale, and ending with a flurry of red confetti and Christmas cheer. A wonderful way to ring in the festive season and cap off what truly was a remarkable season. Until next season, Morning Melodies! Happy Holidays everyone!