The Choir of Hard Knocks has occupied a special place in the hearts of Australians ever since Jonathon Welch started it in 2006. The story of how he got it going is well known. Having read about the Montreal Homeless Men’s Choir in Canada, he first set up the Sydney Street Choir in 2001 and then, five years later, co-create an ABC TV documentary series, Choir of Hard Knocks – out of which came a permanent choir of the same name. Welch around walked the streets of Melbourne recruiting homeless and disadvantaged people to join – and many of its original members are still with the choir.
How it took off spectacularly is because it touched a nerve: here was a way of some of the nation’s forgotten people, whose collective voice made mainstream society stop and ponder. But it was also due to the great energies of Welsh himself, whose efforts with Choir of Hard Knocks and social inclusion generally earned him a Local Hero Award in 2008.
Well at the end of 2018 he decided it was time to step down as founding artistic director, and in June gave his farewell concert with the choir in a ‘Seasons of Love’ concert at the Melbourne Town Hall.
That in turn left a big hole for two new shoes to fill. Well now there are four. Choir of Hard Knocks have announced that Danielle Matthews and Adam Przewlocki are its new co-artistic directors. They are close collaborators and have strong associations with Choir of Hard Knocks. Przewlocki is fine concert pianist and accompanist who studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music and worked with the cabaret group Pot-Pourri for a decade. Latterly, he founded the Divine Divas of Sunbury in Melbourne.
Matthews is a powerful stage and television performer who has sung in numerous musicals and concert events. She was previously vice president of CHK. She says the path ahead for the choir will evolve naturally:
“For me it’s not so much about taking the choir in a new direction as such I think as a different person that will always happen naturally to a point. It’s more about continuing to create music that has meaning to all involved and because Adam and I are who we are our own styles, tastes and passions will come through in the music and the tone of the choir. It will naturally become something slightly new and different. But always with the same intention. Connecting through music.”
Przewlocki thinks similarly. He says: “For me the focus is continuing Jonathon’s legacy. By virtue of the fact Dani and I are not Jonathon means the choir will organically become a little different over time. But the focus for me at least, is continuing his amazing legacy through creating great music-making opportunities in an environment that many of the members may otherwise not have access to.”
Welch has given both new directors his blessing. “I’ve known them both professionally and personally for many years, and they’re outstanding performing artists and have such great empathy,” he says.
So as the choir enters a new era, all eyes will be on how the new Matthews-Przewlocki team will guide it in the years to come. We wish them the very best.
Choir of Hard Knocks, which incidentally is the trading name of Melbourne Street Choir Inc., has as its motto “Overcoming social isolation and homelessness through the joy and connection of singing”, and says its vocal program is “primarily for people who for reason of illness or life circumstance would not be able to access another choir in the community”. To join, potential singers need to have experienced homelessness or social disadvantage.
They are the only artists in Australia who have won a Logie, an ARIA and a Helpmann Award in the space of 12 months (2007-2008), and remain a torchbearer for advancing social causes through music. In 2007 it lent its support against domestic violence in the ‘You’re the Voice’ project.
Hard times did come their way, when a rift erupted in 2009 between Welsh and RecLink, the community organisation that helped create and develop CHK in the early years, that led Welsh to establishing the Choir of Hope and Inspiration in its place. Nevertheless, the choir enjoys massive public goodwill and support from the likes of Jimmy Barnes, Deborah Cheetham, Judith Durham and Kate Ceberano who are amongst its patrons. Its future under the new leadership team looks assured.
Another Australian Story documentary is in the wings. This will show the choir in its final concert with Welsh and look back on their 13-year history. Find updates here.