Choir of Hope and Inspiration Inspiring a Nation

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By Natalie Claire King

Kicking off the launch of the Melbourne International Singers Festival was the world premier screening of the new documentary Beyond Hard Knocks on Friday 7th June at the Deakin Edge Federation Square. Narrated by Mark Holden, Beyond Hard Knocks follows the journey of the Choir of Hope and Inspiration (formerly known as the Choir of Hard Knocks), singing and making music as a family, giving viewers an insight into the challenging and inspiring lives of choir members. As they shared their intimate stories of the trials and tribulations they faced, each credited the Choir and Jonathon Welch AM, the Choir’s Founding Music Director, for the constant support they receive and Welch’s compassion and belief in every member.

The Choir gives homeless and disadvantaged people the opportunity to bring hope and purpose back into their lives. With many becoming excluded from society, the Choir provides a sanctuary where members can gather every Wednesday to learn new skills and rebuild their personal confidence. With the aim to ‘educate, empower and inspire’, many of the original 52 members have now gone back to either part-time or full-time study or work.

The documentary, which will be screened again in Sydney this month, gives the public a broader understanding about the challenges homeless and disadvantaged people face that they may not otherwise be aware of. Through an intimate and personal style, produced by Welch, Beyond Hard Knocks retells the Choir’s past accomplishments, recording their first CD and staging a theatre musical.

“Everybody deserves to have the same opportunities in life and I think that’s what the documentary really shows,” Welch said after the screening.

Moving towards a new future, standing strong as an independent Choir without charity support, which they previously had, the documentary demonstrates this new path of independence. After the preview the Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister of Mental Health and Ageing and Minister for Social Inclusion congratulated Welch and the Choir for the joyous and inspiring film. He pointed out how destructive labels can be and said one of his least favorite words in the English language is ‘hopeless’, denying people the ability to imagine a different future for themselves and pursue that future.

“Too often, in Australia we use that label for people – our brothers, our sisters who live on the streets, who sleep rough, who might struggle with mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse or a combination of all of those things,” Butler said. Continuing, “If you can image, I can’t, a better example of a group of people who exemplify the word ‘hope’ is this Choir. It was truly a beautiful and inspirational story, I congratulate you all on it.”

Rehearsing regularly at the Deakin Edge Federation Square the majority of the documentary was filmed in that space. With the preview screening hosted at the Deakin Edge audience members gained a unique experience watching rehearsals unfold in the documentary, as they sat where all the action happened. After the screening, audience members were privileged to hear the Choir perform three songs with the same passion and gusto displayed in the documentary. Gaining recognition over the years for their hard work the Choir of Hope and inspiration have received many awards including a Logie Award for the Most Outstanding Factual Documentary TV Series in 2007, an ARIA award for Best TV Soundtrack, a Platinum ARIA award for their first CD “Songs from the TV Series” and a Gold ARIA award for their second CD “Songs of Hope and Inspiration”.

The Choir will celebrate their 7th birthday in September; however, they still face many financial woes since first stepping out on their own. Donations can be made to the Choir of Hope and Inspiration through the website www.givenow.com.au/choirofhopeandinspiration.

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