For most artists, doing the media rounds to promote an autobiography is usually a predictably pleasant experience  -” reel off a few choice anecdotes, reflect on the highs and lows of your career, wash, rinse, repeat.

However, Choir of Hard Knocks founding musical director Jonathon Welch has found the release of his memoirs, Choir Man, somewhat overshadowed by the recent controversies plaguing the choir he was an integral part of creating.

Much has been reported in the media about the splintering factions at the Choir of Hard Knocks, and the unrest between the choir members, Welch and Reclink, the Melbourne organisation that runs the choir.

Until now, Welch had maintained a dignified silence on the issue. Given the opportunity, though, he’s keen to set the record straight.

I haven’t engaged with the media drama up until this point, and I haven’t engaged because the people Reclink have not taken care of are the 70 choir members, who are my only concern, he explained to the Star.

I’ve resigned from Reclink; I haven’t resigned from the choir. In fact, almost 99 percent of the choir members, the two staff who have worked with me since the beginning and all the volunteers have come with me, and we’ve set up a really exciting, independent new organisation for the choir to run under.

Reclink, a charitable organisation providing sports, social and arts activities to the disadvantaged, fostered the choir since its inception in 2006. However, the relationship has since soured.

Working for two years with Reclink, it became clear the choir was there to serve Reclink, and Reclink was not really able to provide the choir sustainability. I proposed a partnership agreement with Reclink, in line with the partnership they have with Sydney Street Choir, where they fund the choir but it’s organised independently. They rejected this, Welch said.

Reclink have really failed in their duty of care. They refused to be transparent, even though they promised the choir and me that they would be from day one.

Now this is a matter unfortunately of legal investigation, and of an independent audit we’re demanding, to find out exactly what’s happened to the funds that have come in over the last two years, which have amounted to many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Having set up his own choir, Welch has made sure to right past wrongs suffered by the choir members.

The members of the choir now have full rights to vote on how the choir is run, and there’s full transparency about funds, he assured.

Ultimately, Welch said, the decisions he’s made have been about looking after the choir, not looking after Reclink. Reclink is very well taken care of with the funding they have.

Welch’s new choir is as yet unnamed, and he’s encouraging the public to get in touch via savethechoir.com and suggest a name.

I think we have a very exciting opportunity to now find a name that’s more relevant to the choir, two and a half years down the track, he said.

Welch also acknowledged that his work with the choir to date had been a huge learning experience.

Within the Choir Of Hard Knocks there are people with a whole range of disabilities. We have three members who are sight-impaired, members who have acquired brain injuries, who have had strokes, depression, are bipolar, you name it. None of them read music, and some of them don’t read.

One of the biggest challenges was to lift their physical and emotional fitness to the point where they can now do a two-hour concert in one stretch. Sometimes now we do two concerts in one day, and they’re still hungry for more.

Of course, as Welch himself is keen to point out, the Choir of Hard Knocks has only taken up the past two years of his life -” there are still another 48 to account for in his autobiography. In the book, he speaks matter-of-factly about the highs and lows he’s experienced over the years.

It’s clear the support of his partner Matt has been invaluable since the two met on a cruise ship in 2000.

I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for Matt’s love and support. He’s been absolutely instrumental in my successes -” he helped me set up the Sydney Street Choir. He’s very much the wind beneath my wings, if I can use that corny analogy! I’m very fortunate to have found my soulmate, he gushed.

Prior to his involvement with the choir, Welch experienced some hard knocks of his own, both personal and professional. He walked out on a successful career with the Australian Opera in 1993, but felt somewhat rudderless until finding renewed purpose through his work with various community choirs -” among them gay and lesbian choirs in Sydney and Melbourne.

I went through some really difficult years in my life, and it was really only when I took on the music directorship of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir that I found what I was looking for, and what was missing in my life -” a real sense of connection and a sense of belonging to a group. It gave me a real family feeling again, after I’d spent many years away from my own family. And the choir was a wonderful opportunity for me to start making a contribution to the gay and lesbian community through music, he said.

The process of singing in a choir teaches you to find your voice, and I think in may ways the [gay and lesbian] community still doesn’t have a voice that’s heard. We don’t have the equality we deserve, and we’re too often treated as second class citizens.

I think the voice of the gay and lesbian choral movement in the last decade has been very important in transcending much of the politics surrounding gay people.

info: Choir Man, published by Harper Collins, is out now.

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