JW_5279It’s been four years since the Choir of Hard Knocks, the choir for the homeless and disadvantaged helmed by conductor Jonathan Welch and made famous in the ABC TV series of the same name, threatened to crash and burn amidst claims of infighting and unfair distribution of income.

Out of those ashes rose the Choir of Hope and Inspiration, an independent organisation with no ties to the previous charity or TV series that Welch created so that he could negotiate a better deal for his disadvantaged choir members.

Welch and his choir will tell their side of the story for the first time in the documentary Beyond Hard Knocks, screening on June 7 as part of the Melbourne International Singers Festival.

“It’s a story that really needed to be told. I wanted to show that the choir is still going strong, that I’m still there, and also to kind of demystify what occurred four years ago when I stood up for the choir members’ rights and it all went a bit pear-shaped – the charity ended up with the money and Fremantle Media ended up keeping the name. The documentary explains what happened a little better, because the media reporting back then wasn’t clear,” Welch told the Star Observer.

“I think people will be amazed at how far the choir members have come in the past six years, in terms of their confidence and their talents. There are definitely a lot more tears and laughs in this new documentary than there were in the series.”

The Hard Knocks documentary screening will launch the inaugural festival, running from June 7-10 and featuring all manner of performances and workshops by singers and choirs from Australia and around the world. Performers and experts on offer include acapella group The Idea of North, Indigenous soprano Deborah Cheetham and Dr Kathleen McGuire, freshly home to her native Melbourne having spent the past decade as the conductor for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Welch also serves as the festival director. What made him decide to launch a new entry into Melbourne’s already-crowded arts festival calendar?

“Well, I’ve produced the Melbourne Festival of Choirs for the past three years, and that was really successful. Melbourne has such beautiful venues – the Recital Centre, Hamer Hall, Federation Square – it’s a city that’s purpose-built to showcase choirs,” he said.

“I thought there was a really great opportunity to expand it beyond just choral music to other styles of music too – we’ve got gospel, acapella, classical; we’ve even got a glee chorus.”

While he has a busy few weeks ahead – he will also sit on the judging panel for the Melbourne Eisteddfod Choral Festival, running at the same time, Welch said he was already looking ahead to next year’s Singers Festival, planning to expand the genres on offer to include everything from world music to spoken word.

INFO: Melbourne International Singers Festival, June 7-10. Details at www.jonathonwelch.com

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