Breaksea Singing Festival brings country talent to Fremantle’s Bathers Beach

David CusworthThe West Australian
Pia Harris sings at a Breaksea workshop in Albany.
Camera IconPia Harris sings at a Breaksea workshop in Albany. Credit: Rob Castiglione

Two opera artists with a shared passion for the gift of music are bringing regional talent to Fremantle’s Bathers Beach for a festival of singing.

Their collaboration is called Breaksea, named after Albany’s lighthouse island where the lightkeeper’s daughter waved off the Anzacs in 1914.

Albany-raised Matthew Reuben James Ward, a London-trained tenor, explains the association.

“We’d just finished a Dreamtime project with Noongar families,” Ward says.

“Stories came out about fathers and grandfathers serving in WWI, and they had never had the opportunity to tell those stories.

“Breaksea is about telling stories that need to be told, local stories.

“And, of course, we like the American-UK songbook.”

“We love the Beatles,” soprano Pia Harris chimes in.

Composer Jonathan Brain and tenor-director Matt Ward.
Camera IconComposer Jonathan Brain and tenor-director Matt Ward. Credit: Luke Hetherington

Also London trained, Harris co-starred in this year’s Opera in the Park, Hansen & Gretel, which Ward directed.

“We’re also passionate about your needs, regardless of your skill level, education or where you are located,” she says.

The resulting project, By Other Eyes, played out in Albany’s Field of Light installation for the centenary of the World War I Armistice in 2018.

“People love to get together and sing but that’s as far as it goes when you live in a remote town,” Ward says.

“It’s good to have a performance to work towards, it’s great,” Harris adds.

The two friends often finish each other’s sentences, like singers in an operatic duet.

Shantay and Sheyan Tidswell.
Camera IconShantay and Sheyan Tidswell. Credit: Callen Dellar

By Other Eyes had to run after dark for the light installation to work, which meant young children couldn’t travel from the country.

The result was a recorded sound track – a technology fix that had an echo this year during the shutdown.

Two years on, the pair are mentoring talent in many forms.

“Most of our artists are international standard and we’ve both clearly been involved in WA Opera (Hansen & Gretel),” Ward says.

“Because of those relationships, Breaksea is often supported by WA Opera and UWA, so we’re able to connect with (WA Opera director) Chris van Tuinen, for example.

“When the shutdown happened, with our projects between the Great Southern – we had about seven towns in the Great Southern — Bunbury and Busselton, we grounded 850 participants.

“We actually didn’t realise how many people were involved in our projects.

Jarrad Inman.
Camera IconJarrad Inman. Credit: Callan Dellar

“Somethings we have moved to next year, some we moved to a virtual choir. The relationships are there so we’re confident we can keep that going.”

The Breaksea Singing Festival will feature a bush band, pizza truck and bar, all outside.

“Considering the climate it makes sense,” Harris says. “And also, it’s very Breaksea to have people outside and together.”

The bill ranges from Harris singing Dvorak to Albany artist Jarrad Inman singing Elvis.

“The repertoire is quite eclectic,” Ward says.

“What we’re trying to convey is not the purity of classical repertoire but singing of many genres.”

“It’s about using your voice, whatever that voice may be,” Harris adds.

Albany elder Auntie Eliza Woods brought a love of country music to Breaksea and discovered choral works.

Bonnie Staude.
Camera IconBonnie Staude. Credit: Rob Castiglione

Albany student Bonnie Staude is a rising star.

“She’s just auditioned for WAAPA and got in on the spot,” Harris says (the same happened for Harris at the Royal College of Music in 2011).

“She’s going to be incredible. We have been looking at mezzo soprano repertoire and she has this amazing tone and easy chest voice.

“I’m thinking she’ll be a young mezzo but maybe it’s too soon (to decide).

“I’m really enjoying mentorship.”

Other young stars include twins Sheyan and Shantay Tidswell, originally from Queensland, now working with Breaksea in Albany.

Ward and composer Jonathan Brain have written pieces for the festival, with an eye on regional needs and resources.

“We all sing with our different voices and it gives it a special freedom because we’re not all classically trained,” Harris says.

“Which demonstrates to the communities we entertain that it’s your voices that matter and you don’t have to be like an opera star,” Ward continues.

“You have to be true to yourself, and I would never work to change someone’s voice,” Harris concludes.

Breaksea’s Singing Festival is at Bathers Beach, Fremantle, on December 5 from 4.30pm to 8pm.

Tickets are at All profits support mentoring.

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