Taking the Burgundian Consort Online


Choral Director Sonia Maddock has taken UNSW's Chamber Choir online. Tenor Sascha Graham gives us a glimpse into how it all works. 

My name is Sascha Graham, a third-year student at UNSW studying Bioinformatics Engineering. Singing with the Burgundian Consort, UNSW’s 12-member acapella choir, has been one of the highlights of my time at university. The lockdown has presented challenges for us all, most especially those involved in music and other arts. There has, however, been a silver lining, as we find ourselves connecting with each other in different ways. The 8-10 hours per week I have saved travelling to and from UNSW from home in Artarmon has given me time to reflect on the things I enjoy.

Music Helps You Be An Engineer

Music has always been a forte for me. Clarinet is my main instrument. I’ve played piano for many years, and in the last two months I’ve had time to pick up the trumpet. It was a hard choice to study in another field than music; I was worried that I’d be giving up one of my biggest strengths. Soon to begin a career in software engineering, I feel reassured in my choice. I’ve been happy to remain strongly involved in music through teaching and through ensembles such as the Burgundians and the Sydney Youth Orchestras, and to retain transferrable skills learnt through music – collaboration, creativity and persistence.

I’ve never had formal singing lessons, but fortunately I was able to develop my voice in high school. Even after three years in the Burgundians it is breathtaking to hear the voices of some of my fellow choirmates who are looking to pursue music professionally.

Virtual Choir Success

Last term the Burgundians, led by Sonia Maddock of the Music Performance Unit, put together a stunning collaborative video project of us singing Durufle’s Ubi Caritas. The response from the community was overwhelming, and we aim to follow up with more this term. We’re doing online rehearsals over Zoom in our regular rehearsal time on Monday afternoons, and have two works by Benjamin Britten on the go: Old Joe Has Gone Fishing and the Choral Danes from the opera Gloriana.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Just as everyone has had to adapt to their approach to work to work in the last six months, we’ve had to experiment with our approach to rehearsals online. Latency in the calls means there will always be a time delay between when one person sings and the other members of the choir hear them, so we cannot sing together live. We’ve been using the breakout rooms function in Zoom to better communicate with those singing our parts. There, we can either listen to a backing track and sing along with our microphones muted, or one person is designated to lead while the other members sing the same part while muted.

I’m not the only musician in the household. Sometimes finding time to teach and rehearse online is a negotiation exercise, but ultimately it means there is good music ringing most of the day, and that we can connect with each other despite being so far apart serves as a reminder of how we can and must come together as a community during this time.