Deborah Cheetham AO

Deborah Cheetham, Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years.

In the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours List, Deborah was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance.

Short Black Opera Café, Death Scenes and Drama Queens and ‘Til The Black Lady Sings were early successes for Deborah Cheetham combinging her talents as a writer, performer and entrepreneur. ‘Til the Black Lady Sings has toured to London, New York, Eastern Europe and around Australia for almost a decade.

In August 2000 Deborah Cheetham was commissioned to write and perform an original composition, Dali Mana Gamarada, which she would later perform as the welcome to country at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Deborah later collaborated with Wicked Beats Sound System to record Dali Mana as the lead track for Festival Records 2001 CD Corroboration.

Commissioned to write and perform a one-woman play for the Olympic Arts Festival Wimmin’s Business series, Deborah Cheetham gave the premiere performance of her first major work at the Sydney Opera House in 1997. White Baptist Abba Fan was to dominate Deborah’s career the next five years and became the vehicle for her international debute

In April 2007 Deborah Cheetham was awarded a prestigious two-year Fellowship from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. This fellowship has allowed Ms Cheetham to create her second major theatrical work Australia’s first Indigenous opera, Pecan Summer. In 2010 Ms Cheetham brought together Australia’s first classically trained Indigenous ensemble to present the world premiere of Pecan Summer.

The success of Pecan Summer has led Deborah to create Short Black Opera Pty Ltd, a national not-for-profit company for the development of Indigenous opera singers and has produced and three subsequent seasons in Melbourne 2011 (Arts Centre), Perth 2012 (State Theatre Centre WA) and Adelaide 2014 (Her Majesty’s Theatre). This landmark work is Australia’s first Indigenous opera and has been a vehilce for the development on a new generation of Indigenous opera singers. In 2016 Pecan Summer will head to the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House for a 5th season.

In October 2016 Deborah made her Port Fairy Festival debute with a commission for the Australian String Quartet. Eumeralla Prelude will form part of a larger work for choir and soloists performed in the ancient langage of the Gunditjmara people of south western Victoria. This work will open the Australia Pavillion at the 2017 Venice Bienalle.

In March 2015 Deborah Cheetham AO was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women.
Ms Cheetham was the recipient of the 2013 Vocational Service Award from the Rotary Club of Melbourne.

Dhungala Children’s Choir

Dhungala Children’s Choir is an award-winning ensemble for Indigenous children between the ages of 9 and 17.

For thousands of years the Yorta Yorta people have passed down their traditions, language, dreaming and culture through song on their country.

The Dhungala Children’s Choir (DCC) is a continuation of this tradition.

Established in 2009 by Yorta Yorta Soprano, Composer and Educator Deborah Cheetham AO and pianist Toni Lalich, DCC gave its debut performance in the SheppARTon festival performance RiverSong and has since become a strong presence in Shepparton, Geelong and throughout Victoria.

Dhungala Children’s Choir now consists of auditioned members from around Australia coming together regularly for high profile performances and the annual Dhungala Choral Connection.

Members of Dhungala Children’s Choir have appeared with Australia’s national Indigenous Opera Company Short Black Opera, in Mooroopna, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide and most recently at the Sydney Opera House.

In 2017 Dhungala Children’s Choir won the award for Outstanding Performance by a Children’s Choir in the prestigious Broadway World Awards, for their performance in the Sydney Opera House production of Deborah Cheetham’s Pecan Summer.

Michael Lapiña

Conference Artistic Director

Our Artistic Director, Michael Lapiña, began his professional career in 1988 performing in musicals and touring extensively in Australia and Asia with the Walt Disney Special Events Group. It was during his time with Disney that Michael became the Tour/Production Manager responsible for developing and presenting the creative concepts that we have come to know as the “Disney Magic”.

Since then, Michael has continued flexing his creative flare through engagements with many of Australia’s leading opera houses, performing some of the most coveted tenor roles in the operatic repertoire, including Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Cavaradossi in Puccini’s TOSCA, Pong, Emperor and Calaf in TURANDOT, Beppe and Canio in Leoncavallo’s I PAGLIACCI, Don Alvaro in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, the title role in Gounod’s FAUST, Alfredo in LA TRAVIATA, and Manrico in IL TROVATORE. More recently, Michael received great acclaim for his performance of Normanno in Victorian Opera’s production of LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR.

In parallel, he continued to develop his events management career, becoming a qualified Project Manager and Program Director with some of the large financial institutions and public sector bodies, as well as conducting many special events for Rotary International and the Catholic Arch Diocese of Melbourne.

Michael is well known for his passion for the community, having run many successful fundraising events for charities like Beyond Blue, Cancer Council Victoria and the “Because We Care Charity Concert” for the victims of the Philippines Typhoon in 2013.

2017 sees Michael engaged as the Creative Director for the TweedFusion event and Artistic Director for Rotary District 9800 Conference and St Marys Williamstown Benefits Concert.

Melbourne Singers of Gospel (MSG)

Melbourne Singers of Gospel (MSG) performs gospel, soul and songs of purpose across a range of genres with the transformative impact of a massed congregational choir. Directed by Dr Darren Wicks, MSG aspires to high standards of vocal technique, interpretation and movement. Capable of staging foot-stomping two-hour concerts with its band The Soul Train, MSG sources all its soloists from talent within the choir.This choir community attracts 100 singers from across metropolitan Melbourne and exemplifies the well-being benefits of singing, working and socialising together.

MSG enjoys the pleasure of diverse engagements and the opportunity to collaborate, perform and study with a range of local and international artists. In 2016 MSG recorded and launched its first album since 2008, Stand Strong, and enjoyed a recording session at Hamer Hall as well as creating two professional videos.The choir won in its section at the 125th Royal South Street Society City of Ballarat Choral Contest and raised nearly $5000 for UnitingCare Ballarat. In 2015, MSG worked with Rotary and The Medical Association for the Prevention of War, Sue Johnson (Coco’s Lunch), icon Colleen Hewett, and Harlem composer and director, Kenny Smith and the legendary Sweet Honey in the Rock. The choir also raised $2500 for Melbourne City Mission, funds for the Dining Room Mission and close to $10,000 to assist a sick little boy. Back in 2014, MSG worked with Eric Dozier (USA), Dr Rollo Dillworth (USA), Catherine Alcorn (Sydney), Stella Savy (Sweet Monas), Strange Weather Gospel Choir (Canberra), Yarra Gospel Choir, Hamilton Gospel Choir (NZ), Eltham Food Wine and Jazz Festival, Rutherglen Arts, Stones of the Yarra Valley and the Port Melbourne Business Association.

MSG is self-funded and managed by an experienced committee and teams of volunteers from within its membership. In addition, part of the choir’s unique approach to sound development and youth engagement is to offer up to four paid intern positions per year to tertiary students studying voice.

Dr Darren Wicks has been teaching music since the early 1990s, establishing himself as a leader in the field. His teaching experience encompasses all age groups (from infants to adult) and within a variety of contexts (studio, classroom, workshops and conferences). Studies include jazz piano and education at the University of Melbourne, a Master of Music Education at Monash University, PhD studies in voice pedagogy and he is a graduate of the Brisbane Summer Kodály Institute. He has completed numerous study tours to the USA where he has worked with noted voice scientists, gospel choirs and jazz artists. He is the author of a number of publications on music education and regularly presents at teacher training workshops and conferences.

Shepparton Brass & Wind

Shepparton Brass Band has been a proud part of the Shepparton Community for more than 130 years. They emerged from the Brass Band traditions in the area in the 1860s and have been playing under various names since 1887 as well as performing an important role in the music making of the town.

Over the years they have been a regular competitor at Bendigo Brass and National Band Competitions all over Australia.

Due to declining numbers of brass players in the region a decision was made some five years ago to transform from a Brass Band to a Brass and Wind Ensemble.
They have 30 members aged from 10 to 70 and perform regularly in the community at a variety of festivals and events. Many previous members have gone on to become professional musicians.
“Their purpose is to provide quality ensemble music to their community and help educate their members in playing music”.

St Paul’s Lutheran Church Choir

St Paul's Lutheran Church Choir began approximately 8 years ago when former refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and South Sudan expressed a desire to sing songs of faith in their own languages during regular Sunday worship services. From these humble beginnings the choir has grown in number and stature.

While continuing to see their primary role as serving the congregation each Sunday, the choir's passion for singing and the gospel has seen them performing at the Keith Murdoch Oration in the Sate Library, the Premier's Gala Dinner at Crown Casino, the ‘World Famous Spiegeltent’ at the Melbourne Arts Centre, the SheppARTon Festival, the Adelaide Entertainment Centre for the 175th anniversary of the Lutheran Church in Australia, numerous Emerge festivals and more.

At present the choir is made up of people from both D.R. Congo and Burundi and they regularly sing in Kiswahili, Kirundu and English.

Shauntai Batzke

Wiradjuri Soprano, Shauntai Batzke is touching the hearts of Australia and overseas audiences with her strong stage presence and luscious Soprano. In September 2016, Shauntai made her Sydney Opera House debut as ‘Old Alice’ in Short Black Opera’s 5th season of Pecan Summer, which led to two BroadwayWorld Australia – Sydney Award nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in an Opera. Shauntai is a developing artist with Short Black Opera Company, Australia’s National Indigenous Opera Company and was the proud recipient of the 2014 and 2015 Harold Blair Scholarship with the Melba Opera Trust after and whilst completing her Bachelor of Music at the Melbourne Conservatorium, University of Melbourne.

In July 2015, Shauntai had the privilege of singing at the inauguration of the new Governor of Victoria, the Honourable Linda Dessau AM at Government House in Melbourne. She also participated in the ‘Canto De Las Americas’ vocal workshops at the Belle Arti Center for the Arts, New York. After intensive training with industry leaders from The Metropolitan Opera House, Shauntai performed at the Steinway & Sons showroom, New York. In 2016 Shauntai was invited back to Belle Arti Center for the Arts, New York, for further training and is planning for another return in 2017 to work with Belle Arti and Veronica Villaroel, Lucy Arner, Fransisco Casanova and Simon Saad and the Queens Symphony Orchestra.

Shauntai made her operatic debut in 2010 in Pecan Summer, written by Deborah Cheetham AO. She featured in the role of “Old Alice” in the subsequent three seasons of the opera, in 2011, 2012 & 2014 and then in 2016 at the Sydney Opera House. Shauntai has participated in master classes and has coached with some of the world’s greatest international maestros, repetiteurs, directors and singers like; Malcolm Martineau (USA), Chuck Hudson (USA), Veronica Villaroel (USA/Chile), Yvonne Kenny (UK), David Aronson (Vienna) Simon O’Neil (NZ), Sharolyn Kimmorely (AUS), Daria Masiero (ITALY), Lucy Arner (USA) Simon Saad (USA) to name a few. Other productions include; The Beginning of Nature, at WOMADelaide 2016 with Australian Dance Theatre; RICERCAR, Present Tense Ensemble; Fidelio, Melbourne Opera; Showboat, The Production Company and Corrugation Road, Black Swan Theatre.


Dinner Band

Fortessima means strong women and that's the kind of sound they make too, STRONG. By mixing together their four voices in harmony, Fortessima hope to either have you dancing or at the very least clapping a long to their funky beats and tunes.

Emma, Sophie, Kirsty and Jamie with guitarist Gabe perform a variety of songs, from the classics to the latest song on the radio.

You may have heard them signing on ABC radio or maybe you were one of the five thousand people at Carols by Candlelight this year either way, there's no denying the favourite part of the day for this group is when they're together making music.