Isabella a cappella is a Lismore institution.
Founded in 1984 by the late Isabel Atcheson, Isabella a cappella was created to give students and staff at The Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education (now Southern Cross University) a chance to sing and perform together. For over thirty years this vocal group has helped nurture and develop more than 100 singers and continues to flourish.
Currently directed by Dylan Curnow, the choir consists of an equal mix of male and female voices. The repertoire is an eclectic mix of blues, folk, pop and jazz ‘a cappella’ arrangements, many of which are specifically arranged or adapted by Dylan for the group.
The choir established an association with Japan in 2000 when Tazuko McLaren, a Japanese language lecturer, was raising money to build a Japanese Student Centre at Lismore’s Southern Cross University. She asked Isabella a cappella, under the-then directorship of Jude Magee, to sing at a function after the booked artists cancelled.
She was so impressed with the performance that she invited the group to tour Japan to raise money for the Japanese Student Centre. Isabella a cappella raised over $50,000 for the centre, which on completion became known as the Father Tony Glynn Japan-Australia Centre.
Father Tony Glynn was raised in Lismore and is credited with driving the Australian post-war reconciliation movement with Japan. He worked closely with his brother Father Paul Glynn, who in 1963 successfully instigated the establishment of Lismore and Yamatotakada as the first Australian/Japanese sister cities.
“The story of Tony Glynn is something I had no idea about when I first moved to the Northern Rivers,” said Dylan. “It’s remarkable how influential Tony and his brother Paul were. I’m not Christian myself, but the goodwill and charity involved in rebuilding the relationship between Australia and Japan and the selfless way in which they applied themselves to it would be inspiring to anyone.”
In 2011, the group visited Japan only three months after the devastation of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. “It was good to be in Japan doing something positive in the aftermath of the disaster,” said Dylan. “Small gestures of music and friendship can be very comforting for people struggling to cope with terrible loss.” The group gave a concert for evacuees from tsunami-affected areas during the tour and raised over $5000 for tsunami and earthquake relief.
Two years later Isabella a cappella returned to Japan to again tour and raise money for tsunami and earthquake relief. The group performed in Natori, Sendai and Fukushima, areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami, and received a warm reception and overwhelming hospitality from people who had lost so much. In November 2015 Isabella a cappella will return to the Tōhoku region, strengthening the bonds created in earlier tours. All profits from the sale of a new CD will again go towards earthquake and tsunami relief
The group has been fortunate to receive significant financial support from the Australia-Japan Foundation for all three of these tours, in addition to funding provided by Southern Cross University. “Getting substantial grants to fund our website, and for recording, publicity and international touring has really helped make the past four years incredible for everyone involved in the group,” said Dylan. “It has enabled us to develop musically and supported us in our efforts to help the Japanese people, who have given so much to the members of Isabella a cappella over the years.”
The group has toured Japan nine times, as well as touring the USA and New Zealand. Dylan hopes such opportunities continue to present themselves, as they are the ideal conditions to create great music. “All I want to do—all I have ever wanted to do—is make great music with like-minded people,” says Dylan. “Isabella a cappella is a wonderful opportunity for me. I hope it’s still going 28 years from now!”
DIRECTOR AND ARRANGER
Dylan Curnow B.Mus(hons) (UNSW)
Career Highlights: Arrangements for Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Loreal Fashion Week 2009, Isabella a cappella Japan tour 2009, Touring with Lisa Hunt Band 2009-2011, Performing with Leo Sayer, Wendy Matthews and others for Sounds of Support flood relief fundraiser in Queensland 2011, Isabella a cappella Japan tour 2011, Japan Tipitina Trio tour Jan 2012.