Carols by Candlelight: The Voice of Christmas


When: December 24 from 8pm.

Where: Sidney Myer Music Bowl


It’s Christmas Eve 1937.  An elderly woman sits alone in bed, her face lit only by a candle as she sings along to a beautiful melody playing on the wireless, Away in a Manger.

It’s hard to believe that this vision of loneliness inspired an annual Christmas event that now brings together an entire nation. But when announcer Norman Banks came upon this scene while walking home along St Kilda boulevard after his shift on late-night radio 75 years ago, he declared that no one should ever have to spend Christmas Eve alone. The next year he put on a Christmas event that filled Alexandra Gardens with a crowd 10,000-strong.

Ever since, Carols by Candlelight has brought together people across the country to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Over the years there have been performances by remarkable talents such as Hugh Jackman, Olivia Newton-John, Tina Arena, Delta Goodrem, Bob Dylan, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Jimmy Barnes, alongside carols regulars such as Denis Walter and Marina Prior.

Carols ambassador Rachael Leahcar, who came to Australia’s attention this year on television talent show The Voice, will sing at the event for the first time this year. Being legally blind, performing at an event that raises money for Vision Australia is particularly important to Leahcar.

“It’s an honour,” she says. “I’m really lucky that my first year singing at carols I’m an ambassador. To be doing two things that I love at the same time – to perform and support a great charity like Vision Australia – is just doubly awesome.”

She remembers watching the carols as a little girl in Adelaide. “I used to say to myself, ‘I want to be up there one day’, and now I’m doing the big one in Melbourne. I feel pretty privileged.”

Besides the chance to support a cause so close to her heart, she is excited to catch up with friends from The Voice, Sarah De Bono and Darren Percival, who will also perform.

“It’s just going to be really fun,” she says.  “I can’t wait to perform with the live orchestra.”

Carols By Candlelight 2012 marks a special milestone for John Foreman, who can’t quite believe he’ll be celebrating a decade as the event’s musical director.

“I still feel very much like it’s brand new,” he says. “There’s so much to Carols By Candlelight, from a musical point of view, that makes it both a complicated show musically and also a very rewarding one.”

Thinking back to his first year in the role, Foreman remembers being daunted by the responsibility.

“The magic of the show, I guess, is due to the fact that it’s on Christmas Eve and for many viewers, it’s very much a part of their Christmas. I think that’s what makes it so special and such an honour for me to be working on it.”

For most, the carols only happens one night a year but for Foreman it lasts for almost six months.

“People might be surprised to know that we start talking about carols in late June,” he says. “The work becomes more intensive from late October and then there’s a mad dash to the finishing line as arrangements are done, keys are checked, choir parts are sent out, and musicians are given rehearsal times. So between then and Christmas it’s pretty frantic.”

As much as he loves being involved, Foreman does look forward to the after party, when he can finally relax.

“Usually everybody is so exhausted after carols that one drink is enough,” he says, laughing.

There is one after party mystery Foreman says he has never been able to solve. “The one person who doesn’t turn up to the party is Santa, but I guess he’d probably have to head to New Zealand after his appearance at carols to begin his journey – he does have the busiest night of all.”

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