Thirty years ago Kim Sutherland heard a children's choir perform at a national teaching conference in Canberra and was struck by the beauty of their voices.
"I was regional consultant for the Department of Education at the time and I said 'I want to start a choir. The kids in our region deserve the opportunity to sing in a choir like that'," she tells Weekender.
And so Hunter Singers was born.
The choir is made up of high school students from the Newcastle and Hunter regions and performs contemporary and traditional works while promoting the Australian choral sound and stories on overseas tours.
Five years ago, on the choir's 25th anniversary, Sutherland was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in recognition of her service to the arts.
"Somebody nominated me; I still have no idea who," she says, laughing.
Sutherland is a music teacher with a passion for exposing children to the world of music. And right now she has 25 very excited students on her hands. From July 15 to 21, Hunter Singers will participate in the Gondwana World Choral Festival. It is being billed as the greatest gathering of international choirs in Australia this century, with more than 1000 young singers from some of the world's finest choirs converging on Sydney to celebrate 30 years of Gondwana Choirs and Sydney Children's Choir.
"It's really exciting because it's the sort of thing we would travel overseas for but this time, it's on our own doorstep," Sutherland explains.
"Some of these choirs are the best in their category in the world; the Guangdong Experimental Middle School Choir, for example. We've seen them perform overseas and now they're coming to Australia.
"We will be singing some new works by Australian composers, all commissioned for the occasion."
The Gondwana World Choral Festival brings together extraordinary young singers from Canada, China (including Inner Mongolia), Estonia, France, Japan, Latvia, the US and Australia to perform two gala concerts at the iconic Sydney Opera Houseand a series of performances at Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
The week-long event will celebrate three decades of Gondwana, which began when artistic director Lyn Williams AM founded the Sydney Children's Choir in 1989 and gave life to a new and distinctly Australian genre of choral music.
"We are excited to welcome the world's finest choirs to Sydney. This will be a unique opportunity to experience sublime young voices from across the world collaborating with our wonderful Australian choirs," she says.
"While our international counterparts have celebrated the tradition of song for centuries, choral music is a relatively new art form in Australia.
"We know amazing things happen when young people sing together."
"I see the difference that singing in a choir makes to kids," she says.
"Hunter Singers goes overseas every two years and that is quite something because they get to experience Australian culture through the eyes of others. And that's important. They get to see how people around the world respond to our Australian music, because it's quite different from music in other countries.
"The joy of singing and being part of a team and creating something beautiful is just so special. Kids keep that feeling with them throughout their lives."
The festival begins with an opening gala concert - Sounds of Australia- at Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on Monday, July 15, with an all Australian line-up: Sydney Children's Choir, Cairns-based Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir and Gondwana Latitude 34.
Festivities culminate with the Sounds of the Worldclosing gala concert at Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on Sunday, July 21, which boasts the greatest variety of choirs ever heard under one roof. For the first time, Sydney Children's Choir will perform alongside all international guest choirs and their artistic directors.
Each choir will appear in concert multiple times across the week. The festival program also features a series of recitals, workshops, masterclasses and panel discussions at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music festival hub.
The Sounds of Australia gala concert includes the world premiere of two new works: one by Australian composer Paul Stanhope, and another by leading American classical composer Nico Muhly, who will make his first Australian appearances at the festival.