Jonathon Welch


Going into my interview with Jonathon Welch, after reading his recently released biography ‘The Choir Man’, I was both curious but also just a little in awe of this acclaimed tenor/conductor/choir master and now author. The TV series of his work with homeless and disadvantaged people in Melbourne, and how he had shaped them into an awesome and inspiring choir is now almost legendary in Australia, and was also instrumental in Jonathon being awarded Australian of the Year in 2008, and an Order of Australia in June 2009. His musical career alone has seen him work in some 70 roles with opera companies (within almost every state of Australia) and ultimately with Opera Australia. Singers, directors and conductors of notoriety have included Dame Joan Sutherland, k.d.lang, Baz Luhrman, Graeme Murphy, Richard Bonynge, Anne Murray, Jimmy Somerville, Jimmy Barnes and Kasey Chambers - to name but a few.

Born and educated in Melbourne, Jonathon began his singing career with the Victorian State Opera company in 1981, going on his first Australian tour with the 'Pirates of Penzance' along with Jon English, June Bronhill and Marina Prior. What most struck me when reading through Jonathon’s bio, was how many times he was required to step up to a very high mark in these early years. Can you imagine singing with some of these people when you are only just finding your own feet – probably personally as well as musically? It must have been extremely daunting, but a challenge that Jonathon embraced wholeheartedly. This also gives us an idea of the sort of person he is - a hard worker, an honest man, a caring person, and highly motivated. Jonathon has also never let his ongoing personal musical and vocal instruction lapse. In 1986 he completed a Post Graduate Degree in Music at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music which was closely followed by him receiving some of Australia's most coveted performing scholarships including the Young Artists Program with Opera of Queensland. However the ‘piece-de-le-resistance’ was in 1988 when Jonathon was invited to join Opera Australia's Young Artist Program where he made his debut with Dame Joan Sutherland in 'The Merry Widow' at the Sydney Opera House.

Today Jonathon juggles his professional career as a singer, conductor, public speaker and writer, whilst continuing to direct The Choir of Hope and Inspiration (formerly the Choir of Hard Knocks). He has also recently implemented a choir program into the Women's Prison in Victoria. His work with the choir, Voices from the Inside, has been made into another TV documentary that will be shown on the ABC at the end of 2009. It will give viewers a look into the inside world behind modern day prisons, but also how music can help to change lives and build confidence and self esteem. Further new projects Jonathon is currently working on include Australia's first National Street Party weekend, and Social Inclusion Week. Both further his personal belief that ‘what the world needs now’ is more caring.

If he was asked to come up with one word that would describe the imprint he would like to leave, Jonathon says that word would be CARING. “Receiving is in the giving,” he says.

“Working with choirs has taught me a lot, but mostly that we all want the opportunity to participate in life, to make a contribution back to the world, and to be acknowledged. This is the beauty of singing in choirs. But the audience or viewer also has an important, mostly unidentified role. They are there because they want the choir to succeed and their applause serves as a validation of the contribution and success of participants. Therefore, the whole process of being in a choir involves a wonderful exchange of energy” he says.

This article appeared in Vol 4 Issue 29 of The Art of Healing


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