Singer Weaves equal measure of passion for her students – and her career

Published in the March-April 2017 issue

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Equally passionate about exploring and honing her own professional singing career as she is teaching Southern Cross University students, award-winning music lecturer Leigh Carriage has been invited to play a key role in a new mentorship program for songstresses in regional Queensland.

Katie Noonan, Australian singer-songwriter and artistic director of the Queensland Music Festival, said the Songs That Made Me initiative was designed to empower and support emerging female singer-songwriters in Mount Isa, Mackay and Gladstone.

“Females are currently under-represented in the music industry, and challenges are compounded in regional areas through a lack of access to resources and mentors,” said Katie.

Songs That Made Me will help connect emerging artists in regional Queensland to established female musicians, developing vital skills that could launch new careers.”

The mentorship program will kick off in June when Katie and Leigh will hold mentoring workshops for selected artists from each region. Leigh’s role is to coordinate the local mentors and songwriting workshops in each town.

In July, the finalists will participate in a local masterclass with Deborah Conway, Clare Bowditch and Hannah Macklin before performing alongside these signature artists, in concerts in Mount Isa, Mackay and Gladstone. The Songs That Made Me tour will conclude with a concert at The Tivoli in Brisbane later in the year.

“Katie and I have been colleagues and friends for many years,” said Leigh. “Songs That Made Me is focused on empowering, encouraging and supporting young songwriters by passing on all our knowledge forward.”

Katie praised Leigh’s talents as a singer.

“Leigh Carriage is an exceptional and unique Australian voice,” she said last year when Leigh released her latest album Weave.

“Like Joni Mitchell, Leigh weaves intriguing melodies and stories that take you on a compelling journey. Coupled with a gorgeous tone and wonderful intonation – she is without a doubt a leader in the upper echelons of the wonderful Australian female jazz firmament.”

Leigh (centre) and band – David Sanders, Martha Baartz, Steve Sussell, Toby Wren, Helen Russell – performing songs from ‘Weave’.

Weave, Leigh’s fifth album, digs deep into her past, exploring adoption, a near-fatal car accident, and the loss of friend and fellow musician, David Ades. It follows the success of Mandarin Skyline which was nominated for a 2014 Australian Bell Award.

Leigh and Weave were recognised locally by the NSW North Coast music industry at the 2016 Dolphin Awards, taking out ‘Album of the Year’ and the ‘Jazz’ category for ‘Backstepping’.

“It’s uplifting to get recognition. Outside of metropolitan areas, this region is a melting pot of creativity, with no shortage of great artists. I felt honoured to be acknowledged,” Leigh said.

“More importantly, is the work itself. Weave features 10 original compositions, recorded with highly-regarded musicians from Melbourne, Stephen Magnusson, Julien Wilson, Angela Davis, Danny Fischer, Frank Di Sario; bassist Brendan Clarke from Sydney; and Steve Russell from Byron Bay.

“The process of making an album is not a quick one – it took almost a year, evolving through stages of composing and arranging, then rehearsing and recording, mixing and designing the artwork, publishing and printing, then organising a tour to promote the work nationally with different musicians in each city. Everyone contributed so generously with their creativity on Weave, you can hear this in each song.”

Leigh also collaborated with Sydney choreographer Virginia Ferris and filmmaker Kath Davies – a Southern Cross University alumnus – to create a music video for her latest single, ‘Complicated Love’, which explores Leigh’s personal experience of adoption.

Dancer Sophie Gospodarczyk features in the music video for ‘Complicated Love’.

“The film clip was shot in the Leichardt Town Hall in Sydney,” Leigh said. “It was a brilliant opportunity to self-fund a project that would shine a light on three of Sydney’s best: Virginia’s choreography, the stunning solo work by professional Sydney dancer Sophie Gospodarczyk, all held together by Kath Davis’s design, filmmaking and editing skills. It looks stunning!”

Leigh co-wrote the lyrics of ‘Complicated Love’ with Justine Bradley.

“We share the concept of loss of mother,” said Leigh. “With some things you feel like it’s just the right time, to unpack some histories. Much like the accident, the complexity and entanglement of certain outcomes is a lifelong lesson. The impacts of adoption are layers deep – in relationships, reunions with birth parents, half-siblings, your own identity and misplaced belonging – it has always been complicated. I also wanted to put a voice to these feelings and to acknowledge a lot of complicated loss.”

Blessed with stunning crystal clear tone and pitch, Leigh has been honing her craft for more than two decades. Her first album was released in 2000.

Leigh has been part of the music program at Southern Cross University since 1998.

“I’ve had some inspiring musicians and academic colleagues to work with,” she said. “Jim Kelly, Jon Fitzgerald and David Sanders are some of the people who have been very influential.”

Leigh acknowledges that as she has gained confidence as a songwriter, performer, composer and arranger, her students at Southern Cross University have been the beneficiaries.

“As musicians we’re all constantly learning. It is vital to keep motivated to try new things and continue to hone ones skills. It is so important for our students to see that we keep our creative practice alive. As I diversify and grow so does my teaching palette.”

In 2009 she was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning.

“There’s a focus on portfolio careers. It’s vital to be as broad and flexible as you can. I first started as a vocalist/live performer and then I moved into an education focus. I compose and perform and I’ve maintained that throughout my career. More recently songwriting has become more of a focus. In particular arranging for horns and strings. It’s important for me to keep developing and growing in my compositional writing and pushing my improvisational approaches, and performing – all of this informs my teaching.”

Leigh has coordinated the APRA AMOCS Songwriters’ Workshop series at Southern Cross University since its inception in 2007. The seminar series has featured artists such as: Darren Percival, Hiatus Kaiyote, Taasha Coates, Vince Jones, Kerrianne Cox, Katie Noonan, Rob Hirst, Blue King Brown, Lisa Gerard, Nerida Tyson-Chew, Neil Murray, Inga Liljestrom, Darren Percival, The Stiff Gins, Husky, Lucie Thorne, Buoy, Justine Bradley, Jim Moginie and Kristin Berardi.

“I have enjoyed coordinating and interviewing the artists over the last 11 years,” said Leigh.

“APRA AMCOS have been incredibly supportive with grants for over a decade now and this relationship enables our students to gain first-hand industry connections, inspiration and unique insights into songwriting.

“Some workshops have been hilariously comedic and still so insightful; some heartfelt and intense; others have been highly interactive. Each artist offers something unique; all have been generous and uplifting. Our support team, our students and the music staff are all very supportive, so this keeps the Songwriters’ Workshops flowing in a positive direction.”


2016 Dolphin Awards

Leigh Carriage was not the only Southern Cross University success at the 2016 Dolphin Awards. Congratulations to:

Luke Vassella, arts alumnus, for:

  • Music Video: Shine a Light
  • Adult Contemporary: In a North Coast Town
  • Country: Casino by Luke Vassella
  • Songwriter Of The Year: Mountain Blue

Angus Graham, music alumnus, for:

  • Rock: Smile
  • Protest: Misguided Existence
  • Devotional / Gospel: Unclouded Eyes

Marshall Okell, social science/diploma of education, alumnus for:

  • Blues: Carry On Carry On

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