Bellingen’s talented (but extremely humble) Jo Pierce, will be very busy at the Bello Winter Music, performing with Sultrio and conducting her local women’s choir Sohum. Jo always enjoyed singing and was in the school choir all through primary school, however she was always dubious about her own talent. “I never thought much of my voice” admits Jo. She did become a member of Akabella for 4 years from 1999, but really only ‘discovered’ her voice in her late 40’s, under the tutelage of Catherine Burgess. She is now conducting two Bellingen choirs, ‘Sohum’ for women and ‘Bromantics’ for men and the choir members literally ‘sing her praises’.
Jo has always been musical and began flute lessons in 4th grade at school. “I was incredibly fortunate to have a teacher, Mrs Robinson, who wanted to start a jazz ensemble. She went into the city (Sydney) once a week for flute lessons from an ex – Sydney Symphony Orchestra flautist, and then taught me what she’d learned. It was a god send. My parents had recently separated, I was an only child and had just changed schools, so life was a little challenging. My flute was a source of great comfort and joy,” says Jo. Unfortunately, Jo’s flute playing days ended abruptly. “My new flute teacher in high school was grooming me to play in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and all the joy went out of it. I’ve hardly played my flute since then,” laments Jo. However, while learning the flute Jo discovered harmony. “I just suddenly found that I could hear the harmonies in songs, and it became a great game to find as many harmonies as I could whenever I listened to music.”
Jo is also a wonderful dancer, albeit completely self-taught. Again, Jo is very self-deprecating about her talents. “I’ve never considered myself to be a dancer. I went to 2 ballet classes as a little girl and my teacher’s dismay at my lack of flexibility was so apparent, that I never returned.” However, many Bellingen Shire locals have witnessed Jo’s wonderful burlesque performances in the past. “I was putting on an Opp Shop Ball with a couple of friends. I wanted to dance the Can Can at the party, so I called upon my friend Mary Bernadette, who really is a dancer. We put together a performance that turned out to be quite a sensation. Mary and I then went on to host some big themed parties at which we performed burlesque dances we had choreographed ourselves (mainly Mary!). I had also teamed up with some other friends to put together Bollywood dances for specific events, and these became part of our party performances,” says Jo.
It was during the burlesque period that ‘Sultrio’ was born. Described as “a sassy, sultry a Capella trio”, Sultrio is comprised of three fabulous Bellingen women, Jo, Eileen Moore and Louise Scott.
The trio sing “sultry, delicious, haunting and sensual music with breathtaking harmonies, glamorous performances and just a dash of great fun,” says Louise. The trio are performing at Little Red Kitchen on Friday 7th July at 6.30pm and Hyde Cafe on Saturday 8th July at 3.30pm as part of the Bello Winter Music.
Singing with the trio gave Jo the confidence she needed. “I made my solo singing debut with the Roger Burke Quartet and fronted blues & roots band ‘Tin Sandwich’ for about 6 months. I’ve sung with Brett Iggulden and his band, and had the incredible experience of singing with jazz luminaries Julienne Wilson, Cam Robbins and Nigel Date. A couple of years ago I was Barry Morgan’s ‘guest Diva’. Now that was something! More recently, I’ve been singing with Peter L Barry, mainly backing harmonies, and now with Peter and DJ Joelism at the Brewery some Friday nights,” says Jo.
Three years ago Jo established the women’s choir Sohum. “I started waking at 3am with this voice in my head telling me to start a women’s choir. I would think maybe one day, when I’m ready. I don’t have the skills/ the training/ I’m not ready yet/ not good enough etc, etc. It kept happening until I said yes, alright!” From humble beginnings (at one point only 6 or 7 women were attending), Sohum now has 27 members. “We had our first performance only 10 weeks after we formed and we’ve sung at every Bello Winter Music Festival. We’ve also sung at the Dorrigo Bluegrass Festival and we truly love singing at the Palliative Care Memorial Ceremonies. Initially, there was a bit of reluctance within the group to perform, but one taste of the exhilaration and connection that comes from sharing with an audience cured that. It’s an absolute joy and privilege to lead these wonderful women in song and harmony. We have a lot of fun and have become good friends,” enthuses Jo.
The local men wanted part of the action and encouraged Jo to conduct a men’s choir. ‘Bromantics’ was established in May this year. “I have 22 enthusiastic, dedicated ‘Bros’ and it feels like the start of something great. It can be difficult for the guys to pitch from my voice, as they sing so much lower, and getting them to sing softly is not always easy. However, these are minor issues and the source of much amusement. I’m enjoying the different kinds of songs that suit male voices and looking forward to combining Bromantics and Sohum to form a big mixed choir, which I’ll be doing at the Bello Winter Music Festival. It’s just so much fun!” This humble, self-confessed ‘introvert’, (despite admitting to conducting choirs in her bloomers), is achieving great things in our shire.
The full Bello Winter Music program can be accessed here. The Sohum Choir will be performing at Cedar Bar & Kitchen, Saturday 8th July at 11.30am for Bello Winter Music. Their special guests will be ‘Bromantics’.
Jo will be conducting a singing course at Camp Creative 2018. ‘Only Men Aloud’ is a course just for men! Jo assures us that the course is suitable for “shower soloists, car crooners or the more experienced warblers.” Jo brings to her workshops an innate sense of harmony, a palpable passion for the joy of bringing people together in song, patient tenacity and a wicked sense of fun! Sign Up here.