There’s no singing of Handel’s Messiah or Mozart’s Requiem in the Heavy Choir Project. Nor will you catch the group singing popular contemporary choral favourites like Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ or Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’. No, when the Heavy Choir Project takes to the stage at Memo Music Hall for its inaugural performance this March, audiences will be treated to songs from Iron Maiden, Metallica and Helloween. Because (as the name suggests), the Heavy Choir Project is Melbourne’s dedicated heavy metal choir.
The choir was founded by Emily Stekly, a longtime fan of heavy metal music who started the group in April 2021. Stekly had been part of community choirs before, but as a new parent was looking for a creative outlet where she could sing the music she really enjoyed. “We metalheads usually say you either get it or you don’t,” she laughs. “There's something really powerful about the heavy genres.”
“I think a lot of us would describe it as empowering. There's that interesting sense of feeling connected to your innermost self.”
Since launching, the group has grown to include 16 members spanning almost every generation. “We position the choir to be very welcoming and inclusive,” says Stekly. As it stands, the Heavy Choir Project’s youngest member is 19, while the oldest (“I like to say our most experienced”) is 61, with singers coming from a diverse range of backgrounds – everything from lecturers to ex-band vocalists. Singers don’t audition either, with all people welcomed into the group where they’re supported to build on their skills. “We’ve made a point of being very open to all abilities.”
Stekly emphasises that singing heavy metal really isn’t any different to singing any other kind of music, with singers using the same kind of techniques and vocal exercises that you’d find in a more conventional choir. There is one key difference fans of some genres of heavy metal might notice, however.
“The one thing we don't do so much of is the screaming growling vocals, just because it's not really suited to the choir,” Stekly says. “What we focus on is showing off the really dynamic vocals and the multilayered choir harmonies.”
For the Heavy Choir Project’s inaugural performance, Raise Your Horns, at St Kilda’s Memo Music hall on March 24, the group has planned an 80s-heavy setlist. The program will include the likes of Iron Maiden, Dokken, Warlock, Motorhead, Ozzy Osbourne and Helloween, as well as a heavy metal version of ‘Dangerous Game’ from Leslie Bricusse’s 1990s Jekyll and Hyde musical. Stekly adds: “We are doing a Metallica song, but I think people won't expect it to be the song that we've chosen.”
The choir will also be bringing the incredible stage presence and antics of heavy metal groups to the stage. “I think heavy metal traditionally lends itself quite naturally to theatrics.”
“We not only teach our members how to sing these songs, we actually really develop the performance of them as well.”
Raise Your Horns will also mark the first time performing for many of the group’s members. “That was one of the aspirations we had,” says Stekly. “To work with people who weren't necessarily professional singers and show them that, with the right support and skills, they could actually experience performing on a stage with a live band.”
“That's what I think is super rewarding.”
The Heavy Choir Project will present Raise Your Horns at Memo Music Hall on March 24. Tickets are on sale now. Intake for new members is expected to open mid-February for the term starting in April – sign up to the waitlist via the Heavy Choir Project’s website.