It's a wrap - Singing in Sardinia and Corsica, 2023

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The Singing in Sardinia and Corsica trip that was –

The list of really great things that happened on this trip is long but here are some highlights– 

We kicked off with a delicious welcome seafood dinner under the olive tree in Olbia. 

We travelled south the following day and popped into visit the ethnographic costume and jewellery Museo in Nuoro where we captured some history and a good insight into the amazing culture and story of Sardinia. It gave us a backdrop before we immersed ourselves into our journey and all the fabulous characters we met along the way.  We even sang in the courtyard there where a member of their staff joined in, that was pretty cool. After that, although a tourist thing, the shepherds lunch in the forest with waiters joining together as a ‘tenore’ group and singing to us was pretty sweet.

This is still just day one, we then arrived and stayed in Cala Gonone in a hotel that is right on the marina. It's not 5* but the experience of staying there certainly felt like it was.  Rooms were simple and sweet and their spectacular rooftop restaurant with an awesome view across the bay for breakfast and dinner was a winner! 

The four days in Cala Gonone went fast with swimming in the bay and singing in Don Puggioni’s cute little church. Although day two rehearsal in the church was nearly canned because Stuart had been teaching us the song, Bella Ciao. This song calling for peace is again aligned with the left side of politics and Don Puggioni was nervous that people in the village had heard it and could think that he is associating with a political party.We claimed our ignorance, he forgave us and all was sweet by the time we met Donato, the local choir director, phew. Donato is delightful, his instant recognition of what we were doing, the holiday choir concept, and his choir’s enthusiasm to join us was priceless!  

The concert in Cala Gonone with Donato’s superb choir started out with our now best friend, Don Puggioni, blasting out on his megaphone for the locals to join us for a concert in his church. So we got a full audience! 

Perhaps he was lubricated by all the warm and genuine hospitality of singing and dancing and home-made wine that flowed outside the church in the little courtyard after that wonderful concert, but he surprised us with insisting that we sing Bella Ciao with the crowd outside the church, he made us laugh. 

The memory of that night with the table that popped up in a flash straight after the concert with their cheeses, olives and those fabulous almond and pistachio meringues, mmm,  and dancing and singing. Seriously I’ll be back there as soon as I.. can arrange it! 

The next day our planned boat trip got canned due to choppy water, so we made a trip to the Grotto Ispingoli. This a really impressive set of caves and the guide insisted we sing in there where we had an instant appreciative audience. We followed that by lunch nearby in a Michelin restaurant sitting at long tables on the large terrace overlooking the spectacular mountainous scenery. Who did we see there.. Don Puggioni. He got a big toast and stood up to take a bow across the other side of the terrace. 

Later that evening we went back up the mountain to Dorgali to meet Donato’s male choir, those hard working muscular men standing there and singing the most exquisite harmonies! Really it made you weep.

Stuart was thrown in to sing too. It was followed by traditional dancing, tenore singing and then the walk around the corner to congregate under an orange tree in a courtyard where tables were set up and out comes the home made wines and all the delicious foods and of course more singing and dancing.

It felt a little sad to leave Cala Gonone. But off we went to Alghero stopping in Bitti the home of “tenore” singing where we visited the cute little “tenore” museo and had the young tenore singers turn up and sing for us and then our own Jerome joining in with them. That blew us all away.

Next stop Alghero, walking along that superb “lungomare” along the ocean and watching the sunset was sweet. The dinner in the square with the waitress dressed in a sexy corset who was trying to pull a shifty with me when it was time to pay then Luisa let her have it.. well that was an interesting and memorable evening. Haha.

Exploring the ancient Nuraghe just out of town, and seeing how brilliant they were with architecture and village design way back in the bronze age was pretty damm impressive.

Leaving Sardinia and taking the ferry to Bonifacio and seeing that spectacular cliff-face with the Citadelle perched way up top was a good intro into Corsica. 

After a good look around Bonifacio we hopped back on our bus with Davide our driver and arrived in Propriano. Staying in that quirky hotel perched on the cliff with the most extraordinary view of the intense blue shades in that ocean below took my breath away. And then walking down the garden path and landing on our own sandy beach and seeing the look of sheer delight on the faces of our group as they plunged into that water made my heart sing. That evening having dinner in the taverna by that same little beach at sunset felt like something out of a movie.

The next overnight stop was Ajaccio, it was brief, just enough time to take a walk around and get a drink on our new rooftop bar and have dinner in town.

We were on our way north to Calvi to settle in for 5 days during the Rencontres de Chants Polyphoniques festival. 

Calvi is a beautiful town with soft sandy beaches, a marina bay with superyachts of course and on top of the hill stood the magnificent ancient citadel perched like a cherry on top. So the next days were spent singing, swimming, pop up performances and attending concerts in that citadelle cathedral at night. I think we all got thunder thighs walking up and down those steep rough cobblestone pathways and stairs everyday as the Citadelle was where all the festival concerts were taking place.

My personal festival highlights were the Trio Samaïa, Parvenn & Ilya Khan and The Basa Ahaide and the young Corsican group, Una Fiara Nova. Really diverse world music from talented professionals.

We had two great group meals in Calvi, the first was a delicious lunch in our hotel restaurant and the second at an unpretentious little pizzeria, where the owner and the chef went all out to please and impress us with a 4 course banquet.

But what made this trip stand out was the team, Stuart Davis has such vibrant energy .. He had us singing and signing up for morning swim squad set up within minutes, as well as pop up singing sessions in all locations. Donato, our local director was brilliant, so warm and welcoming and offering us such unique local experiences that made  And having Luisa on the team and assisting me before and during the trip was so gold. Big thank you to both of you.

Summer Spritz

by: Jennifer Richardson on

Luisa and Franchino show us how to make the prefect Summer Spritz.


by: Jennifer Richardson on

I'm sharing a memory that popped into mind today of an emotional farewell song our participants sang to our beautiful venue hosts in Bali. 

I hope we can get back there one day soon.

We all need this!

Tony Backhouse interview

by: Jennifer Richardson on


I am so happy to present this interview with Tony Backhouse.
An awesome guy and huge inspiration to so many of us from all around the world.


1. Tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in NZ listening to Elvis & was fascinated early on by vocal harmonies. After singing in the school madrigal group & gaining a B.Mus in Composition, I left  the classical world behind & played guitar in a few NZ bands. This hedonistic & thoughtless life culminated in playing in the Crocodiles, NZ’s Band of the Year in 1980. The Crocodiles, giddy with success, hit Sydney in 1981 & promptly broke up. Unable to afford a plane fare home, I stayed on in Sydney playing music, & working in Badde Manors cafe...

2. Please share your singing journey with us?

After playing & singing in bands with Renee Geyer and Jackie Orzasczky in Sydney in the ‘80s, I gave up music as a career, instead focussing on singing for the love of it. This was the best thing I ever did - freed of the need to make a living out of music, I explored a whole new repertoire: Black gospel choirs and quartets. I started an a cappella quartet the Elevators in 1985, and then the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation a cappella gospel choir in 1986. The choir became popular & many wanted to join it - too many, so I started running workshops in a cappella gospel - which I continue to do. 

3. What is one of your most memorable singing experiences?

I’ve had many great singing experiences - jamming with Valanga Khoza, singing with the Heavenly Light Quartet, singing with the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation for Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu…but I remember vividly singing in a church in New Orleans with the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation. We sang a song I’d written, obviously unfamiliar to the church, but before we’d finished the church had taken over the song with bass, drums, organ & voices, and everyone was dancing in the aisles.  

4. 3 tips to someone who wants to improve their technique as a soloist &/or choir member?

Listen. Relax. Move - and move around to where you can hear all the parts, and hear how your part fits. 

5. Why do you love working with The Create Escape?

A memorable experience on one of the tours? The Create Escape has taken me to beautiful villages in Samoa and Bali, plazas and churches in Italy & put me together with other choir directors from different traditions. I love the intersection of different cultures that Jen provides, and the gorgeous locations where we all meet to sing. The most potent memory is of Edoardo Materassi’s Animae Voce choir singing ‘Indodana’ in the round to us in a church in Firenze. Or perhaps in the chapel at Montestigliano, when I sang Shine on Me in that small space with a lovely acoustic & time stood still.

6. What do you love most about teaching? 

Seeing the joy on singers’ faces. Hearing unexpected beauty emerge from a disparate group who suddenly unite on a chord or a riff.

7. Favourite song and why?

One Night by Elvis. It’s the first Elvis song I heard, a good melody, good feel and still has a ton of raw energy in it,

8. What’s next for you?

2020 is a year of travel including our event in Argentina, but I’m also very involved in some recording projects, one of which we’ll start mixing next week. 

I have a ton of nearly-completed recordings and compositions on the go & I’m keen to complete them all - these are not a cappella gospel or anything remotely like it, but collaborations with old friends and colleagues (all of us played in the Crocodiles) that involve funky rhythm sections, screaming & crooning horns, guitars, strings, keys…I’m getting back in touch with some youthful frenzy.

9. 5 things on your bucket list?  

Visit Ethiopia. Live in France or Italy for a while. Finish the collaborative recordings. Become a better bass player. Record with an African American gospel choir.

For details on our upcoming event in Buenos Aires, Argentina with Tony click on this linked line >>

I'll leave you to listen to Tony's favourite song and the video we took of Tony singing in the little chapel at Montestigliano!

Tony looking quite at home during a coffee break in the square in Mercatello.

Singing and Sailing in Croatia, 2019

by: Jennifer Richardson on

Did you know there is strong tradition of singing in Croatia?

Well there is and it's a cappella and called Klapa, it's an integral part of life in Croatia, it reminds me of the Pacific Islands and as I was to find out the harmonies are very similar.

As Wikipedia states: The word klapa translates as "a group of friends" and traces its roots to littoral church singing. The motifs in general celebrate love, wine (grapes), country (homeland) and sea. Main elements of the music are harmony and melody, with rhythm very rarely being very important. In 2012 klapa was inscribed in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

I suggest you slip on your headphones. I filmed this song in the middle of the Diocletian Palace in Split, Croatia on my phone in amongst a crowd but the acoustics in this ancient space are incredible and the harmonies and emotion of this song are sublime. 

Back in 2017 on our first Singing and Sailing trip in Croatia with Stuart Davis we were fortunate to hear a wonderful local 'Klapa' group that really stood out. Apart from singing these gorgeous romantic Dalmatian songs about the life on the islands, this group sang songs from the hinterland that were completely different and recognisably Balkan music as I knew it with nasal sounds. But what really struck me that night was how some songs were so familiar and sounded like the sounds of pacific islander music... I closed my eyes and listened, although the words were Croatian, the sounds transported me to Samoa. That got me chatting with their lead singer and director Mario Markovina.

Mario impressed me greatly with his velvety rich baritone voice and chatting to him I found he has extensive knowledge of music as an ethnomusicologist. Soon after meeting him I was to discover that he is well known and is highly respected amongst many 'klapa groups along the Dalmatian Coast and a true 'maestro', above all, he is a delightful and charming person. It was an obvious choice to invite Mario to teach us some Croatian songs for our Singing and Sailing in 2019. 

Mario had never taught in english and I had never worked with a 'blind' director, so to begin we were both a little curious and anxious, thankfully it fell away quickly and the group all fell in love with him and the music.

In our first session with Mario he had instructed us not to look at the music scores or words and learn by ear... you can see how well that went and can listen to the results (below). Enjoy!



If you are interested in listening and learning some Klapa singing through a tutorial with Mario contact us. We will have that available.

Giacomo Donati

by: Jennifer Richardson on

Sorry to share this very sad news and announce that last week our Italy event host and very close friend Luisa Donati tragically lost her son Giacomo in a car crash. I think it's the worst thing any parent can experience and as a parent who has also lost a son I have huge empathy here.

As a friend who has spent months of each year working and playing with the family, I share their pain and I know anyone who has ever attended one of our events in either Montestigliano or Palazzo Donati in Italy will understand.

Our love goes out to the Donati Clarke family. Luisa, Chris, Georgia, Olivia, Damiano, Massimo, Virginia, Marta, Giancarlo, Pierluigi, Guilia, Piero and all the partners and friends we offer our deepest love and sympathy.

The family has asked not to send flowers but to donate to a fund created in honour of Giacomo. The funds will be going to 3 causes. SAVE THE CHILDREN as Giac loved children, FAUNA & FLORA INTERNATIONAL and ASSOCIAZIONE GUARNIERI, we owe a lot to this organisation as they helped find him and supported the family through this horrible time. To Donate   >> click here.

Making Music in Mercatello and Florence with '3' maestros!

by: Jennifer Richardson on

An immersion in song, food and culture!

This year our big singing in Italy event was a cultural and singing immersion spent in 2 stunning locations and our lucky group of singers were given a real treat with 3 brilliant maestros including our much-loved Tony Backhouse

The Create Escape group and Animae Voces combined choir with directors, Tony Backhouse and Edoardo Materassi after our performance in Florence. What a grande gruppi!
Tony was in good form and instantly had the group sounding like a professional choir on tour! This really took our local maestro in Mercatello, Guerrino Parri by surprise as we had discussed the concept… ‘a bunch of people come together from all over Australia, NZ and beyond as strangers and learn a repertoire’… ‘some of them will be stage performers and others are shower singers’ but you never know, maybe it will be good enough for a concert at the end of the week.



Palazzo Donati and the village of Mercatello provided a warm and welcoming cradle for our first 6 days. The accommodation included Palazzo Donati and Palazzo Ducale and gorgeous apartments throughout this quaint medieval village of Mercatello. 

Although a little sceptical at first we were soon to find the whole village opened their Bars, Pizzerias, Ristorantes, Gelatarias and their arms and voices for us.

There were various forms of transport, from private charter to public bus to Urbino and even a tractor ride to take us to dinner!

We found Guerrino to be a phenomenal choir and music director and it was a thrill to see our group of passionate singers of ‘american black gospel’ take to singing a completely different repertoire. I'd been talking with Guerrino for many years about this dream to bring people here to this delightful village and to work with him .. this was a dream come true.
Hmm - It did not go unnoticed that he looked very similar to Tony (perhaps a slightly younger version).. they even wore similar clothes!
Take a look at the video of our itinerant concert around the village of Mercatello sul Metuaro. This was the Anteprima performance to launch the annual summer festival of Musica e Musica, curated by Guerrino Parri

After this lovely concert where the Mayor and a large proportion of the village turned out to check us out we celebrated with a shared meal. Guerrino's choir and a group of us prepared our meal. Sally Battson's pavlova's were won the evening! You'll have to ask her the story of the making.. it's a story in itself. 

The following 6 days were spent in Florence. A different scene after the gentle village immersion in the countryside of Le Marche. But how could anyone not love the city of Florence? We stayed in another gorgeous Palazzo, Palazzo San Niccoló, in the artisan’s area near the Arno River.

One of our most adored directors, Edoardo Materassi was our local teacher in Florence this year and he got us inspired and energised in the mornings and evenings with fun warm ups and exquisite songs.  We were joined by members of his brilliant choir Animae Voces and worked towards a concert in the superb acoustics of the magnificent Chiesa Valdese.
Edoardo’s choir equally loved learning the spontaneously joyous gospel under the skills of the legendary Tony Backhouse. They were singing their hearts out!
And the concert? Well you can look and listen at some of the results of the concerts in both Mercatello and Florence in videos I posted on our YouTube channel. We play them over and over again because they are simply beautiful harmonies and delightful to watch.


Here's a link that should take you to the playlist. YouTube >

If you are green with envy, don’t fret, we are working on bringing Edoardo to Australia for some workshops and there will be another Italian singing immersion coming up in 2021 with Edoardo and Guerrino.

There's a similar type of event happening in Buenos Aires in 2020 with Tony Backhouse, Eric Dozier and Gerardo Flores! Take a look at The Gospel Explosion in Argentina >>

We also have our Singing in Sardinia and Corsica event coming up next year.. you better book now for that one it is selling up quickly. Singing in Sardinia >>

Or let us know of your interest now for 2021. >> Contact us


"Sensing Italy" with Lisa Clifford and Jan Cornall

by: Jennifer Richardson on


Creativity flowed and some dark history explored.

Our little writers group had a wonderful bespoke experience in May working with two brilliant teachers in two gorgeous Palazzo's in two very different locations. They were totally spoiled!

The writers came together to unlock their writing talents and be inspired in the birthplace of modern literature. An aside to this was a wish to discover a little about the connection of a nasty ancient relative from 1300’s of our host in Mercatello and the great author of medieval times, Dante Algheri! Don’t worry the family has grown to be hugely supportive of the arts in more recent times. 

Thankfully before we left home our author and teacher from Australia, Jan Cornall had sent out some suggestions to get the creative juices flowing on the journey to Italy.

Then our writing retreat began in earnest in the sumptuous surrounds of Palazzo San Niccoló in Florence with local author and teacher, Lisa Clifford. Lisa has lived and worked in Florence for the past 25 years and she guided us smoothly and humorously through our shy and somewhat reserved start and walked us through some fascinating backstreets and some of her secret locations where we were inspired to get on and write.

Following on from Florence we took a 2.5 hour drive with our italian partner and host Luisa Donati to her family Palazzo in Mercatello sul Metuaro. Over very warm hospitality and a glass of prosecco and delicious dinner in the delightful home she shared more nasty stories about what the distant relative of the Donati’s did to poor old Dante! To learn more about this story… well you’ll have to come with us on our next journey to Tuscany.

After delicious leisurely breakfasts in the Palazzo we had sessions with Jan, beginning with her soothing writing meditations and expert skills and tips, words and emotions flowed out in buckets and later in the day so did the vino!!

This picture was taken in a little room off the kitchen in Palazzo Donati straight after a morning session with Jan Cornall. These sessions were like gold; the words were pouring out and the emotions and all the senses were charged.

The only problem we faced at the end of our journey in Palazzo Donati was that no-one wanted to leave.. we wanted to stay on, keep writing, and keep exploring this magical medieval village, the food and the warm hospitality of the people.  We will factor in an add period to do just that next time ;-)

Would you like to do this event ? Do let us know.


Writing with all the Senses

by: Jennifer Richardson on

That is just one of the fun things we will be doing on our upcoming Come to your Senses retreat with Shelley Kenigsberg in Italy this year.

The dates are confirmed for the 17th -29th September, 2018

Beginning the journey in Florence, we'll be workshopping with Shelley and spending time writing each day. We'll be exploring the fascinating literary sub culture and meeting with some local authors; there will be evenings spent enjoying aperitivo in a building which has been through many ‘edits’. First it was a monastery, then a prison, and then — the most important for us this tour — into a Literary Cafe. 

After a few days in Florence, we will go on to Mercatello sul Metauro, a little village in Le Marche. We’ve selected this region for its connection to the master writer, Dante Aligheiri who was inspired here to compose his most recognised work: Dante’s Divine Comedy  — a superb introduction to new thinking coming out of the Middle Ages, and was a significant contribution to Italian poetry of the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance.

Luisa Donati is opening the doors of her delightful family Palazzo (Palazzo Donati) for our guests and introducing us to her friends in the village. Can you imagine getting a banquet cooked and served to you by 9 passionate foodies from the village? Yes it's true, you will get that!

You can read a little about what Barbara Weible has to say about this little village in her blog 'Hole in the Donut' or what Annette White from 'Bucket List' says about the village and Palazzo Donati by clicking on the links here. 'Hole in the Donut' and 'Bucket List'

More about Shelley Kenigsberg here>>

Contact us for more information >> contact