FOR 16 years the Richard Morris Memorial Concert and scholarship have inspired young Wimmera residents with a passion for performing arts to follow their dreams.
Now renamed the RM Showcase, the concert, at Horsham Town Hall on Saturday, will celebrate the region's brightest musical talents.
A total of 19 group and solo acts will perform, while the winners of the Richard Morris Memorial Scholarship and the inaugural Alex Rathgeber Scholarship will be announced.
Richard Morris was Horsham resident who was heavily involved in region's performing arts community. He died in a car crash in 2004.
His wife Jan Morris said Richard's death greatly impacted the community.
"I was in complete shock. The moment we got back to Horsham, there were kids saying: 'I don't know what we're going to do without him.'
"They were very young and vulnerable," she said.
"Sean Hallam was a really good friend of Richard's. He said Richard would have wanted them to keep on singing without him."
In November 2004, Mr Hallam and Kristy Ward decided to gather a group of Horsham performers and host a concert in Richard's honour.
"Since then, it's always been held and always on the third weekend in November. We raised as much money as we could and the next year, offered a scholarship," Mrs Morris said.
There was discussion among the Morris family to end the concert's successful run after 10 years.
"I had seen the benefit of it at that stage and all 10 scholarship winners were in the performing arts industry," she said.
"We kept with it and celebrated 15 years in 2018. Last year I decided to create a succession plan, just like I have done with the debutante balls."
Mrs Morris said the concert helped showcase the best talents in the region.
"It's great to see how healthy performing arts still is in the region. The concert is a showcase of some of the best pieces from throughout year. It's a real boost to be invited to perform," she said.
"Richard would be blown away if he could see what it has become - especially this one with Alex (Rathgeber) performing. Alex really looked up to Richard."
Mrs Morris said she hoped the concert and scholarship would continue for many years to come.
Sean Hallam said the concert was a way to honour Richard's passion for the arts.
"Kristy Ward and I organised the concert back in 2004 and it was only meant to be a one-off thing. After the first year, it was such a success (that) we decided to run it again," he said.
Mr Hallam grew up in Horsham and said Jan and Richard Morris had encouraged him to pursue a career in the arts. He now works at Caufield Grammar as a piano teacher.
"Richard and Jan really supported and encouraged me to pursue my own passion. It was so important for me to be able to pay that forward and do what I can to help the next generation," he said.
"Often the regional areas are starved of the arts, so it's great to see how this has evolved.
"Music was just a hobby for me when I was growing up and I was mainly self-taught. Then I started taking lessons.
"After taking my first exam, the examiner told me that I should consider going to university to study music, so I went on to study at the Victorian College of the Arts."
Kristy Ward said Richard Morris made a profound impact on her life.
"After Richard died, it really made us reflect on the significance of him in our lives as a mentor during our adolescence," she said.
"I'm a teacher now in Ballarat and I'm seeing now first hand the role mentors play in the lives of young people.
"Richard helped give me the confidence to get out there and perform. He made everyone feel so welcome and part of something. We wanted to celebrate and recognise that in his absence.
"It's been great to see Jan and her family reflect and celebrate Richard annually at this amazing event. Richard would be really proud to see what it's evolved into."
Former Horsham resident Alex Rathgeber has performed in a West End production of Phantom of the Opera and a recent Australian tour of The Wizard of Oz.
He said the Richard Morris Memorial Concert had been a centerpiece of the Wimmera performing arts calendar for 15 years.
This year, the inaugural Alex Rathgeber Scholarship will be awarded to a young Wimmera resident.
"It's a real honour to be a part of this event because Richard and Jan were great inspirations to me when I was younger," he said.
"It feels like it's come full circle. This has been great to pay forward some of the inspiration they gave to me, and hopefully watch the next generation to follow their dreams."
Mr Rathgeber will perform at Saturday's concert after wrapping up a run of shows for the Australian Jekyll & Hyde anniversary concert.
"I felt like it was really important for me to be there since it's the first year of my scholarship," he said.
"It was great to see the passion the applicants had for performing and music. It's really exciting to see so many young people loving the arts in the community."
Former Horsham resident Grace O'Donnell-Clancy received the Richard Morris Scholarship in 2012.
"It was amazing because I got it the same year I finished high school. I was getting ready to relocate to Melbourne to study performing arts at Patrick Studios Australia," she said.
"At the time, my course wasn't accredited by the government - so everything was up front. That scholarship helped with relocation costs and fees. It was huge and a great kick-start."
Growing up, Ms O'Donnell-Clancy was involved in calisthenics, dancing, singing, and productions with her school and Horsham Arts Council.
"Anything that had something to do with singing or dancing, I wanted to do it - I was pretty busy," she said.
"It was hard because the culture among my friends was mainly focused around sport. I had never thought about a career in the arts until year 12 and it became crunch time to decide what I wanted to do.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs, and people don't often see the downs - only the achievements. It's been a hard road, but I don't regret it at all."
Ms O'Donnell Clancy recently completed an eight-month contract as a lead performer on a Royal Caribbean cruise through the Mediterranean.
"I really want to keep doing that kind of work, then I'm thinking about doing some more study in film and TV acting courses," she said.
Ms O'Donnell Clancy will perform at the concert for the time since 2012.
Last year's Richard Morris Scholarship recipient Liam Robertson has already started his journey into a performing arts career.
The Horsham College student will leave the Wimmera next year to attend Patrick Studios Australia in Melbourne.
"It's always been something I've dreamed about because I love entertaining people. It still hasn't sunk in that I'm going. It's a really surreal feeling that I'm leaving Horsham," he said.
"The scholarship will help with every cost I'll have and enable me to experience new things."
He encouraged other young Wimmera residents to take a chance and follow their dreams.
"It always sounds cliched, (but I would say to them) putting in everything you've got and having trust in yourself that all the hard work you're putting in will be worth it," he said.
The Richard Morris Memorial Scholarship has increased from $1000 to $2000 in 2019, while the value of the Alex Rathgeber Performing Artist Scholarship is $1000.
The RM Showcase is at Horsham Town Hall on Saturday, November 16 from 7.30pm; tickets are available on the town hall's website or from the box office.
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