Western District Choral Festival – Warrnambool: Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Warrnambool

WDCF Compere John MacInnes

This year’s Western District Choral Festival was hosted by the Merri Singers of Warrnambool, and under the direction of Philip Shaw.  Twelve choirs from south-western Victoria and south-east South Australia attended. The compere for the event was John MacInnes.

After the event was opened by Councillor Michael Neoh, the first choir to perform was the host choir, The Merri Singers, under the direction of Jeanette Hajncl.  The accompanist was Merle Wines.


First the choir sang Back to Warrnambool, composed in the 1920s by R. Stoneham.  This song showed the group’s good blend in unison singing and excellent diction.  Verse two featured a baritone solo, reminiscent of the singing of John Brownlee.  The second song was Mangwani Mpulele, a Zulu song, sung in parts.


The Hamilton Singers performed A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas, by Craig Courtney.  Only loosely based on the Christmas song, each verse features a different musical style and composer, beginning with unison men singing plain chant.  The piano enters to introduce 15th Century France (Josquin des Pres?), three french hens were a Palestrina motet, followed by a paraphrased Vivaldi Gloria introducing four calling birds. Beethoven heralded five gold rings, followed by six geese in Mozartian style.  Naturally, the swimming swans were introduced by a parody of Saint Sans The Swan. Wagner’s Valkyries shattered the tranquility as eight maids a-milking (complete with horned headgear). 

The nine ladies are dancing a Strauss waltz, of course.  The leaping lords galloped to Offenbach, while the pipers made a good job of sugar plum fairies (with subtly-dancing cross-dressing nymph).

Flamboyant and light-footed sugar plum fairy

Finally, all stops are pulled out in a rousing Sousa march featuring twelve drummers.  The most accomplished accompanist, playing all the orchestral and organ parts, was Celine Rogers, with the whole melded together by musical director, Beth Tonissen.  It’s clear that this crowd-pleasing piece will remain in Hamilton Singers’ repertoire for years to come.

TIN SHED SINGERS (Warrnambool)

Next was an all-men group – Tin Shed Singers (sometimes known as ‘the sheddies’).  This group was formed by Philip Shaw to give men the opportunity to sing together and give each other mutual friendship and support in a ‘non-pub’ setting.  After 13 years, this group is extremely accomplished.  Dressed in appropriate shed gear, the Sheddies presented four pieces – The Sheddie Mission Statement, Backs are Broke (a song about Koroit, written by sheddie T. de Kok and arranged by Jeanette Hajncl – whose attachment to the sheddies is via marriage), Sylvie and finally Anthem of Warrnambool by J. Lee.


Footprints the Choir are from Dunkeld.  This community group presented three songs, Just one Single Voice, Out Beyond Ideas and We Won’t Cry. Footprints are directed by Fran Coogen-Agar and accompanied by Ewan Cameron.

CANTORI (Warrnambool)

Cantori, a chamber choir from Warrnambool, under the direction of Jeanette Hajncl, has now been performing for ten years and are a most accomplished group of auditioned singers.  The choir showed their versatility with music spanning the 17th to 20th centuries – Sanctus by Clemens non papa, an arrangement of Amazing Grace featuring solos and wonderfully blended choral parts, and a delightful arrangement of Rubber Ducky from Sesame Street by J. Moss.


Cantori were then joined by many other singers from the assembled group, forming The Port Fairy Messiah Choiah Impromptu.  Off the cuff, the group sang Handel’s Hallelujah, conducted by Jeanette Hajncl, who has, for some years, been the musical director of this annual performance on 28th December.  Many singers, both local and holiday visitors, join an orchestra and professional soloists in this exciting work, always to a full house of appreciative music lovers.


The Portland Community Rockers, are a community group formed in 2015, directed by Rosie Collins from the guitar.  They sang Fields of Athenry and the Drifters hit Under the Boardwalk.


The name Khinkali comes from the Georgian word for ‘dumpling’.   This small group, directed by Philip Shaw, sang the Shaker song, Scour and Scrub, arranged for the group by Jeanette Hajncl, Banobbo, a traditional Georgian song, and Walk with Me by M. Shanahan.


Next was Apollo Bay Community Choir, a small and enthusiastic group, directed by Annabel Tellis Tunley.  This unaccompanied group sang four songs, Lean on Me, Peace White Dove, Zidele Amathambo and Video Killed the Radio Star.


The Millicent Choral Society were the sole South Australian representative at this years festival.  The choir was formed in 1974.  The current conductor is Michael Bleby.  Their songs were: We Gather Here Together (a 16th Century German madrigal), This Day of Joyful Pleasure by G Nanino, and A Joyful Madrigal by D. Moore.

THE RESONATORS (Warrnambool)

The Resonators are from Warrnambool.  Formed 10 years ago to sing gospel and African music, the group of nine singers sing without conductor of accompanist.  They sang with a sure sense of style and well-blended harmony.  The first song, Mahalia Jackson’s He Calmed the Ocean, featured a female solo.  The Resonators other pieces were Thandaza, an African Spiritual Song and Brother Done Been Here, an American Negro Slave Song.


Singers from all the choirs then gathered at the front of the church to sing two songs for massed singing with great verve, conducted once again by Festival Director Pihilip Shaw.  The first was Everything can Turn Around written, led and accompanied by Don Cowling.  This was followed by a Zulu hymn, Thurma Mina, arranged by Cath Mundy. This joint performance fittingly demonstrated the purpose of the WDCF – getting together to make music.

Many hours of work have gone into this most successful festival – from the director Philip and Merri Singers, and from all the groups represented.  Choirs who undertake to sing at the festival need to factor the date into their busy year of singing, and to work on festival songs as well as their other performance commitments.  For many, it is a long trip, and may mean organising accommodation.

Thanks to all the people involved in this most afternoon of fine music making and friendship.  Special thanks to the Merri Singers and Philip Shaw and Jeanette Hajncl for the many hours of work to ensure success.

After the music came the party – with afternoon tea for singers and audience, and discussions about where the festival might be held next year.  Watch this space….

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Thanks to Festival Director Philip Shaw for this video of the WDCF Massed Festival Chorus performance.



Symphony in a Day – Beethoven’s 9th: Friday 14th, 2019

Friday 14th 2019 was an auspicious day for music in Victoria.  It was Melbourne’s turn to rehearse and perform a symphony in a day with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.  Musicians of a high standard from community orchestras and choirs were invited to pass a rigorous vetting process to become part of this elite performance.  The whole performance was under the charismatic direction of Benjamin Northey, who is Chief Conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and Associate Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

At least three Geelong singers were among the guest choir members (from Geelong Chorale, Windfire Choir and Wondrous Merry).  The soloists were auditioned from the members the MSO Chorus, and we were delighted to see that Geelong resident soprano Emily Swanson was selected as the soprano soloist.  Emily performs with Windfire Chamber Choir and Vox Angelica and has extensive solo experience.  The other soloists were Carolyn Baker, mezzo-soprano, Asher Reichmann tenor and Robert Latham, bass.  Warren Trevelyan-Jones was chorus master.

The short program comprised only the last movement of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony (Symphony 9).   Prior to this, Ben Northey introduced a few of the guest members of the orchestra, some of whom had travelled from all over Victoria to play.  Of special note was that, as there is only one timpani part, a guest performer, Allison Summers, was selected to play this pivotal part.

It was a joyous occasion, with an audience made up largely of friends and family of the singers.  One father had travelled all the way from Mildura to hear his Ballarat-based daughter perform as a sessional player with the MSO clarinet line for the very first time.

Phones were flourished taking photos.  Audience members stood and waved to gain the attention of their friends.  Finally, the auditorium lights dimmed, and the orchestra tuned up.

Thunderous applause greeted the conductor’s entry and the arrival of the soloists.

This was a joyful performance.  The orchestra played with their usual impeccable style.  The choir sang with a rich tone and great precision, and excellent diction for the German text and with the excitement of singing this much loved work with a world-class orchestra and chorus.  The soloists all triumphed as they sang this taxing and intricate score.  The music builds from gentle beginning – with reprises of the themes from earlier movements, all of which were rejected by Beethoven before the cellos and basses quietly played the well-known “Ode to Joy” theme – arguably one of the greatest melodies ever written.  After initial development of this theme, the bass soloist heralds the choir’s entry, followed by the rest of the soloists.  One can imagine the shock of the first audience when hearing singers disrupting the conventional orchestral structure of the symphony, followed by their delight at the way the choir and soloists complete Beethoven’s transcendental masterpiece.

A screen behind the stage showed close ups of players and singers, an enhancement for the audience as so many of the performers are not easily visible to the audience.

The final chord had no time to die away before the audience’s thunderous applause, along with cat calls and foot stamping.

Congratulations to all performers, and especially those guest performers who can now tick ‘the Mighty 9th‘ off their bucket lists.

Last week musicians around New South Wales also had the chance to perform Beethoven’s 9th – at the Opera House with the SSO and Chorus.  This performance celebrated the choice by Australian listeners to ABC Classic FM of Beethoven as their favourite composer (this year’s Queen’s Birthday weekend classic countdown).

The Melbourne performance was at Hamer Hall.  The management took this opportunity to have an emergency drill to evacuate the Hall.  This was accomplished in an orderly manner and, hopefully, will enhance the safety of all who use this space.

Another chance to sing with the MSO – Handel’s Messiah

Singers from several Geelong choirs and who already know Handel’s Messiah have been invited to join with the MSO and MSO Chorus for a Geelong performance, on Friday 13th December.

Messiah is also the work chosen for the next in the Singing the Classics series – on Sunday, July 7th, at 2-5pm, at St Luke’s Uniting Church, Highton.  All welcome – but bookings essential.  Contact Anne Pilgrim if you are interested.


Windfire Music Festival 2019

All Saints Church, Newtown

Conductor:  Mark O’Leary – Assistant Conductor:  Juliana Kay

Exaudi is a choir of experienced young singers.  The choir performs a wide range of music, with a focus on modern compositions and arrangements.

This was an outstanding concert – enhanced by the excellent acoustics of another of Geelong’s historic churches, All Saints, Newtown.

The first two pieces were by Australian Stephen Leek.  The first, Kondallila, evokes the sounds of Kondalilla Falls in the Queensland Sunshine Coast hinterland.  It features the use of sibilants and other unvoiced sounds, voiced and whistled birdsong, as well as overtones producing an eerie effect (later also evoked in Exaudi’s arrangement of Waltzing Matilda).  The singers began the concert surrounding the audience, before moving up to the area in front of the chancel.

Two Norwegian folk song arrangements followed, in modern arrangements by Frank Harvey and Gunnar Erikson.  Next was Northern Lights by Ola Gjello, then two more songs about light –  Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitaker and Lux Aeterna (an arrangement for choir of Elgar’s Nimrod by John Cameron).  The first of these, which translates as ‘golden light’ featured a high soprano solo part, gloriously sung in this performance.

A song about writer’s block followed – Mrionczarnia by Polish composer Jakub Neske.  Stuttering nonsense syllables give a feeling of discomfort – the writer unable to put pen to paper.  As the block continues, a high soprano solo evokes a sense of calm, before the nonsense chant continues.  The piece concludes with a collective sigh. (Video below recorded in 2018)

The first part of the concert ended with Canticum Novum by Swiss composer Ivo Antognini – a piece that is rightly becoming a popular choice by fine choirs like Exaudi.

Bach (again) arranged by Rhonda Sandberg from the Bach chorale Come Sweet Death.  After singing the chorale in Bach’s original harmony, the music fragments.  Minimal hand movements from the choir enhanced this performance.  Another hymn followed – a modern arrangement of All Creatures of our God and King by Anders Edenroth.

I am a fish – composed and conducted by Assistant Conductor Juliana Kay was next – a world premiere at this concert.  I’m sure we’ll hear much more music by Juliana Kay in the future.

Three folk songs completed the concert, in modern settings.  The first was Loch Lomond, featuring a fine tenor solo.  In places the tempo quickened and a fast marching rhythm was evoked.  The second was Exaudi’s wonderful setting of Waltzing Matilda by Ruth McCall.  This includes echoes of both the traditional tunes, It begins with a chant in traditional Noonga language from Western Australia, before introducing a new tune which reenters throughout the work.  It also features overtones.

The final song was an arrangement of The Parting Glass by Juliana Kay.  Arguably of Irish origin, The Parting Glass was considered the most popular song of parting until Robert Burns wrote Auld Land Syne.  A parting glass is a final tipple given to a traveller as he sets off on his journey.  There was no parting glass given to these fine singers, but the accolades by the large and appreciative audience hopefully made up a for this.

This was an magnificent afternoon of music-making.  The choir or around 50 voices sang faultlessly, with clear diction and perfectly tuned chords.  The program was carefully crafted to give continuity and contrast.

Exaudi’s next concert is a Picture Book Concert with Malcolm Dalglish  (7:30PM, James Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC, Tickets).  After this the choir will be touring in Scotland and Ireland.  For more details visit Exaudi.

More videos of Exaudi can be seen on You Tube.


The final closing concert of the Windfire Festival is on Sunday, May 26th, at 3pm, at St Mary’s Basilica, Yarra Street, Geelong.  It features a massed choir and Orchestra Geelong conducted by Tom Healey, performing Nicholas Buc’s Festival Mass and two choruses from Messiah, as well as the Sonus Wind Ensemble, and Sally Wilson, soprano.

Tickets at the door.

Sound the Trumpet: The Geelong Chorale – Friday, 10th May, 2019

Windfire Festival 2019 – Concert 1

Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Geelong

The Geelong Chorale presented this opening concert, with the assistance of brass quartet brass and organ.  The Chorale was directed by Allister Cox OAM.  The brass quartet comprised Daniel Ballinger and Sarah Hepworth, trumpets, Melissa Shirley, horn and Stewart Armitage, trombone.

The opening work Entrat Festiva, for brass quartet and organ, by 20th century composer Flor Peters, was presented from the choir loft, with Frank De Rosso playing the organ.  A more fitting work to open the festival could not be imagined.  The music is exciting, joyful and loud, setting the whole church ringing.

Festival Director, Frank De Rosso, is a master at using the spaces available in St Mary’s so that performers are heard to best advantage.  This means that sometimes performers are not seen, but this is in the long tradition of music in churches, where often, as at St Mary’s, organs and musicians we placed out of the congregation’s sight, and choirs often placed behind screens.

St Mary’s has an semicircular gallery behind the high altar, separated from the chancel by a marble colonnade. This space was chosen for the second work – Cantite tuba in Sion (Sound the trumpets in Sion)The acoustic was perfect for the choir, with the lines perfectly blended in weaving counterpoint.

The choir then moved to a space behind the main altar, now in view, for Pater Noster, by Francisco Guerro, for choir and brass, along with the brass.  It is easy for brass instruments to overshadow voices, and this was somewhat the case for this work, as the choir was still masked by columns and the main altar.

This was followed by three works for choir along, Sicut Servus/Sitvit anima mea by Palestrina and Exultate Deo, by Scarlatti. The last is a most exciting celebratory work, with a fast “Jubilate” middle section (taken by the Chorale at lightning speed) and finishing with joyful Alleluias.

Positioned in a transept, the brass quartet played Canzona a 4 by Giovanni Gabrielli.

The choir were finally in full view – standing on the chancel steps.  The sound was also more balanced between choir and brass, for a performance of Hans Hassler’s Missa Octo Voci The brass played one of the 4-part ‘choir’ parts, the Chorale the other.  A feature was the antiphony – with one choir singing alone, followed by the other, and then both together, giving a rich texture and full sound.  The Chorale demonstrated a sure line, and clean polyphony.  There was also a good balance between parts, despite the numerical lack of basses and tenors.

A haunting melody played by solo horn began the second half of the concert.  It was the opening of Easter Moon, by contemporary Melbourne composer, Christopher Wilcock.  began the second half.  The choir entry was a chant, mainly unison, building from piano then crescendoing to blossom into harmony.  The pattern continued, trombone solo followed by voices, trumpet duet followed by voices.  Finally the haunting strains of the horn died away to silence.

In honour of the setting, St Mary’s, three settings of Ave Maria followed, by Bruckner, Franz Beibl and Morten Lauridsen.  The second of these includes brass, the other two are for choir alone.

The brass returned to the choir loft to play Grand Choeur Dialogue by Eugene Gigout – a spectacular piece for organ and brass.  Finally, the choir joined them, in a very early and florid setting of Now Thanks We All Our God by Johann Bachelbel.

The Geelong Chorale has rarely been heard to better advantage.  They choir appeared to revel in this difficult music.

The collaboration with brass on such joyful music made a perfect opening concert for this year’s Windfire Festival – the 11th.  This year’s festival runs across three weekends, and includes eight concerts in various venues, four weekday lunchtime “Organ Plus 1” recitals, an afternoon tea (with music) for Mother’s Day and a workshop.  For more information go to Music at the Basilica.  

Helen Lyth

The Geelong Chorale presents its next concert on Sunday August 18th, with a program of music from opera and operetta.

Read  Shirley Power’s review of Sound the Trumpet at Entertainment Geelong.

Vivaldi’s Gloria in D, Saturday, May 4th, 2019


St Mary’s Church, Colac

This delightful afternoon’s music was the first time, to my knowledge that these two choirs have collaborated.  I do hope it happens again.

The first half of the program featured each choir singing it’s own selection of songs.  Colac Chorale presented arrangements of four love songs by Robert Schumann, sung in English and arranged for four parts.  The conductor was Johanna Latham (who incidentally played violin in the chamber orchestra for the Gloria) and accompanist Pamela Radcliffe.  This group included the beautiful Ich grolle nicht translated as I Shall Not Grieve. The choir sang with clear diction, good dynamic range and showed the attention to detail of presentation that is the mark of good direction.

Ballarat Choral Society, directed by Helen Duggan, sang a bracket of nine songs with texts by Shakespeare.  They ranged from two, Where the Bee Sucks and Full Fathon Five which may have been sung at performances of the plays in Shakespeare’s time, to contemporary settings of two songs from John Rutter’s song cycle When Icicles Hang.  The accompanist for these was Lauren Knight, who also provided the continuo in the performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria.  Several of the songs were performed by a small group from within the choir.  One of these was a most interesting setting of When Daisies Pied, from Love’s Labours Lost which begins with an ostinato from the men of the group, was accomplished with aplomb and clarity.  The final piece, Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind showed up some lovely unison singing from the sopranos of the choir, as showed off the sensitive pianistic skills of Lauren Knight and a lovely tone from the sopranos in the unison opening.

After a short interval, both choirs returned to the stage, along with a small chamber orchestra, to perform Gloria in D by Vivaldi, conducted once again by Helen Duggan.  This opportunity allowed both choirs to sing this exciting work, something that, due to small numbers might not be possible alone.

This was a most rewarding performance, with soloists Eleanor Kerr and Lyn Broadstock (sopranos) and alto Christine Head.  Of particular note were the lovely Domine Deus, for soprano, oboe and continuo.  This is effectively a duet between the soprano (Eleanor Kerr) and oboe (Stephen Moschner).

Despite a couple of issues with time (perhaps due to the lack of time to rehearse as an ensemble, and the dry acoustic of St Mary’s Church), this was a most accomplished and moving performance, with the choir showing excellent light and shade, and a sense of excitement building towards the climax of the final fugue Cum Sancto Spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris, Amen.

This performance was repeated on May 5th in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat.

Geelong After Dark – Friday, May 3rd, 2019

A last minute, massed choir was hastily assembled from Geelong choirs and singing groups to perform at the rotunda in Johnston Park.  After only 3 rehearsals, and only one with Jonathon Welsh, conductor, this small group did an amazing job on two pieces especially composed for Geelong After Dark and its overarching arts event, Mountain to Mouth.  This performance was titled M~M@GAD and featured various other performers as well as the choir.


Capella St. Crucis Hannover: April 11th, 2019

Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Geelong

Geelong music lovers were treated to some outstanding choral singing at Capella St. Crucis’s concert of Easter music, titled  Media Vita (in the midst of our lives), in the beautiful acoustics of St Marys Basilica.

The choir of around 50 musicians performed music by Johann Christoph Altnickol, Bach, Mendelssohn, Max Reger, and James MacMillan.

From the opening note, it was clear that this concert was something very special indeed.  Befiehl de deine Wege is the opening line of a hymn by Paul Gerhardt, commonly known in English as the hymn O Sacred Headand used by Bach as the linking chorale in his St Matthew Passion.  In Altnickol’s setting the first an last stanza are set as chorales with verses II to XI a set of challenging variations, both for full choir, and various solo ensembles.  Capella Crucis, and its many accomplished soloists worked together as a precision music-making unit, sensitively conducted by Florian Lohmann.

Bach’s Komm, Jesu, komm, a motet for double choir, followed, retaining the mood of solemnity.  The only one of Bach’s motets not to feature a biblical text, Komm Jesu Komm is thought to have been composed as a funeral motet.

For Mitten wir im Leben sind by Mendelsohn demands male and female choruses, and full 8-part chorus in counterpoint.  Here, the dynamic scope of Capella Crucis came to the fore with a full range of dynamics from pianissimo to a rich fortissimo.

With Max Reger’s bleak motet, O Tod, wie bitter bist Du the program moved into the 20th century.  The text contrasts the bitterness fear that death holds for the prosperous, with the welcome death gives to the old, weak, fearful and needy.  The music moves from clashing harmonies and unison solo lines and full choir to rich warm harmonies, finishing on a sustained triple pianissimo.  This was a moving performance.

The program concluded with a beautiful setting of Miserere by James MacMillan.

After enthusiastic applause, Capella Crucis presented an encore – Weep by Australian contemporary composer Joseph Twist.

This choir has an extraordinary depth of talent.  For this performance, there were at least 13 different soloists, and one had the feeling that many others could step into this role at need.

Photos by Music at the Basilica

The Geelong concert was presented by Music at the Basilica.

Geelong was lucky to have been one of only six Australian towns to hear this wonderful ensemble.  Capella St. Crucis from Hannover are on a whirlwind tour of Australia, presenting concerts at McLaren Vale, Adelaide (with Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus), Port Fairy, Geelong, Melbourne (with the Australian Chamber Choir), culminating in a concert at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Philharmonia Chorus on April 20th.

I was lucky enough to hear Capella St. Crucis again at their concert in Melbourne, which featured, as well as some of the above works, a performance of Charles-Marie Widor’s Messe Solennelle Opus 36 for two choirs and two organs.  Capella St. Crucis were joined for this by the Australian Chamber Choir and the Choir of Scots Church.

You can hear some of the sound from this concert here.