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.




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.

Warrnambool Organ Festival Chorus: Invitation to singers

The Warrnambool Organ Festival is seeking choristers for its upcoming choral project, a highlight of the 2019 Warrnambool Organ Festival. We have choristers from Warrnambool, Hamilton and Port Fairy currently in the choir, and we are hoping that more people throughout the region would like to get involved.

We are performing two fantastic sacred choral works this year – Dvorak’s Mass in D and Bruckner’s Te Deum, accompanied by organist Craig Doherty and conducted by Patrick Burns. Patrick, who works in a fellowship position conducting the Australian Ballet, will be running several rehearsals and ‘choral boot camps’ in preparation for the performance- a fantastic opportunity for skills development for local singers and  of fun! The choir will also be collaborating with four fantastic operatic soloists for the performance- soprano Louise Keast, alto Sally-Anne Russell, tenor Douglas Kelly and baritone Michael Lampard.

Project Details:

Weekly rehearsals at the Warrnambool Uniting Church 115 Koroit St, Warrnambool

Warrnambool Organ Festival performance Saturday 24 August.

Enquiries and rehearsal schedule/information contact Louise Keast (Warrnambool organ Festival Director) on 0481 317 692.

Western District Choral Festival – June 22nd

This year’s Western District Choral Festival will be in Warrnambool, hosted by the Merri Singers. All choirs in the Western District of Victoria and South Eastern South Australia are invited to attend.  Thanks to Philip Shaw for the details below.

Where and When?

The festival will be held in St Joseph’s Church, 169 Kepler St Warrnambool (car park accessed from Raglan Parade, on-street parking in Kepler and Lava Streets.)

The church will be available from 12pm and the concert will start at 1:30pm.


There will be an upright piano as well as a small amp with three inputs available for use by choirs. The amp will be used for announcements and the guitar accompaniment of one of the group songs.

Tea, coffee and toilet facilities will be available in the meeting space next to the church, but afternoon tea following the singing will be in the church hall.

St Joseph’s is wheelchair accessible from the car park, as is the church hall.

How long?

We expect each group to have 8 minutes of performance time. Please let us know if you have any special requirements (eg mobility problems for moving into position).

Number of Choirs

To make the afternoon manageable we will be able to host a maximum of 15 choirs at the festival. More than this would necessitate having the afternoon too long or brackets too short. Choirs that have already expressed interest will have first options of attending, after which acceptance will be in order of Registration receipt.

Massed choir songs

Group songs will be a traditional Zulu hymn Thuma Mina and Everything Can Turn Around, a song written for a men’s health flash mob by Warrnambool songwriter Don Cowling.  Electronic copies of these will be circulated on acceptance of Registration.

Next Year

Post-festival tea is traditionally the time that the host of the following year’s WDCF is announced, so now is a good time to start thinking about throwing your hat into the ring. Please let us know if you are interested. Previous hosts are always willing to share hints to make the yoke easier and the burthen lighter!


Please download and complete the registration form attached (either directly in the Word Document or by printing the PDF document and completing manually) and return it to Philip Shaw  or as text attachment to 0437 955 887 by Friday 12 April.

WDCF 2018 – Singers mass on stage for “Africa”