St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Warrnambool
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.
THE MERRI SINGERS (Warrnambool)
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).
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 (Dunkeld)
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, 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.
PORT FAIRY MESSIAH CHOIAH IMPROMPTU
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.
PORTLAND COMMUNITY ROCKERS
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.
APOLLO BAY COMMUNITY CHOIR
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.
MILLICENT CHORAL SOCIETY
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.
WDCF MASSED CHORUS
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….
Thanks to Festival Director Philip Shaw for this video of the WDCF Massed Festival Chorus performance.