Kardinia School Hall, Geelong, Sunday 4th June, 6pm
From walking towards the hall the sense of excitement and anticipation was evident, with large and small groups of children and young people all talking, and sometimes breaking into song, animatedly. Once inside hall was packed with singers, family and others who had come to celebrate the life in music of Geelong Youth Choir’s founder Eileen Martin.
Eileen formed the choir in 1988 after retiring from a lifetime of music teaching which culminated as Director of Music at Morongo Girls College.
The venue, therefore, had significance to the occasion. This was the hall where so many of the choirs and individuals directed and fostered in music by Eileen and her music staff, performed. She presented concerts, musicals and student recitals, but perhaps her greatest achievements lay in the field of choral music.
Darkness ascended and the stillness was shattered by voices all around singing Shoshloloza, a traditional South African song. The singers young and older made their way to their places on stage, singing all the while with only drums for accompaniment. This began the culmination of many months of work for the choir, their leaders and the choir committee.
Denise Hollingworth, director of The Geelong Youth Choir, welcomed the audience. The combined Youth Choirs and the GYC Alumni choir then sang a round which marked Eileen’s musical philosophy of every child having the opportunity to experience the joy of group singing – Singing All Together.
A very challenging piece followed – Shackleton – outlining the difficulties faced by the Shackleton expedition rescued after two years marooned in Antarctic pack ice only to return to a world of bloody war. Several several lost their lives on the European battlefields. The diction of the choir was impeccable – showing that the choir still follows Eileen Martin’s precept that clear diction is an integral part of choral singing. Some lovely solo singing from Freya McBurney and Finlay Maltby enhanced this moving piece.
Wondrous Merry, an adult a cappella choir, performed two brackets of songs. Several of the choir have a long association with the Youth Choir. Wondrous Merry, a group of twelve, sing a varied repertoire of music. On this occasion we enjoyed Blackbird, (Lennon/McCartney), And So It Goes (Billy Joel), Feelin’ Groovy (Simon & Garfunkel) and Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis).
Raise the Bar is a mixed group of more experienced singers from the GYC community – choir members, parents, alumni and tutors. This group presented Shenandoah and Ain’t No Grave with verve and aplomb.
The Prelude Choir is for children in early primary school. These children showed by their excitement and young voices just how much they love singing as they presented two songs in unison and simple harmony – Danny Boy/There is a Ship and Sing, Sing, Sing.
Next was an adult choir – The Geelong College Community Choir. Eileen Martin’s links to The Geelong College go back to her time teaching at Morongo, when the girls would be joined by boys from Geelong College to present major choral works and musicals. A number of singers in the Community Choir also have links with the Youth Choir as former members, parents or tutors.
The main GYC choir Cantore, for older students who have a good grounding in singing, was next, presenting Al Shlosa with a fine solo from Mia Jemel. There were several other soloists featured in this concert. The choirs provide young people with a non-threatening environment in which to develop confidence to sing alone and develop self assurance. This confidence is also demonstrated by the fact that most of the introductions in this concert were made by members and past members of the choir.
The Geelong Chorale, an adult choir, then presented two spirituals from their recent concert of American music. Eileen Martin was a past-singer, conductor and life members of the Geelong Chorale.
Even the audience had the chance to sing – as choir members taught them Singing All Together in three parts, supported by the choristers.
As the concert reached its climax, Raise the Bar and GYC Cantore again took the stage to present a Columbian song – Maquerole. The singers enjoyed the opportunity to let down their hair as they acted as well as sang this humorous piece.
After several tributes to Eileen Martin from composer and accompanist Kym Dillon, and Genevieve Newton, Eileen’s daughter, the combined choir presented We Sing! a work commissioned by GTC to commemorate Eileen Martin’s life. This was a vibrant modern work, accompanied by piano and small string ensemble, which included, as well as friends of Eileen, a number of family members. I am sure this piece will become a favourite in the choir’s ongoing repertoire.
The final piece, also for combined choirs, was a lovely arrangement of Omnia Sol.
It is noted that, throughout this concert, most choirs sang without sheet music, allowing the choristers to pay full attention to their conductors. This was another skill fostered by Eileen Martin, who had a firm belief in developing memory skills and removing the barrier of sheet music between performer and music. While sheet music is essential for choirs and instrumentalists who present a varying program of complex music, singing from memory allows choristers the freedom to fully engage with music and audience. I was amazed that a parent of a Cantore Choir member commented that her daughter had only been with the choir for three weeks. Despite this, she knew all the music and actions and clearly enjoyed this new experience.
This was a lovely concert, and a very fitting tribute to someone whose music teaching and music making touched so many lives.
The Geelong Youth Choir is seeking support to continue its work. If you would like to contribute you may do so from the choir’s patreon page patreon.com/geelongyouthchoir.
For more information about The Geelong Youth Choir, visit the choir website https://geelongyouthchoir.com/