Western District Choral Festival: Geelong 2018

To register your choir, please contact Angela West, Secretary, The Geelong Chorale.   (03) 5244 7285

All choirs are invited to present 10 minutes of their own music.  The concert will begin with massed singing of Advance Australia Fair and conclude with massed singing of The Hallelujah Chorus (Handel).


Christmas Around the World – The Geelong Chorale: December 2nd, 2017

All Saints Church, Noble Street, Newtown.  Saturday, December 2nd, 5pm.

Allister Cox conducted a choir of 37 singers in a program of carols from around the world.  The Geelong Chorale was accompanied by Kristine Mellens (piano) and Frank De Rosso.  The guest artists for this concert were the Geelong Handbell Choir.

Allister Cox

The concert began with Australian bird song imitations from the choir placed at the rear of the church.  The work was If Christ had been born in another time composed by Australian Matthew Orlovich.  This set the tone for music of high quality and audience appeal.  Carols ranged from traditional English and European, to modern works including Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose (Colin Brumby), Jewel Carol, composed by New Zealander Christopher Marshall and Shepherds Pipe Carol (John Rutter).  There were several songs for audience participation.

The Geelong Handbell Choir was a popular guest artist, playing a selection of carols, and finishing with some light-hearted schmaltz – a setting of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

As is usual for the Geelong Chorale’s Christmas concerts, the concert ended with We Wish You a Merry Christmas (English West Country carol) in a spectacular setting by Arthur Warrell.

This Christmas concert continues the Geelong Chorale’s Christmas tradition of carol concerts.  These started in 1981 – the Year of the Disabled*.  Originally, a free gift from the Chorale to the community, the aim was to present a short, easily accessible concert of traditional and new carols to the community, particularly targeting people who find attending outdoors ‘carols by candlelight’ events difficult.  The first concerts were held in the Geelong Art Gallery, and later the foyer of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre.  Children sat on the floor, and the venues were easily wheel-chair accessible.  Several aged care centres brought busloads of people to attend.

With the local ‘carols by candlelight’ cancelled due to bad weather, it’s a pity that the Chorale’s alternative offering was not better advertised.  The rather small audience certainly enjoyed the concert.

*Prior to 1981, the Gama Singers (now the Geelong Chorale) gave annual Christmas cafe concerts.

Read Colin Mockett’s review of Christmas Around the World at Entertainment Geelong.

Voices of our Time: Sunday August 27 2017

The Geelong Chorale

All Saints Church, Newtown

It is some time since the Geelong Chorale presented a concert at All Saints Church.  Since the last time, the church has been carpeted, with flexible seating.  The new configuration is much more comfortable than the original wooden pews.  However, the carpet has adversely effected the liveliness of the acoustics.

In order to redress this, the choir was placed in the chancel, which retains its tiled floor.  This meant some loss in volume, but enhanced the blend of the choir, which has rarely been better.

The music was contemporary:  all the composers are still living.  Allister Cox has directed the Chorale since 2012.  The choir have blossomed under this directorship.

The first three items were by Australian composers.  The concert began with Kooraegulla, by Stephen Leek in 2002.  The text, Kooraegulla, means ‘meeting place’.  Leak’s setting exploited the rhythmic potential of the one word text most effectively.

Malcolm John was in the audience to hear his lovely setting of Let Your Song Be Delicate, a setting of a poem by John Shaw Neilson.  This work is a favourite with the Chorale.

Three Bush Songs, by Iaine Grandage followed.  This work evokes the atmosphere is the Australian bush, and has challenging harmonies, and a requirement that singers make bird and insect noises.  The third movement, ‘Sunset’ evokes the searing heat of last rays of the sun and the cooling relief of  the coming of night after a torrid summer’s day.

American composer Eric Whitacre’s first foray into composing followed – a setting of Go Lovely Rose composed in 1991 for the choir in which he was singing at Nevada State University.  This piece has challenging harmonies, considerable splitting within parts, and requires a full range of dynamics.  I hope that the Chorale consider adding some more songs by Eric Whitacre for future concerts, despite the challenges they pose.

The final three pieces in the first half of the concert were by British composers, the carol My Guardian Angel by Judith Weir (the text is a poem by William Blake), Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’s Healing Light and Scottish composer James MacMillan’s traditionally harmonised motet O Radiant Dawn.  The Chorale produced exciting crescendos and some lovely harmonic colour.

The second half of the program was Lux Aeterna, by American composer Morten Lauridsen’s, originally scored for choir and orchestra.  The version for this performance was for choir and organ (played in the Chorale’s performance by Frank De Rosso).   The performance was most successful  when the choir and organ performed separately.  When working together, the organ overpowered the choir.  Hopefully, the choir will present this work in a future concert, where there is a better choral acoustic and more time to work on balance.  The text for this sacred work comes from sections of the Latin mass.  The theme is ‘light’.  There are contrasts in dynamics, harmony and unison, and polyphony and homophony, and a gentle Alleluia ending.

Much of the music in this concert was challenging for the choir, made more difficult by the challenging venue – extremely cold on this icy winter’s afternoon.  Despite this, it was a most satisfying concert for the small audience.  The Geelong Chorale are to be congratulated for stepping outside their comfort zone to present contemporary music.

Helen Lyth

Singing the Classics: Requiem – Mozart

Sunday, June 11th, 2pm, St Luke’s Church, Barrabool Road, Highton

The director for this performance is Malcolm John.

You may have sung this work many times, or never.  It’s a stalwart of the choral repertoire.  However, many choristers have never had the opportunity to sing this beautiful Requiem.  Sunday is your chance to come along and enjoy learning (or brushing up) this lovely piece.

$15 covers music hire and afternoon tea.  Bookings Anne Pilgrim

Singing the Classics is an annual series.  It gives singers the opportunity to sing through major works in the choral repertoire and perform some sections, all in an afternoon.  It is presented by The Geelong Chorale and was instigated and is coordinated by Anne Pilgrim.

Celebration of Song: The Eileen Martin Concert

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/


An American Portrait: The Geelong Chorale

Sunday May 21st, Wesley Uniting Church, Geelong

Conductor:  Allister Cox,  Accompanist:  Kristine Mellens

An American Portrait, presented by the Geelong Chorale, was more a series of portraits, each focused on a specific area of American music.

The first bracket comprised four Negro Spirituals.  Two, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Deep River were arrangements by Australian Arthur S. Loam, in the 1940s.  The other spirituals are more modern works, composed and arranged by African-Americans.  Soon Ah Will be done-ah wid de Troubles of de World, composed by William L. Dawson (1899-1990) and Ain’t got Time to Die composed in 1956 by Hall Johnson (1888-1970).   Soloist John Stubbings was in fine voice in this piece, which was called by the composer an ‘art song in the style of a spiritual’.

Stephen Foster was the foremost composer of popular songs in 19th century America.  It is therefore not surprising that, for its second ‘portrait’, the Chorale chose three songs by Stephen Foster, I Dream of Jeannie (arranged by the Chorale’s Anne Pilgrim), My Old Kentucky Home (arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw) and Beautiful Dreamer (arranged M. Gardner).  The men of the Chorale shone in their unison singing in this piece.  Foster’s songs were immensely popular in the minstrel shows whose popularity continued well into the twentieth century.  (The performers were usually white people, with blackened faces – performing songs, dancing, comic skits and variety, although there were some all black groups.  Times have changed!)

Popular folk songs comprised the third bracket.  Shenandoah (arr. J. Erb) dates to the early 19th century.  The Riddle Song (arr. A. Warrell)  originates from a 15th century English song, which was brought to the Appalachian Mountains by early settlers.  Aaron Copland, like Benjamin Britten, was an avid collector of folk music.  Two of his folk song arrangements concluded this bracket, the ballad Long Time Ago and minstrel song Ching-A-Ring Chaw.  Kristine Mellens showed herself a most accomplished accompanist in Copland’s arrangements.  She joins an illustrious group as it’s interesting to note that the original solo arrangements of these two songs were first presented by Peter Pears (tenor) and Benjamin Britten (piano) in 1950.

Art songs followed.  Samuel Barber’s beautiful Sure on this Shining Night was followed by Randall Thompson’s challenging Alleluia commissioned in 1940.  Despite the joyous Alleluia lyrics, the piece is gentle and prayer-like.  Allister Cox elicited the long build-up to forte and the decrescendo was equally satisfying.  There were some lovely pianissimos in the high tenor line.  The Road Home followed, composed for the Dale Warland Singers by Stephen Paulus in 2001.  This work is based on an old American folk song tune.

America is the home of the modern musical, and musical cinema.  The choir let its hair down and sang songs of Gershwin (a medley titled Gershwin in Love (arr. Mac Huff) with beautiful solo work from Helen Seymour and John Stubbings), then Cole Porter’s Night and Day, followed Over the Rainbow (from The Wizard of Oz), and the rousing final reprise of the title song from Oklahoma! by Rogers and Hammerstein in the original stage arrangement.

The Geelong Chorale concluded its American Portrait with an arrangement of Battle Hymn of the Republic.  P.J. Wilhowsky’s arrangement featured the piano, in a fanfare-like opening, which was then taken up by the women’s chorus.  There are multiple  key changes as the piece builds in tension verse upon verse, with various ‘special effects’ including a marching chant from the men’s voices.  The verse ‘In the beauty of the lilies…’ was sung by the men in Welsh-style close harmony, before the final climax – ascending choral chords – a very ‘Hollywood’ finish to a most enjoyable concert.

The Geelong Chorale, a well-balanced, medium-sized choir of ten sopranos, ten altos, four tenors and six basses was in very fine voice.  It is good to see some new faces among the line up.

The Geelong Chorale’s next concert is Voices of Our Time: Music of contemporary composers on Sunday, August 27th at 3pm in All Saints Anglican Church, Newtown.