Western District Choral Festival 2018: Sunday, June 17th, 2018

The Space, Geelong Grammar School

Festival hosts – The Geelong Chorale

Today’s festival was a celebration of song and the joy that people obtain from singing together in groups.  Fourteen choirs participated in an afternoon of fine music making and friendship.  It was a chance for choirs to perform at their best.  They did not disappoint.

The program began with the host choir, The Geelong Chorale, and was introduced by John Stubbings OAM, who acted as MC throughout the afternoon.

The music ranged from a 16th century madrigal, to folk songs from around the world, through popular songs, songs from musical theatre and old favourites.  Even opera had its place, with a delightful rendition of ‘Painless Opera’ by Phyllis Wolfe-White by the Geelong Youth Choir.  The smallest group was 8 voices (The Geelong Youth Chamber Choir), the largest around 40 voices (The Geelong Chorale).  There were youth choirs, mixed choirs, a female choir (Welsh Ladies Choir), and a male choir (International Harvester Choir).  The youngest singers were of primary school age, and the oldest at least 90.

As Geelong is at the eastern end of the WDCF region, many choirs came from the Geelong area.  The two groups from further afield, Colac Chorale and Apollo Bay Community Choir were warmly welcomed and greatly enhanced the afternoon’s singing.

The afternoon ended with all singers merging onto the stage for a massed choir performance of “Africa”, conducted by Jodie Townsend, Director of Music at Geelong Grammar School.

It is interesting to note that The International Harvester Male Chorus (formed in 1943) may be the oldest continuously performing choir in Australia in its current form.  Raise the Bar, the adult section of The Geelong Youth Choir will be the featured choir for a forthcoming performance of “The Events” at GPAC.  Geelong Harmony Chorus are fresh from a very successful Sweet Adelines Convention in Hobart, where they were placed fourth overall, and third in their section.

At the close of the Festival, Frank Sykes, Vice-President of The Geelong Chorale, handed over the Festival to The Merri Singers from Warrnambool who will host the festival in 2019.

Participating Choirs:  The Geelong Chorale, Colac Chorale, Wondrous Merry, Apollo Bay Community Choir, Geelong Youth Choir, Raise the Bar Vocal Group, Geelong Harmony Chorus, Welsh Ladies Choir, International Harvester Choir, Sing Australia, Geelong, Vox Box, U3A Geelong Choir, Geelong College Community Choir, The Choir of Geelong Grammar School.

Thanks to The Geelong Chorale, especially their hard working committee, and secretary Angela West, Geelong Grammar School and Jodie Townsend, for accommodating the festival in the excellent performing arts space and all participating choirs and their conductors and accompanists.  Thanks also to City of Greater Geelong for their support.

Download a copy of the Western District Choral Festival 2018 program here.


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/



Sunday 4 June 2017, 6pm

Eileen Martin founded the Geelong Children’s Choir (now the Geelong Youth Choir) in 1988, when she retired as Director of Music at Morongo College.  The choir was formed from students from local schools.  Eileen went around schools auditioning students to form the original group.

Eileen was a key figure in music in Geelong for many years.  She conducted children’s and adult choirs (including The Gama Singers – now The Geelong Chorale), taught classroom music and piano and encouraged students in instrumental studies.

Celebration of Song celebrates the life of Eileen Martin, and her contribution to music.

Songs of All Sorts: Wondrous Merry, Sunday 6 December 2015

Wondrous Merry give only one public concert each year.  This year the venue changed to St John’s Anglican Church in Highton.  This move paid off.  The larger, renovated Church has excellent acoustics, used to the full by the twelve strong members of capella vocal group Wondrous Merry and their guest artists Accord (formerly The Geelong Recorderists).  The conditions for audience were much improved with more space, more comfort and excellent sight lines to both choir and consort.

Jumping from 16th to 20th centuries and back, Wondrous Merry showed their versatility in the first three items –  Though Philomela Lost her Love (Thomas Morley), Can’t buy me love (Lennon and McCartney) and Now I see your looks are Feigned (Thomas Ford).  The lyrics of this piece were skillfully updated by the versatile sopralto Sally Adams.  The intricate choral arrangement of Can’t Buy Me Love contained several key changes – joyfully tossed off.  The group has been relatively stable in membership for some time, and the sense of ensemble was very clear.  This was also shown in a close harmony arrangement of Billy Joel’s And so it goes and the haunting ending to the anti-war song Two Brothers which showed off Wondrous Merry’s three tenors’ fine diction and blend.

The women’s acting skills were shown in a song I’m not talking.   Wondrous Merry’s first bracket ended with a toe-tapping arrangement of Crazy Little Thing. 

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I’m not talking

Accord is a group of seven professional musicians, with six recorder players and percussionist John Seal playing the malletKAT.*  The malletKAT is an electronic marimba -like instrument played with mallets, which can produce the sound of at least 200 different instruments.  For most of Accord’s concert, the malletKAT was set to play bass recorder.   The ensemble played six pieces, including the carol What Child is This?, a Mendelssohn Song Without Words, two modern pieces, Larkall 1 from Quartels for Recorders by Clark Kimberling and Scott Joplin’s Strenuous Life.  In the midst of all this, the ensemble accompanied one of their members, Emily Swanson, who sang Bach’s beautiful Esurientes Implevit Bonis from Magnificat in D Major by J.S. Bach.  The groups’  intonation was impeccable.   There was a fine sense of musicianship throughout this beautiful segment.

Wondrous Merry really let their hair down in the second half, with a couple of fun songs like Rubber Ducky (complete with ducks), The Teddy Bear’s Picnic (Sally’s teddy stole the show) and I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside (with words once again enhanced by Sally Adams).  These were interspersed with pop songs, folk songs and lastly the Italian Viva Tutte (an Italian toast to women).  Finally, Wondrous Merry were joined by ex-members and the audience were invited to sing along with the Australian Carol of the Birds (William James).

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Emily and Martina join the soprano line for the final carol.

This was a splendid concert.  Wondrous Merry perform without conductor or music.  Learning and performing so skillfully a whole concert is a huge undertaking.  I look forward to next year’s public concert.