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Extracts from the SMC’s recently written History
As Carl Rühn said in the earlier 80 year history of the Sydney Male Choir, “If Charles Miller hadn’t lost three fingers in an accident, it is quite conceivable that he would have developed his talent as a violinist rather than form and conduct his own choir – and so, there would have been no direct connection between him and the group known today as the Sydney Male Choir.” The nucleus was a male voice quartet: his brother-in-law, John Young; Sam Lyons, Percy Tressider and himself, operating out of the Petersham Congregational Church. It was called the Petersham Glee Club, but would be renamed the Sydney Male Choir, with a big concert, in November 1919. Charlie would lead the Choir for a total of 16 years. This is the start to the history we celebrate.
In late November 2016 we appointed Keiren Brandt-Sawdy as our new Music Director which brings the number to fourteen Musical Directors since 1913, many of whom were very prominent in the Sydney musical scene. The longest serving Conductor, leading the Choir from 1948 to 1974 (26 years) was Lyndon Jones.
The second longest serving maestro was Alan Thrift, leading from 1990 to 2010 (20 years) who sadly passed away in November 2016. Dr Houston Dunleavy who had recently stepped down as Music Director after 6 years has a similar story to tell, like Charlie’s. He was a woodwind player who injured tendons such that he could perform at the highest no more, but he has continued to provide similar leadership since 2010.
Keiren is an accomplished pianist and has a Master of Conducting and a Bachelor of Music (Piano) with experience as a conductor with the Sydney Conservatorium, Sydney Operantics and as an assistant with the Pinchgut Opera.
The Choir has sung the innumerable classics, including working with Monsieur Albert Goosen of the famous Goosen's family. We sang at the Farewell Concert of the world renowned Australian Baritone, Peter Dawson. There were regular weekly radio broadcasts with the ABC and commercial stations, syndicated around Australia. But due to the Great Depression, the choir membership needed to work harder, and found themselves involved in some interesting programs, such as sharing the program with “oriental magicians, acrobats, the former middleweight champion boxer of Australia, and a troupe of football playing dogs”. The Choir was invited to sing at moving picture houses around Sydney. Years later with the advent of television, we appeared on the “Bobby Limb Show” and “The Don Lane Show”.
Support for the Australian Forces has been a significant involvement of the Sydney Male Choir. Carl Rühn listed the Roll of Honour of the Petersham Glee Club from WW1. We were to become part of the ANZAC Dawn Service from 1930 to the present day. The formidable former President, David Hutton was uniquely ‘the honorary membership of the Australian Legion’ for his contribution to the service. The Choir also performs annually at the Remembrance Service on 11 November each year. In 2013, we were part of the celebration of the Centenary of the Australian Navy at their Ecumenical Service and Martin Place Service – a great privilege!
David Hutton, mentioned above, built the choir numbers from 12 to the point where he took 45 singers to Llangollen, Wales, in 1988 – the Choir’s first overseas tour. Since then the Choir has travelled twice more to Britain, recently in 2013. Two tours of New Zealand have been invigorating experiences, and there have been innumerable times touring around Australia, close to every second year. To arrive at a town, wherever in the world, join a local choir in a concert, adjourn to the local pub with a pint in hand, and, scattered among the locals, singing anything both choirs knew in four-part harmony – is the pinnacle!
First of all, in 2000, President, Norm Green decided to organise a Millennium Tour around Australia. He arranged 7 concerts in an 11 day tour covering Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills, Perth, Alice Springs, Port Douglas and Brisbane – a tour with the mix of singing and sightseeing.
In 2007, at the recommendation of former President, Jim Layton, a 12-day tour supporting those suffering a huge drought at that time was countenanced. Its aim was to raise money and entertain communities in a ‘Mates Across the Divide Tour’. We toured the town of Parkes, Forbes, Condobolin, Lake Cargelligo, Hillston, Hay, Ivanhoe, Finley, Griffith and West Wyalong to audiences ranging from hundreds to just thirty in the township of Ivanhoe. There was $23 000 raised, aside from the money that our tourers left in the towns. The impact of our tour was summed up in a newspaper letter from Trish Palmer of the Overnewton Station, via Mildura. She travelled 80 kms to be one of the 30 persons at the Ivanhoe Concert, and recorded: “Nothing prepared me for the amazing performance of this 40-strong choir.” Also another observed: “To think they would give up their time to perform in a little country town such as Ivanhoe, all in the name of drought aid, was humbling.”
Three main events occurred in the SMC Centenary in 2013. The first was that the Choir was invited as one of the Guest Choirs at the Villers Bretonneux ANZAC Dawn Service. We then continued on to the Cornish International Male Voice Choirs Festival. The former had a significant impact on the choristers and they were moved by the ceremony, the reception of the locals, and role we played at the Arc de Triomphe weekly ceremony.
Secondly, we celebrated our Centenary in style. A thoroughly drenching barbecue was not a spectacular start. But a Government Reception at Government House, at the invitation of Professor Dame Marie Bashir AC, CVO, and her husband, Sir Nicholas Sherhadie, was a generous and formal introduction to our important year. At the Town Hall, the Centenary offered a Concert that covered a Century of Music, and included a piece of music with the wives and female supporters of the Choir.
Finally, there was the Centenary Dinner, organised by Clive Hitchen. In a mix of conversation and speeches, it celebrated our history and recognised what the Choir had accomplished, more particularly in the last thirty years. The presence for the former NSW Governor, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair AC and Shirley, our Vice-Patrons was most welcome, and the former’s address set the stage for a commemorative evening.
Unexpectedly, Clive Hitchen interested Film Buff Productions owner, Vic Carson, in the Choir’s centenary. The result was an interest in a documentary on the Choir and its Centenary and a recording of its Centenary Concert. The excerpt on the Home page is a snippet of his work.
As the last page insert in the History Book says, we would be nowhere without our wives and supporters. Many of them are in the Centenary Dinner Photo below – and we say thank you!
“Bringing Joy Through Song”