Illawarra Choral Society hold its 70th birthday concert at Wollongong Town Hall

Illawarra Choral Society. Picture: Adam McLean
Illawarra Choral Society. Picture: Adam McLean

When members of the Illawarra Choral Society were looking at venues to host their 70th anniversary concert, Wollongong Town Hall was always at the top of the list.

So on Saturday a free concert was held at the venue to celebrate 70 years of singing choral music in the Illawarra.

The ICS and guests including the BlueScope Youth Orchestra revisted many highlights from its varied and active past, from Bach to Gilbert and Sullivan.

Long-time musical director Meryl Jackson-Kew said the society had played a major role in Wollongong’s cultural life for a ‘’very long time’’.

‘’This is a big deal for us. We are the only one of our kind that is still going strong. It’s quite a mean feat,’’ she said.

Jackson-Kew has had a long association with ICS, with her father Roy Jackson one of the first members of the society founded by Norman Tonge.

‘’Norman Tonge actually taught dad how to sing,’’ she said.

PARTY TIME: Illawarra Choral Society concert at Wollongong Town Hall. Picture: Adam McLean

PARTY TIME: Illawarra Choral Society concert at Wollongong Town Hall. Picture: Adam McLean

‘’I’ve always loved the society and got involved in 1972 before heading overseas for a period of time. I’ve been musical director since 2008.’’

The concert on Saturday also featured a 50 page souvenir program outlining the choir's history and reproducing many programs, reviews and photographs.

It was produced by five choristers, who together have a wealth of musical experience and commitment.

Robin Hutton is one of two current members recognisable from the cover photograph of a performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion in the Wesley Church on the Mall in 1959.

Ann Duffy joined in 2002, when she heard ICS were rehearsing Beethoven's 9th (Choral) Symphony:

‘’Have to sing that before I die,’’ she remembers thinking at the time.

Together the group have delved into the society's records, organised them, interviewed key people and shared their own memories.

‘’I'm finding it fascinating to hear the stories of the longer-serving members and to marvel at their recall of the detail of concerts,’’ Duffy said.

ICS committee chairperson Helga Burnett has played a key role in the choir’s history.

‘’When 15 years old I performed at a concert with the Illawarra Choral Society, not as a chorister, but as a solo pianist. It was a grand occasion with an audience of some 700 in the Bulli Theatre Royal,’’ Burnett said.

Illawara Choral Society performing on August 12, 2017. Picture: Adam McLean

Illawara Choral Society performing on August 12, 2017. Picture: Adam McLean

The ICS has performed a vast repertoire of choral works including Handel's Messiah, Bach's St Matthew Passion, the Fauré Requiem, Brahms' Requiem, Mozart Requiem, Mendelssohn's Elijah and Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

For a period they also did very popular staged performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Barbara Rixon was a soloist in many and remembers her grand Katisha entrance for one of these performances in the Town Hall.

‘’Whilst acting the role of Katisha for our performance of the Mikado in 1966, I had the sudden urge to relieve myself before my entrance on stage. All went well until I tried to exit the toilet, when I found that I was unable to disengage the door-lock because of my exceptionally long Katisha fingernails. Panic set in as I could hear the orchestra launching into the music prelude for my entrance. In desperation, and minus a few fingernails, I finally managed to unlock the door with only moments to spare, and leapt onto the stage in my high platform Japanese clogs to sing my opening lines,’’ Rixon said.

Keith Enever joined the ICS in 1986 when he arrived in Australia.

He particularly remembers 1988 ‘’when the choir sang in many events to mark Australia's bicentenary, including singing before Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who visited Wollongong’’.


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