Choral Music


Choir from St Margaret's school, Devonport, which won the Devonport Competition in 1926 (AOT, PH30/1/9583)

Choral Music was an early feature of musical life in all the Australian colonies, the consequence of the ready availability of human voices and the scarcity of other musical instruments, the respectability of the activity and the development of sight-singing methods. Choral music accommodates many levels of musical abilities and forms, ranging from simple part-songs to oratorio.

Amateur subscription concerts in Hobart included choral pieces as early as 1826. The Hobart Town Choral Society was established in 1843, aiming to cultivate 'the study and practice of Music' and teach music to members' children. In 1846, with 112 subscribers, it presented four oratorios and one concert. Other Hobart groups included the Hobart Musical Union (about 186791) and the Hobart Orpheus Club (1877). Choirs were also formed for specific purposes; the opening of the Tasmanian International Exhibition in 1894 featured a choir of 276, with orchestra, performing FA Packer's cantata The Land of Beauty.

Several groups used the names 'Hobart Philharmonic Society' and 'Hobart Choral Society'. The most recent two amalgamated in 1950 and continued until 1966 a close association with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The ABC had earlier maintained its own Wireless Chorus in the 1930s.

The Launceston Liedertafel was established in 1914 'for the practice and performance of part songs for male voices'. The Launceston Male Choir was founded in 1935, and though it went into recess from 1936 to 1945, it was revived, and claims to be Australia's longest-running male choir. Other groups have been active in Launceston and other regional centres.

The Hobart Orpheus Club and more recently established community-based choirs such as Sisonke and men's and women's barbershop choruses were active in 2004. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra established its own Chorus in 1992. Other groups were university-based; the Tasmania University Musical Society (TUMS, 1961) and the Tasmanian Chorale (1999), formerly the Tasmanian Conservatorium Chorale (197698). TUMS has participated in regular Inter-Varsity Choral Festivals (1950). From 1999 the Tasmanian A Cappella Association encouraged an increasing interest in unaccompanied singing and presented a biennial festival.

Further reading: P Campbell, 'Choral singing', in J Whiteoak & A Scott-Maxwell (eds), Currency companion to music and dance in Australia, Sydney, 2003; D Hinley, A history of the Hobart Orpheus Club 18771977, Hobart, 1977; N Wilmott, 'Choirs and choral music', in W Bebbington (ed), Oxford companion to Australian music, Melbourne, 1997.

Tony Marshall