Robyn Ryan OAM has been the Musical Director of the Hastings Choristers since their inception in 1989. Robyn shares with us her love of music, travel and the arts.
> You made the sea change to PMQ in 1979. What was the music scene like then?
As we left Deniliquin (population then 7,500) I cried bitterly; I loved the place, didn’t want to leave my Madrigal choir, my school choirs and the vibrant Arts scene. Port at that time had a population of around 15,000, and although an Arts Council was in place, there were no community choirs and not many concerts.
It took me a long time to settle into this new beach culture, but I knew in my heart that if change was to occur, I might have to give it a nudge. Joining the Arts Council, helping to run the music eisteddfod, teaching music, playing at fundraisers and meeting like-minded people all helped. Today, thanks to many talented locals, we have a flourishing Arts community and a world class performance space. Port is on the artistic map of Australia.
> The Hastings Choristers Inc. which you inaugurated in 1989 will celebrate 20 years next year. Tell us about this organisation?
We are two adult secular community choirs, Cantorus (mixed voices) and Antabile (female a cappella) managed by a switched on committee.
Both choirs are auditioned – which simply means people should to be able to sing in tune. The audition takes only a minute and is painless!
We warmly welcome new members and encourage them to come along and have a sing for a few weeks to see if they like it, and if not, we point them towards one of the other local choirs that may suit them better. No pressure.
The choirs are a real cross section of ages, musical skills and professions. There are not many excellent singers … rather, average voices who are dedicated and great team members.
So come sing with us: visit our website at www.midcoast.com.au/~choristers
> Hastings Choristers Inc. is hosting Choralfest 2010 in Port. What an exciting achievement for you! How did that come about?
Our choirs have a strong reputation for excellence and receive prestigious invitations to perform in venues such as the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Town Hall etc. We’re well known nationally and internationally and host visiting choirs on their Australian tours, often joining them on the concert platform.
The Australian National Choral Association Choralfest is a triennial festival and conference attracting choral conductors, clinicians and choirs from all over Australia and overseas. We were asked last year to host this here in Port – on behalf of the NSW ANCA branch – rather than have it in Sydney. It will be the first time it’s offered outside a capital city.
When ANCA National and State reps joined us in April inspecting the Glasshouse facilities, they were totally blown away – they can’t wait for July 6-10 next year, and neither can we! Even though we’ll all be working extremely hard at this end to make it a choral event to remember.
> Your organisation regularly presents concerts. How do you manage this?
We have 3 or 4 programs each year. It’s heaps of work but with a fantastic committee and with a superb concert co ordinator, stage manager and 4 section leaders – one for each voice type (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) we achieve our goals. We work in teams, and members are always putting their hand up for extra jobs. For example, we baked scones for afternoon tea for our recent Mother’s Day concert and will do that again for our next concert in MacKillop Senior College Hall: CHORAL KALEIDOSCOPE on 5 July.
This particular concert is a celebration of Mid North Coast choirs, so audiences will hear 9 different groups strutting their stuff. Lots of fun.
> You’ve been awarded an OAM for service to music in this community – a great tribute. What keeps you passionate about music?
Music is multi-faceted, something for everyone 24/7. It’s an international language which touches us emotionally and has the power to change the way we feel. It reaches out far beyond words and takes us to places we could only ever imagine.
I’m passionate about hearing it, teaching it and sharing it, so therefore performance practice is an important part of my studio routine. Those who are lucky enough to share music making in choirs, ensembles, bands and orchestras receive a very special buzz. It’s fantastic fun, and the great sense of team achievement is very satisfying.
For those who study music regularly, the transfer into literacy, numeracy and creative pursuits is well documented. Those fond of Sudoku, crosswords, and Bridge for mental agility should also consider singing or learning to read music … you may be very surprised.
Music demands self discipline in order to achieve results, and singing in particular has benefits for our health – especially singing in a group. Some Australian workplaces have introduced short singing sessions into their working week, with excellent results.
> People say that anyone can sing. Is that true, and if so, should they consider joining a choir?
Absolutely correct. Some people carry negative baggage from school or tertiary institutions and are shy of singing, but in truth there are not many monotones – everyone can improve their own sound and sing in tune.
It takes practice and time, but it works. Trust me … and yes, singing in choirs will improve this. The actual process of improving pitch is fascinating and sometimes creates quite amazing results. I have many stories to tell!
> What about teenagers, whose voices tend to break at a certain age?
Sadly, a lot of people think that when adolescent voices begin to change (not break) that it is harmful to sing. That is rubbish! Girls, as well as boys, experience this around puberty. Wise voice teachers keep them singing gently through this change without placing pressure on them to come up with the goods.
> You have a reputation as a choir expert, but what other kinds of music interest you?
Apart from classical music and contemporary Australian music, Jazz and music theatre are favourites.
I’m interested in historical and contemporary liturgical music, and I do find myself involved in events such as weddings, conference openings etc. I find the challenge of matching music to the program always stimulating. I work with a range of singers and instrumentalists.
As Australians, we should be supporting and using the music of our own composers constantly; it is of a very high standard and is most accessible. Recently, I was involved in a Composer in Residence program in a primary school – 3 unforgettable days with Paul Jarman.
The students and Paul wrote music together, and this experience will remain with these children forever.
> You travel a lot. Is that usually to do with music?
Quite often it is. For example, last year I was lucky enough to attend a Schubertiade festival in the Austrian Alps and then the 8th World Symposium on Choral Music in Copenhagen, where the best Nordic choirs were on show.
Our Australian contingent was one of the largest, with 32 people. Particularly exciting was the venue. The Royal Opera House has four floors below sea level and several above and had the same acoustic engineer as our own Glasshouse, so the acoustics were fabulous. On the same trip I was privileged to visit Grieg’s home in Norway and Sibelius’ home in Finland and attend concerts as well.
Adjudicating and judging competitions such as the Helfgott Award and Eisteddfodau does also take me away at times. But it is exciting to come home to this beautiful part of the world with its burgeoning musical community – we are blessed to live here.
> Thank you Robyn.
For more information, contact:
R. V. Ryan OAM, Robmusic Studio
P.O. Box 372
Port Macquarie 2444
Ph: 65 82 7857 or 0407 007 993.