21st birthday celebrations are in store for Hastings Choristers this year. President John Thompson and Musical Director Robyn Ryan are justifiably proud of the group’s achievements over this period.
What’ve been some of your most notable memories from the past 21 years?
John: As a chorister, there have been many personal highs … singing with our contemporary choirs in Sydney at the Opera House and Town Hall was a great experience. What gives me the most pleasure, however, is the variety of works we perform in our concerts, from Classics to Pop and knowing that our work is of such a high standard.
Very few towns have such a quality choir. We’ve had choral workshops and whole weekends devoted to singing excellence, and this is so exciting for the community. Some years back, we combined with both Coffs Harbour and Armidale choirs, and sang Messiah at all three cities over one weekend.
What changes have you seen in the Hastings area in terms of the development of choral groups?
John: Over the past 10 years, we have seen so many choirs form in this area. When I first arrived in Port Macquarie in 1970, there were no community choirs, and the church choirs had to work hard to find enough singers. I think people were afraid to sing, because it was not the image that they wanted to portray − especially men. This is changing rapidly, as people become more self-confident and are not constrained by peer pressure. The media, especially TV, has a role in this.
How many members are involved with Hastings Choristers?
John: Sometimes we have as few as 45, and sometimes up to 80 in the main choir. We also have a few smaller choirs within our group, and these members sometimes double up. About two thirds of the choir are female, and there is an ongoing search in all choirs to find men − especially Tenors. Age is not a criterion, and we have teenagers and retired members singing side by side.
Hastings Choristers have produced a beautiful book, Our Story, documenting the group’s history. Tell us about the book and how much work was involved with putting it together …
John: Our Story was a labour of love, essentially from three people: David Johnson, Anne Molver and Jenny Reeve. They had lots of support in archiving our records, sourcing photos, old programs, newspaper articles and interviewing choristers.
The purpose of the book was to reward our members for the extraordinary achievements over the past 21 years and to give the members of the public a chance to see just what a great little choir they have in their midst.
Even though I have been a member for the whole of the 21 years, I was amazed at the number of concerts we have presented − over 80!
Robyn, I know you’re a strong advocate for the benefits of singing to help maintain health and wellbeing …
Robyn: Research has shown that people who sing in choirs are healthier and happier than those who don’t. Singing engages the lungs, heart and nervous system − so after a big performance, it can feel as though the body has been put through a physical workout. Samples of saliva taken from singers after rehearsing Mozart Requiem showed increased secretion of antibodies, and it is thought that singing not only improves the body’s cardiovascular system, but reduces the opportunity for bacteria to flourish in the upper respiratory tract − thus preventing colds and flu.
We have members who are undergoing Cancer treatment, as well as some in remission. All of them report feelings of wellbeing during and after rehearsals.
There is an interesting bonding that occurs in our choirs and a strong feeling of teamwork − especially in our four vocal sections. Be kind to your body – sing in a choir!
What performances do the Hastings Choristers have on their calendar over the next few months?
Robyn: On September 5, Messiah rehearsals begin culminating in performances on 3 and 4 December in the Baptist Church, accompanied by pipe organ. We’re very keen to increase our male line up, so any prospective singers will be welcomed then.
On 23 October some of us sing in the Sydney Town Hall as part of a concert raising funds for children’s medical research, and next year in September we do concerts in China, including on the Great Wall and a cruise of the Three Gorges.
Where and when do Hastings Choristers meet to practice?
John: Over the years we have not been able to secure a permanent home; however, for the past 10 years we have been using the Catholic High Schools (St Paul’s and MacKillop), and we are very grateful for their support. We meet on Monday nights at MacKillop Senior High School Auditorium at around 6.30pm. We are generally home by 9.30pm.
Can anyone interested in joining the group do so?
John: We are open to anyone who shares our passion for singing. There is no experience needed − just a willingness to learn to sing as a team. When newcomers are settled in, we do have small auditions − mainly so the voice can be placed in the right spot … Tenor or Bass, for example.
Robyn’s number is 6582 7857, and mine is 6583 8156. If people are interested in what we do, they are also more than welcome to come along and listen to our rehearsals at MacKillop on Monday nights.
What can the public do to help keep Hastings Choristers viable well into the future?
John: All we can ask of the general public is to come to our concerts − we present 3 or 4 each year − and hear us sing. Our Story is available at the Glasshouse, and will be for sale at all our concerts this year and through any of our members.
We have two great patrons in Paul and Mary McCarthy from the advertising firm PMA. Without their support and encouragement, we would struggle even harder. We are always looking for supporters and sponsors, as the cost of running a choir can be quite high. We are proud to have had a number of sponsors on board for Our Story.
Corporate functions and special occasions could be enhanced with beautiful choral music. We have sung at many occasions over the years. We are always open for challenges and ways to expose our choir and share music with people out there who are not our fans … yet.
Thanks John and Robyn.
Interview by Jo Atkins.