The website authors currently have no information about events before 1988, except as mentioned in the post about the beginnings of the Choir
By Val Phillips
I am not a foundation member, but was invited to ‘come along’ when the group was in its infancy.
Frank Yorke, a wonderful Canadian music lecturer at BCAE, was the first leader. and his aim was to gather a small (chamber) group to come along, week by week, and receive enjoyment in singing à capella in ensemble, usually SATB. Around a dozen of us met in one of the rooms in the Education Department’s Havlin Street complex. We developed skills in sight reading, not working towards performance, except that, thanks to some members’ connection with the Arts faculty, we used to prepare a programme for the annual celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday in April… followed by the obligatory glass of mead!
News of our existence filtered into the community and – shock! horror! – we received an invitation to provide the entertainment for a gathering in the old (unrestored) Town Hall. After some discussion we accepted. We worked up a few madrigals and Frank wrote settings of two folk songs, ‘Lavender’s Blue’ and ‘Strawberry Fair’, and an SATB arrangement of Purcell’s ‘Passing By’. Despite everyone having a severe case of the jitters, our maiden performance was not too bad and further invitations followed. This, of course, changed the original concept of the group. We needed a name and became the Bendigo Chamber Choir.
We continued to attract members and outgrew the room at Havlin Street. We found a new venue in the Maple Street / Golden Square Primary School. Sadly, after leading us and writing further arrangements for the choir, Frank left Bendigo.
(Somewhere in the early days Eileen Hetherington led the group; probably Andrew Jenkin can provide details on this.)
By this time a “Musicians in the Community’ programme had been established in Bendigo for the benefit of its school students. A team of instrumental teachers came to live in Bendigo and they, with the necessary instruments, provided individual and class music lessons in the district’s state schools.
Wim Semmilink, from Holland, played French horn, taught orchestral brass instruments, and conducted the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra. He agreed to lead the Chamber Choir. Incidentally, some other ‘Musicians in the Community’ joined as choristers. For a while we were challenged by Wim’s accent, but soon understood his instructions. He had lots of innovative ideas and kept us on our toes as he led us on a new journey. We also needed a new rehearsal room and found it in the Anderson Room at St Paul’s in Myers Street.
Wim and his French horn moved on to Sydney and again we were leaderless. Eventually Neil McDermid, a music lecturer from Bendigo’s La Trobe University, and prior to that, Adelaide, agreed to take us on. Under Neil our music journey gradually moved in a new direction again and we continued to enjoy meeting the challenges Neil set.
To this stage many members had contributed in many ways, including as rehearsal pianists. However, I think Sue Prain deserves special mention. A foundation member, Sue caught the original vision and through her determination we continued, rather than disbanding when our various leaders departed. She sought out possible replacements, and thanks to her persuasive powers they agreed to undertake the role. Sue’s determination was truly amazing in other ways. She has very low vision but didn’t let this stop her… she just memorized her alto line in every piece we worked on! Yes, words AND music!
Valerie Phillips, long-serving member
By Andrew Jenkin
Having read Val’s notes, all I can add is that Frank Yorke was American not Canadian. He and his wife Georgie were both teachers at Golden Square High School originally, then Frank took up a position at the Teachers College. Georgie was Hungarian and also sang in the choir. When he left Bendigo, Frank went to Townsville Uni where he still is.
The original idea was prompted by the Musician in residence at the College, Tony Gilbert. The idea was to involve young people from the Education Faculty. Although a few did join, mainly Music students, they were very inconsistent in their attendance and that idea lapsed.
We also rehearsed at the Regional Office in the Music room there and at this time Eileen Hetherington did conduct us for a short time until Wim arrived. I seem to remember that we spent more time getting our vocal sound right and did very little actual learning of works under Wim.
I would agree with the comments by Val on Sue Prain who did sterling work in helping run the choir.
Andrew Jenkin, a founding member