Hornsby Kuring-gai Ecumenical Choir

by Gina Dolphin

Originally published in Local Colour. 

The Journal of Hornsby Shire Historical Society Inc.  Vol 8 No. 4 May 2017

It has become somewhat of a tradition – the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Hornsby Cathedral, Waitara by the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Ecumenical Choir.  Choristers and audiences alike look forward to these performances, and in the eight years that the choir has been in existence, it has gone from strength to strength.


The choir was formed in response to Hornsby becoming a Cathedral Parish on 10 February 2008.  During that first year (and even now) not many people realized that Hornsby was a Cathedral Parish with a Cathedral Church (Our Lady of the Rosary, Waitara).


Donrita Reefman and Barb Angel approached Phillip Linquist with the idea of forming a choir to sing Messiah. At the time, it was thought that the first performance in December 2009 would be a one-off, but a profit was made which went to charity, and people enjoyed themselves so much that it was decided to repeat the performance the following December and from then on make it an annual event. The choir was originally called ‘Messiah Choir’ but in 2010 the choristers, by majority vote, chose a new name for the choir - Hornsby Kuring-gai Ecumenical Choir. 


From the beginning, performing Handel’s Messiah has always had a twin purpose: 


  • to promote the Cathedral as a centre of cultural excellence for the whole community of the Hornsby/North Shore/Broken Bay area (Catholic and non-Catholic); and

  • as a means of fundraising for charitable work for those in need in the local community.


Since 2009, the ‘choir of over 100 voices’ has raised and donated more than $43,000.00 towards the provision of facilities for the welfare of homeless people in our community. Two examples of how the money has been used are the building of a bathroom facility for the homeless in Brooklyn, and more recently supporting the work of the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women’s Shelter.


To understand why proceeds from performing Messiah are donated to the homeless, we have to look at Handel himself. George Frideric Handel’s sacred oratorio is one of the greatest works of the High Baroque period.  The entire text is taken directly from the Bible and Handel’s Christian faith is as evident as his musical genius.  Composed in just 24 days, it was written in 1741 and first performed in Dublin on 13 April 1742 with all proceeds donated to three charities: the prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. Handel bequeathed the full score of Messiah to the Foundling Hospital in London, enabling charitable benefit performances to continue after his death.

As mentioned, the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Ecumenical Choir has grown in both numbers and confidence. In 2009, the choir numbered ninety and the performance went for seventy minutes. In 2016, there were 120 choristers and due to the inclusion of more choruses the performance ran for ninety minutes.  The planning committee consists of eight members and includes the Musical Director, Phillip Linquist (M.Ed.CA, Dip Mus Ed, ATCL). Phillip began his career as a singer and trumpeter.  He has an extensive background in choral and orchestral work, singing and conducting. He is an experienced Music Educator and was an HSC Examiner. The choir’s continued success is largely due to Phillip’s varied musical experience and enthusiasm, and he has been with the choir since its inception.   


Rehearsals for Messiah are held at St Swithun’s Anglican Church, Pymble where Phillip is choir master. The call goes out in October for people who love singing and are familiar with the work. There are only five rehearsals and one performance making it accessible for most people, considering November and December are busy months leading up to Christmas. The motto is to keep things simple and local. Choristers pay a $10.00 participation fee that entitles each person to a complimentary adult ticket. Each chorister needs to provide their own Messiah score, and the preferred score is the Prout Novello edition.


Another key person, who has been associated with the choir since the beginning, is Heather Moen-Boyd (BMus, AMusA, FTCL). A graduate of Sydney Conservatorium, Heather has had many years experience teaching piano and organ in a number of schools. She runs a successful teaching studio at her home in Baulkham Hills, and is an examiner with the Australian and New Zealand Cultural Arts (ANZCA). Heather generously gives her time and talent as organist to the choir in both the rehearsals and performances.


Every year, the choir sees some new faces and in 2016 I had the privilege of joining the choir for the first time, and I was made very welcome. However, there are many others who come back year after year to sing Messiah for a variety of reasons:  


‘I enjoy everything about this choir; the practices are fun and uplifting. I find myself singing during the week and smiling.’


‘The Cathedral Church is a perfect venue for Messiah with its blue stone rear wall and timber ceiling.’


‘It is a friendly choir with a professional attitude.’


‘The opportunity to sing Handel’s Messiah in a church at Christmas.’


Phillip Linquist enjoys the amphitheatre type environment and the enthusiasm of both the choristers and soloists. Audience members have described the performances as: memorable, beautiful, professional, and so happy that they can attend this work locally. The annual performance of Messiah in the Hornsby Cathedral has certainly had an impact on the local community as the 2016 performance was a “sell out”.  The choir was once again conducted by Phillip and was well supported by very talented and experienced soloists and musicians. Following this performance, the choir donated $7,135.08 to the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Women's Shelter.


I am sure the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Ecumenical Choir will continue singing Messiah for many years to come and I hope to join them again in 2017 – the performance will be on Thursday 7 December at 8.00pm – put it in your diaries! 



References:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/donrita-reefman-38a87338

https://sites.google.com/site/hornsbykechoir/home

https://sites.google.com/site/hornsbykechoir/soloists-bios

https://www.musicnsw.com.au/teacher/heather-moen-boyd

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah_(Handel)


Acknowledgement: 

Sharon Gilfedder has been a planning committee member for the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai Ecumenical Choir since 2010 and I wish to thank her for meeting with me and sharing information about the choir which greatly assisted me in the writing of this article.