Australian Boy Choirs

Figure 1.--The Australian Boys Choir is one of the few boys choirs in Australia. Here they appear in striking double-breasted red jackets, black knickers, and white kneesocks.

We have very little information on Australian choirs. The country as a British colony inherited the Anglican boy choir tradition. At about the same time that immigrants began to arrive in numbers from England, there was a growing interest in England on the boy choir traditions of the great cathedrals. There was also because of the prison transports, a lsrge number of Australians that were skeptical about authority, including the autghority iof the established Anglican church. Australia is not a country that one easily assocaites with boy choirs. There are, in fact, quite anumber of boy choirs in Australia. HBC has some information about several individual Australian choirs.


Australia as a former British colony inherited the English choral tradition. Australia was created as a prison colony. Moden Australia show the English heritage in may ways. The Australian ireverence and skepitism toward authority is a clear inheritance of that early prison heitage. Australia like America also received large numbers of immigrants from Cathlolic countries, especially Ireland. Australia has a rough outdoor image. Australians themselves idealized the great Outback. In fact, Australia is the most urbanized country in the world. Mist Austrlians have grown up in suburbs rather than the Outback. The idealized Outback may not seam to offer an artiostictic incouragement for boys to cultivate an interest in the fine arts. The real Australia of leafy suburbs, however, did provide educations that cultivated an interest un the arts.

Individual Australian Choirs

Australia is not a country that one easily assocaites with boy choirs. There are, in fact, quite anumber of boy choirs in Australia. HBC has some information about several individual Australian choirs.

Figure 1.--This is another image of the Australian Boys Choir in a more informal uniform.

The Australian Boys Choir

The Australian Boys Choir reports that it is unique because of its wide-ranging repertoire and the rigor of its training program. The Australian Boys Choir is the principal performing group of the Melbourne-based Australian Boys Choral Institute founded in 1939 to provide musical education to talented boys. Activities in the early days focused on careful training and extensive touring throughout Australia, but in recent years the Institute has diversified its activities with the formation of other performing groups and a touring program which now regularly takes the choir overseas. The choirs have worked under many international conductors (in recent years these have included Zubin Mehta, Jorge Mester, Hiroyuki Iwaki, John Hopkins and Sir Bernard Heinze), with great orchestras (including the Israel Philharmonic and involvement in major symphonic works has included performances of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Britten's War Requiem, Mahler's Symphony No. 3, and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Critical recognition of the choir has been consistently appreciative. The New York Times epitomised reaction abroad during the choir's Golden Jubilee World Tour with such comments as 'The performance was impressively polished, both dramatically and musically.'

Bunbury Choir

We have found a portrait from Bunbury in Western Australia taken in the early-20th century. The boys wear white surplices with Eton collars. We at first thought it was a choir. We note the Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School is located in Bunbury, but itv appears to have been founded fairly recently. The Eton collars led us to believe that this was a choir group, but they may be aktar boys. Perhaps our Australian readers will know more.

National Boys Choir--Melbourne

Founded in 1964 and based in Melbourne, the National Boys Choir has established itself as one of Australia's finest youth choirs. The Choir cultivates a fine vocal standard by developing in choristers good essential vocal production based on the traditional European bel canto style. However, it remains intrinsically aware of and committed to the promotion of Australia, Australians and Australian music and this awareness and commitment lies behind almost every endeavour the Choir undertakes. The music staff, led by Artistic Directors Peter Casey and Philip Carmody, all enthusiastically engage in furthering their own expertise and talents by undertaking tuition by some of the world's finest musicians and music educators, thus developing their own professional music careers as well as the professional profile, standards and standing of the Choir. Of course there would be no Choir without the choristers. Aged from 6 to (about) 15 and drawn from all over Melbourne, these talented boys commence their training as Elementary Choristers. This year introduces them to the basic tenets of choral work and prepares them for graduation, after a further 12 months with the Junior Choristers, into the Performing Choir. It is the special hallmark of the National Boys Choir that all choristers become, after these two years of training, fully-fledged members of the Performing Choir. It requires no small degree of commitment and self-discipline to attend weekly or twice-weekly rehearsals and regular music camps, often at the expense of other activities. The boys are to be congratulated for their dedication in presenting ever more challenging repertoires with the high degree of excellence for which the Choir has long been renowned. Behind these boys stand their parents who also give unsparingly to support their sons and the Choir gratefully acknowledges their commitment. As the Choir proceeds from strength to strength, the National Boys Choir continues to consolidate its place as one of a number of superb cultural organisations based in Melbourne and contributing to and affirming Australia's rich and diverse cultural identity. It proudly represents the very best of both Melbourne and Australia in all its appearances both at home and internationally. Boys generally commence their training with the choir at about 7 or 8 years of age. Our structure is as follows:

Elementary Choristers: This is our first year training group and boys generally spend the one year being introduced to basic elements of singing technique, music notation and rhythm. Other important elements such as stage discipline and performance practice are also introduced. This group currently rehearses on a Friday (late afternoon).

Junior Choristers: After successfully completing the Elementary Chorister year boys move into this year of our training program. Performance opportunities are increased and singing technique, notation and performance skills are all further developed to prepare for entry into the performing choir. This group currently rehearses on a Tuesday (late afternoon).

Performing Choir: After successfully completing the two training years boys are promoted to the performing choir. The boys participate in a wide variety of performances, ranging from major concert events to corporate functions and weddings. This group currently rehearses on a Friday evening, with sectional rehearsals on Monday (late afternoon).

St. Thomas Chapel Choir of Hutchins School

St Thomas Chapel Choir is the premier music performance ensemble at The Hutchins School. Established in 1993, the choir was named after Saint Thomas, the patron saint of the school chapel. The choir prides itself on its versatility, emulating the English cathedral and collegiate traditions as well as exploring repertoire by Australian composers. Comprising of choristers (boys in Years 3 ­ 7), choral students (Years 8 ­ 12) and adult lay clerks, it holds a unique position, not only in religious circles, but in Tasmanian music generally, as it is the only all-male liturgically-based choir in Tasmania. The choir sings concerts and leads services in Hobart churches, cathedrals and other venues. It sings regular Choral Evensong in St Davidıs Cathedral, services in the school chapel and parish churches in and around Hobart. The choir has sung concerts at Wrest Point Casino, the Hotel Grand Chancellor (for the Australian Attorneys-General), has been a guest on ABC Radio and performed for the Governor of Tasmania at Government House. The St Thomas Chapel Choir had a very successful tour of England. in 1998. The choir was hosted by major Cathedrals and gave a concert in Bath for the Britain-Australia Society during the Bath Music Festival. Upon its return, the choir took the Rowellan trophy for the best choir at the Hobart Eisteddfod. In its very short history, the choir has established an outstanding reputation in Tasmania and is gaining increased exposure nationally, particularly with the release in 1996 of Adeste Fideles, its compact disc of Christmas Carols. Throughout this year the choir will record another CD with highlights from its vast repertoire.

Victorian Boys Choir

Since its inception in 1974, the choir has aimed to consistently produce a standard of excellence in choral music, while at the same time, designing its concert programmes to cater for the preferences of its audiences in the areas of music selection and visual appeal. The choir has toured on a number of occasions. Each year, a tour within the state of Victoria is undertaken, and every four years, the choir visits other countries. The choir undertook its first overseas tour in 1989, has toured England, Italy and New Zealand. In 1999, it will travel to the USA for the first time. At home, it is regularly on call to sing at a wide variety of functions, in addition to presenting its own concerts. The boys in the choir are given tuition, not only in the skills related to choral singing, but also in stagecraft and movement, in order to provide presentations, which feature a wide variety of styles and formats. Since its beginning, the choir has developed its own particular sound, which, for the want of a better term, is simply 'Australian'.

Unidentified Choir

We note an unidentified Australian boys' choir visiting Berlin during the Nazi era--we suspect around the time of the Berlin Olympics (1936). We know the visit took place during the 1930s, although the year is not specified. We think that this must have been the choir of a private boys' school in Australia. The boys look about 12-16 yeats old. This includes olddr boys than is the case today, an illustration of the fact that boys' voices tended to chanbge later before Worlkd War II. Most of them wear short trousers suits with dark knee socks, white shirts, and ties (with a sleeveless sweater here and there). A few boys (but not many) are wearing long trousers. One of the oddities of the picture to us is that boys seem to be singing sitting down. If this were a public concert, they'd probably be standing. Perhaps they are just rehearsing, but they look dressed for concert performance, and even choral rehearsals are conducted with the boys standing. Maybe a German photographer snapped the photo before or after the concert in Berlin when the boys were in a sitting position. We were not aware that Australia choirs visited Nazi Germany, but I'm not sure what public attitudes in Australia were around 1933-36 before the war. Hitler at the time was pursuing a moderate foreign policy to give Germany time to rearm. Boy choirs are of course a big tradition in Germany, so that may have been the attraction. And we do note Hitler Youth groups visting Britain and British Scouts presumably visited Germany.


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Created: November 2, 1998
Last updated: 8:08 PM 9/2/2011