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International Staff Songsters lead Easter weekend services in Melbourne

International Staff Songsters lead Easter weekend services in Melbourne

International Staff Songsters lead Easter weekend services in Melbourne

18 April 2017

The Easter weekend in Melbourne featured several performances in different settings by the International Staff Songsters. 

By MERV COLLINS

In addition to the two morning meetings on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the International Staff Songsters (ISS) provided, over three further engagements, a choral smorgasbord, the like of which hasn’t been heard in Melbourne Salvation Army halls in many a long year.

It all ended with a relaxed farewell festival at Moreland City Corps where the songsters performed songs which had become favourites during their 16-day tour of Australia and New Zealand, like Barrie Gott’s Lightwalk and an Australian medley (both arranged by ISS pianist Richard Phillips) as well as introducing new repertoire including Phillips' Anastasis which, during its unaccompanied section showed the choir at its warm and perfectly-balanced best.

The Melbourne Staff Songsters sang twice, and vocal items were counterbalanced with the exuberant sounds of the Territorial Youth Band having an outing preparatory to going on its own tour to the UK in May. 

There was no vocal solo during this afternoon which was a little regrettable given the quality of the three soloists in the previous night’s major concert at the Hawthorn Arts Centre.

There, Richard McIntosh sang The Holy City in a mellow and understated manner; Hazel Launn presented a contemporary-styled Somebody Believe, and Gemma Hinchliffe a highly-professional in the best sense, They Could Not with sincerity and beauty in every phrase.

The rest of the festival was replete with the best of choral singing from every genre from the simplicity of Howard Davies’ treasure, Lord, You Know That We Love You, to the tongue-twisting Praise to His Holy Name (Hampton).

It included a fabulous Just Like John complete with yabba dabbas and dooby doobies, and superb high register soprano singing led by Hilary Bromage and topped off, literally, by Australia’s own Kerry (Sampson) Lester making a triumphant return home.

Richard Phillips’ name featured frequently on the program and the ISS must be grateful for his compositions as well as his accompaniments and "light-hearted stride" solos. His contribution to the tour was significant and his Choral Symphonies, with words by Stephen Pearson, were, like Anastasis, immediately appealing and accessible.

Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque was exquisite and Ballantyne’s arrangement of the big ballad More Than Wonderful, inspiring.

The audience left the hall with Rutter’s The Lord Bless Thee ringing in their ears as the ever-friendly choir members stood singing in the aisles.

It was undoubtedly a night of fine music from a choir led by the smiling, gracious and highly-skilled leader, Dorothy Nancekievell, but it might have been topped by the wonderful afternoon of Easter music on Good Friday at Camberwell Citadel. Many considered this the high point of the weekend - a musical celebration reflecting the eternal message through musical gems not often heard.

Brass band classics like Calvert’s For Our Transgressions and Goffin’s The Shadow of the Cross were very well handled by the Melbourne Staff Band in its least strident form.

The ISS sang Via Dolorosa (Borop and Sprague) as well as The Christ of Calvary, (Bearcroft’s setting of Annie Laurie) and Stainer’s God So Loved the World. Both had breathtaking moments of vocal beauty – this was a choir singing words they believed – the words spoken by its Executive Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Main in several reflective homilies.

Packed halls were the order of the day – latecomers at Camberwell had to be accommodated on "Gold Class" sofas from the corps rumpus room – and I doubt anyone went away disappointed.

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