Music Research

Choirs in the Valley

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Choral Societies were founded in the Hunter Valley from the 1860s. Prior to these formal bodies, there is evidence of choirs in Maitland and Newcastle associated with churches, chapels and temperance groups. In 1861 a Temperance choir opened proceedings at a Temperance soiree in Borehole and in the same year the Welsh choir at the Junction chapel was praised in the Newcastle Chronicle (10/4/1861).

The newspapers reported on the founding of choral societies (also referred to as choral unions) from 1865 when the Lambton Choral Society was formed under director John Williams. The original meeting to form the Lambton Choral Society was held in the Welsh Chapel, Lambton and it would seem likely that the society drew on the chapel choir for much of its membership. This was followed by the Newcastle Choral Society, founded in 1866 and the Wallsend Choral Society which was founded in 1867.

Despite their stated aims of raising the taste of the region through regular concerts of sacred and secular music,  the choirs were principally employed in performing in various township fundraising concerts and other events in the region. Since the outer townships such as Wallsend, Lambton, New Lambton and Waratah were only founded in the early 1860s, such fundraising was important for new buildings such as Waratah public school for which a number of benefit concerts were held (see programme below)

Chronicle 4.2.1871 Sacred Music Concert

During the 1870s the Lambton Choral Union gained a reputation as an outstanding choir in the region. It had a strong connection with the Welsh community and in 1875 welcomed Mrs Parker to its ranks, a singer who had formerly been a member of the famous South Wales Choral Union, that won the cup and 1000 guineas at Crystal Palace under ‘Caradog’, Griffth Jones in 1872 and 1873. The first time she performed as a soloist, the audience greeted her with an ovation and her rendition of the Welsh air “Now strike the harp gladly” was met with a demand for an encore (Miners’ Advocate, 11/9/1875). In 1876 members of the choir, including Mrs Parker were invited to perform in Sydney for St David’s Day . This was something of a triumph for a mining township’s choir.

Author: helenenglish2013

Senior Lecturer in Music, University of Newcastle, Australia Helen English, AGSM, MPhil, PhD Helen English is a Senior lecturer in music at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research interests are Australian music, music and social justice, gender and music and the sociology of music. Her creative work includes the soundscape The New Adventures of Mark Twain: from Coalopolis to Metropolis (New York, 2007) and performed soundscape Forgotten Composers of the Hunter Valley (Newcastle, 2013). Helen English is currently a PHD candidate in History and Sociology, researching music making in 1870s Newcastle, NSW. In 2013 she was invited to present a paper at the inaugural Newcastle/Hunter studies symposium. Recent publications include a book chapter: “Musical Entertainment in Newcastle, NSW, 1875-1877” (2102) and articles “Re-Viewing history through sound – fact or fiction?” (2013), “Newcastle, NSW, in the 1870s: Audience Identity, Power and Cultural Ownership” (2013) and “Music Making in the Colonial City: Benefit Concerts in Newcastle, NSW in the 1870s” (forthcoming, 2014).

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