Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Massed Choirs at the Orpheus' Choir 50th  Anniversary Celebration 

It was Aristotle who once said the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  However, one doesn’t need to be a philosopher to know that at the time Mrs Aristotle penned that one for posterity, old Ari must surely have been urging his children to join a choir.  Two thousand odd years later and testament to Aristotle’s accuracy presented itself in the form of five outstanding choirs who came together in celebration of the Ipswich Orpheus Chorale’s fiftieth anniversary.

The imposing Ipswich City Uniting Church, it’s Wesley Chapel opened in 1858 reputedly making it Queensland’s oldest Church in continuous use, could not have been a more perfect setting for the gathering of these esteemed choirs and the large audience who came to listen.

Orpheus Choral Group  

The Blackstone Ipswich Cambrian Choir was established in 1886 and the Toowoomba Choral Society has been an integral part of the musical landscape of the Darling Downs since 1933.  With performance commitments elsewhere on this day, it was the Toowoomba Choral Society who were masterfully represented by the beautiful baritone voice of Ian Kammholtz.  The Ipswich Orpheus Chorale is now fifty years in the making, still boasting ‘original’ members, likewise the Esk Community Choir which has been under the continuous direction of its founder Alexis FitzGerald OAM since 1978 and all these, along with the next generation of choristers in the Young Orpheus Singers, brought not only a wonderful sense of musical history together in this historically significant building but each, through the sum of their voices, created harmony as a whole and the joy of choral singing, unsurpassed.
Esk Community Choir

Atop the programme ‘Purely for Pleasure’ was the brief so easily achieved amid so much amazing choral singing.  It was with gratitude that Alexis, Margaret and the members of the Esk Community Choir were invited to be a part of the celebration to mark this historic milestone in the life of the Ipswich Orpheus Chorale.  To Choir Director Vicki Jones, the Orpheus Committee and Choir members for your wonderful hospitality, we give our sincere thanks.
By: Sue Walker
Photos by: Marina Crichton 

Margaret & Alexis 
Orpheus Junior Choir 

Cambrian Choir 

Thursday, September 12, 2019


The Terrific Tenors

What in the name of Christopher Columbus could she be thinking?!” was a paradigm of the parlance  in thought bubbles when, undaunted, Esk Community Choir’s Musical Director, Alexis FitzGerald OAM, declared she was intending to put together an all-male concert and call it ‘The Terrific Tenors’.  
Undeterred, the blueprint was formed, music distributed and following the Touring Choir’s return from overseas, rehearsals began in earnest.  There were moments of exasperation when non-retention of lyrics was rife, capitulation when musical lines went walkabout, others of hilarity when choreography went a little cockeyed.  However hard-won, Alexis’s confidence prevailed and with cooperation, pounds of patience and belief, Alexis and her choir boys who have been supporting the ladies of the choir at concerts for more than 40 years, successfully produced a showcase of their amazing musical talents at Toogoolawah’s Alexandra Hall on that Sunday afternoon in September.
Prior to performance time in a moment of solemnity and in dedication, Alexis spoke of Gail Webster, a treasured member of the Choir whose love of music and of the choir throbbed through her veins; whose courage throughout her illness was an inspiration to everyone but who sadly passed away recently.

At 2.30pm in front of a capacity audience who, in support of this event, had braved the dust storms, smoke and high winds whipping up from the west, it was time to put on a show!  With Alexis at the piano and a talented ensemble of Sunshine Coast instrumentalists on strings to augment the musical sounds, the event came to life with a mixed-bag of rousing excerpts from Sigmund Romberg’s The Student Prince culminating in a stirring rendition by Denis, Bob and the Ensemble of I’ll Walk With God.  It was obvious by this time that concert goers knew they were in for a very special treat.

The Student Prince 

An interlude during which some wonderful raffle prizes were drawn and won allowed time for a quick costume change.  On cue, the men, top-hatted and canes in hand, strutted onto the stage to sashay their way through Irving Berlin’s Let Yourself Go.  Though Fred Astaire can lie in repose still comfortable in the knowledge that his dance steps are safe, the Choir’s talented choreographer, Helene Hawes did manage small miracles with her gaggle of guys, a majority of whom found themselves in possession of two left feet!  The lyrics of I Got Plenty of Nuttin’ belied the considerable talents of tenor Denis Hawes while Lloyd King in the guise of Bond…James Bond…managed to steal away his ‘Bond girl’, Carolyn during the enthusiastic singing of You Only Live Twice.
Let Yourself Go

However, whilst Mr Astaire may still be smiling, it was Noel Coward who may have been rolling around ready to rethink his strategies when Eric von Nida brought his Nina, a comic song about ‘a fairly disagreeable lady’ to life and to another level.  In a stunning performance, complex both lyrically and rhythmically, Eric brought the audience to their feet and left them calling for ‘encore!’.

The very animated Eric von Nida _ Nina

We want Pickwick…We want Pickwick!’ came the cries followed by questions from a riotous bunch of unruly women in the audience.  ‘Pickwick’, aka Lloyd King did answer the call with his misguided political manifesto and a delightful performance of If I Ruled the World.  With the ensemble still on stage, Brian Crichton followed with his passionate solo lead in the beautifully biblical Exodus Song.

You'll Never Walk Alone - Denis and Roger

A short break in the proceedings with the drawing of one of the big raffles allowed for another frenzied costume change. However, not even the odd wardrobe malfunction could detract from Denis, Roger and the Ensemble’s  ‘moving tribute to the brotherhood of man’ from Carousel, You’ll Never Walk Alone and with his shirt buttons unashamedly still askew, Alan zealously led the men into a powerful rendition of Soldiers Chorus.

Bob Hardy _  O Star of Eve

In a climactic finale, Bob Hardy gave a truly sensitive portrayal of one of the most beloved of all operatic arias from Wagner’s Tannhauser, O Star of Eve and as Alexis played like moonlight on water the last strains of the Wagner’s accompaniment,  Choir ladies quietly made their way to the stage to join with the men for the collaboration of voice and instruments in a moving performance of Pilgrims’ Chorus.

The Esk Community Choir is grateful that there are people whose generosity is given so freely in support of many Choir events. Damien FitzGerald from Toogoolawah’s Boutique Meats, Tony Groom, Alcheringa Holiday House Binna Burra, the Editors of The Somerset Newspaper; from the Somerset Council, Mayor Graeme Lehman, Sean Choat and from the Community, that wonderful bunch of Choir supporters whose faces are always a glowing presence amongst audiences. 

Roland at the controls
 The Esk Community Choir is also grateful to Roland Cox for stepping into the breach at the audio controls and for his commitment to perfecting its intricacies; to Kathleen for learning the complexities of the lighting system in 2 hours and for the many other volunteers from within the choir whose tireless efforts allow these events to run so seamlessly.  We are grateful for a consummate accompanist in Margaret Philp whose  musical talents are often overshadowed by the singers for whom she plays and a Choir Director in Alexis who dreams up at least five impossible things before breakfast and then makes them happen; who through music brings people together with that common thread and who needs to be thanked formally for showing us why we matter. Alexis is the beating heart of her choir, the members of which are all the richer for having been invited into her world.

Love is in the Air brought the joy of singing to the entire gathering as the Choir ushered concert goers from their seats to partake of a sumptuous afternoon tea.

Love is in the Air ♥


Alan Hayward

Exodus _ Brian Crichton

Helene Hawes

King, Lloyd King!  and  Bob Hardy 'You Only Live Twice'. 

Denis Hawes

Tom, Alan and Wally
Lloyd King_ 'If I Ruled the World'


The 'Waitresses' with the Students of Karlsberg _ The Student Prince

Tuesday, September 3, 2019


This is Why We Sing  
Having received the invitation to perform for the residents at Brassall Village since long before who-knows-when in 2018, it was there we found ourselves on September 1st, a small group of choristers standing before a small bevy of Village residents, a significant portion of whom appeared hopeful of some enjoyable entertainment, the remainder possibly curious to know what lay in store.  There was the delightful Irene who before even finding her seat, unashamedly boasted of her happy 11 year’s longevity at the Village; her audibly challenged neighbour, Isobel, who wandered down the hall with her wheelie securing a spot in the front beside her ‘extra set of ears’ in Irene.  George and Cora, celebrating their 63rd wedding anniversary found their places at the rear of the sun filled multi- purpose dining room and others, seated around tables, settled in for the afternoon’s entertainment.

Preliminaries completed by Alexis and poised at the ready along with Margaret at the piano, a rousing rendition of “Happy Anniversary Cora and George” set the tone and together we took the audience on a musical journey from a welcoming  ‘Well Hello’ to a snapshot of songs the Choir men will be bringing to their ‘Terrific Tenors’ concert on 8th September.  The ladies in black-and-white lined up for ‘I Love a Piano’ to be followed by the full complement of choristers performing well-known, well-loved songs which have defied time and generations for their popularity, culminating with the emotive ‘Why We Sing’, the reasons by way of its poignant lyrics and the sheer joy of its singing leaving no doubt.  With Alexis having introduced each song with a short preamble, many old souls found they were so familiar that quiet participation became unavoidable.  Other songs generated tears and lots of hand clapping while the odd ‘wadidshesay?’ required some rough-hewn translations.  Is it not that one of the joys of ageing is the privilege to say and do pretty much anything when it gladdens and inspires your day? 

Our entertainment ended generating a standing ovation and a handful of calls for ‘just one more?!’. And so it was with an impromptu performance of the beautiful South African freedom song ‘Siyahamba’ that the concert completed and we joined with the gracious and appreciative residents of Brassall Village around tables adorned with delicious treats for afternoon tea, the gift of our singing still throbbing in our veins having transformed these delightful people who clearly shared our love of music and through their joy, a gift in return.

By: Sue Walker

Taking every opportunity to have FUN

The Unruly Students of 'Karlsberg'

The Musicians

Denis - 'I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' 

'Eric the Naughty'

Saturday, August 3, 2019


At a time when our country is so culturally diverse, images of what can be regarded as ‘typically Australian’ can now be translated in many ways, each one regarded as truth.  On Saturday, July 27th, this diversity was acknowledged when a blend of commonalities, cultures and diversities came together in Esk’s Pipeliner Park to celebrate Somerset’s Cultural Festival.
The line-up of spirited entertainment in the Rotunda was as diverse as the stalls that surrounded it and on this occasion when all were grateful for another one of South East Queensland’s splendid Winter days, to kick start the proceedings the Esk Community Choir became lost in the joy of singing with their bracket of beautiful Australian Songs, their contribution to the cross cultures which this day embraced.

And what more appropriate a day to also be celebrating the successes achieved on so many levels of the recent Esk Touring Choir’s tour to Italy with a reunion of choir members.  Amid the backdrop of tranquillity and exquisite country kudos at ‘Coal Creek’, the home and hospitality of Choir Director Alexis FitzGerald, 20 something choir members  shared a table full of enticing culinary contributions and many memories recalled through a cacophony of conversations which flowed all afternoon along with the San Leo Prosecco, the on-tour beverage of choice for many.   
Having earlier sung with gusto their bracket of Australian songs at the Cultural Festival, singing here seemed to be superfluous but all longing still for more of that which continues to make this choir family special…the joy of singing and the constant striving for something more when the last journey has all but ended.

By: Sue Walker

Brian and Marina
the lucky winners of a bottle of San Leo Prosecco. 

Members of the touring choir

Gifts for the touring choir members - hand painted by our
resident artist  Elizabeth Brown 

Many hands make light work - Tony and Harry preparing the
quail for lunch. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019


Opportunity to do some simple shopping in Italy

Buongiorno…welcome back to Cantiamo’s travels around beautiful Italy.  When I left you last, we were a bunch of choristers who had very quickly found our feet in Florence, so much so that by now, many of us had adapted well to the Italian way of life which involved sightseeing or shopping madly for a few hours then, understandably utterly exhausted from this strenuous activity and with the shops shutting their doors at one o’clock on the dot, popping back to the hotel for a bit of lunch and a rest, the sole purpose of which was to re-energise for the afternoon’s vigorous Florentine walking activities. 

Carb Loading ☺

As You Do
Though it is safe to say that Italians have never heard of the word ‘diet’, by now with many of the group struck down with a variety of ailments, the Italian culinary habit of carbo loading at every meal could well have been a blessing, for by now we were in need of every bit of energy we could muster,  particularly on this morning (Day 17) as we were on our way to help ‘prop up’ the Leaning Tower of Pisa (as you do)!

The 100 kilometers from Florence to Pisa through the Tuscan countryside with its undulating hills covered with vineyards, olive trees, avenues of cypress and small farms, is a part of Italy that had clearly received a big fat smooch from the fairy of beauty.  While there is no doubt the town of Pisa did contain its own medieval magic with historical churches, palaces and beautiful bridges spanning the River Arno, it was time constraints that prevented our group from heading anywhere other than the precinct of the Piazza dei Miracoli or Square of Miracles.  From the profusion of buses, cars, scooters and bikes in the parking zones, it was also the destination of three million other visitors who were keen for their own kodak moments and to be as amazed as we were by this impressive piece of Pisa. 

Situated within ancient fortified walls, this UNESCO world heritage site comprised the Baptistry, Cathedral and the Cathedral’s Bell Tower, its construction over a couple of hundred years begun in 1173, its noticeable lean becoming obvious nearer its completion.  A few of our energetic souls, assured of the Tower’s ability to withstand toppling, did climb the 257 steps to the top, Nos. 8 and 10 (Brian and Marina) recreating a photo taken at the bell’s chamber during a holiday back in 1984BC (before children).   Having  absorbed the sights, consumed a snack, captured on camera the scene from many angles and with a need to maintain our day’s schedule it was a quick count to preserve our flock before herding ourselves through untold tourists milling about souvenir stalls and back to the bus for the next leg to Le Roncole, a tiny village in the province of Parma and the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi.
Casa Verdi in Roncole 

This simple home, ‘Casa Natale del Maestro’ two hundred years ago a tavern and General Store run by Giuseppi’s father, is now regarded as a National Treasure where staff equipped our group with iPads for an interactive account of the daily activities of young Guiseppe and his family, a wonderful introduction to the life of this remarkable man.  “I was, I am and I will always be a countryman from Roncole” said the sign outside.  As humble as he was gifted and benevolent, we were soon to learn so much more of Verdi’s life upon reaching Milan. 

Before departing Le Roncole for Pavia, our next over-nighter still very much on this day’s itinerary, mention must be made of the tiny red poppy-like flowers which had been attracting admiring glances from bus windows throughout the length and breadth of our travels.  Tiny red wildflowers which made like Mexican waves along the roadsides or appeared from unexpected places in pastures.  On this day, a profusion of these poppies in a neighbouring farmer’s field was a photo opportunity too tempting to resist.  All I can say is that Farmer Filippo (not his real name), watching  a section of his field of barley flattened by unknowing frolicking females did show commendable control and we, extreme relief and repentance as we became the objects of his attention and made a swift exit!

Playing in the fields at Roncole 

The journey to Pavia was a delight taking us through rich farmland and many rice paddies highlighting the Italian sentiment that this area around the Po River Valley was ‘the rice capital of Italy’, particularly renowned for the Aborio variety.  There’ll be no prizes for guessing what was on the menu at our 4star accommodation in Pavia that night!

Statua della Minerva - Pavia 

After the buzzing hub of Florence, Pavia seemed like a cloak of quietness but lift the cloak and there was a lot going on encompassing the remnants of a long life, its history dating back to 572AD.  On a short stroll down the tree lined street to the main square, it was hard not to embrace the oldness of the architecture with cafes and shops lining the way nor the  continuing sad saga of No. 1 who by now had developed quite a bad chest infection and, outside a Pavian Apothecary had inadvertently broken her bottle of cough mixture spilling its sticky contents throughout her brand new leather bag.  

Day 18, and with our scheduled performance at the 10 o’clock Mass in the Church of Santa Maria della Carmine, it was an early checkout and a big hallelujah for the comparatively short walk to this 15th century church.  Though quiet on this Wednesday, the market stalls in the piazza outside the church spoke of the many great gatherings that may have once taken place.  Inside, with a mid-week congregation surprisingly large and despite the many muffled coughs and ahems from the choir, our voices soared to the majestic heights of this Gothic masterpiece.  Counterpoint to our euphoria was the disappointment  no more deeply felt than by our No. 11, (Alexis) that had we been one week earlier, we might have been part of an audience for the performance by the La Scala Symphony Orchestra under the baton of world renown conductor, Zubin Mehta, a giant of his craft.   
The Choir in Le Chiesa  di Pavia, Santa Maria  del Carmine 

Milan Cathedral
However, an hour later we were back on the bus and heading down the highway a short distance to Milan, Italy’s second largest city where we were elated to be spending the next 3 nights.  Having suffered extensive damage from allied bombings during WW11, today Milan stands as a testament to the human spirit that it is now a thriving metropolis.  Acclaimed for its culture, castles, cathedral, its banking and commerce, museums, fashion houses and its Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the world’s oldest shopping Mall and a mecca for shoppers, on our Day 19, it was for Milan’s famous Opera House, Teatro alla Scala that we were all making a beeline. Our guide, Ester was a font of information as we were guided through La Scala’s magnificent halls and galleries; a front-of-stage journey through one of the world’s most important Opera Houses and its most impressive museum collection of great composers, unforgettable singers and dancers who have called La Scala their ‘home’.  A sneak peek of the theatre from an Opera Box left many of us breathless.  For the remainder of the day, Milan was ours for the exploring.

Loving La Scala - Di Grace and Sue 

Our concert performance that evening was a 20kilometer bus ride to Uboldo, a tiny town north west of Milan overflowing with small town charm, bonhomie and our host at Talent House, Francesco, could not have been more gracious. It seemed that half the town had turned up for our performance, an audience no less gracious in showing their appreciation of our concert despite our struggles with their prized venue’s unforgiving acoustics and a performance akin to a Coughing Cacophony.  There were probably better ways to conquer colds than beverages of the strongish variety but by the time we arrived back at the hotel it was late, we were weary, cold and so it was the shortest route to the warmth of the bar area where we prattled on into the wee small hours  over a glass or two of prosecco.

The Choir  performing at  the Talent House in  Uboldo

The need to cast votes in Australia’s Federal Election sent a group on Day 20, our last in Milan,  to the underwhelming offices of the Australian Consulate, voting, a long and drawn out process which necessitated visits to neighbouring Starbucks to reminisce over hot coffee and await the last of our group. Luigi, our ever- reliable bus driver was Johnny-on-the-spot for our return in preparation for the remainder of that day’s activities. 

They say one should never go back, and while that may be true of some places, no trip to Milan could ever be complete without a rebound visit (for some on this trip, a first) to Casa Verdi.  I hope, dear readers, that you will forgive me if I borrow words from my 2011 report of our visit to this unforgettable place, for their depth of meaning have not diminished, my memories of this home, indelible.   

Casa Verdi in Milan 

Casa di Reposo per Musicisti Fondazione Verdi’ are the words engraved on the front of the home.  Verdi’s statue stands in the piazza in front of it and inside the home, his mortal remains lie in repose next to his wife, but according to the literature, ‘the commonly used name, ‘Casa Verdi’ grew out of another story: this is where the composer hosts his friends - the old musicians for whom Verdi had his home built and who do not enjoy economic independence; men and women left to face the most difficult years of their lives on their own’.  It is their ‘rest home’ and they are his ‘guests’ and today as many as 100 of these talented old souls live comfortably amid these beautiful surroundings.  To have been invited to visit this home, to wander the hallways and rooms and learn about the place where Guiseppe Verdi also wandered and composed was an unforgettable experience. To have been invited to perform for these gracious and talented old folk was indeed a privilege and the atmosphere, the sights and the sounds of Casa Verdi were pleasures in which we all gloried. 

Can't Help Falling in Love With You at Casa Verdi

It is truth that ‘upon entering one feels the need for an intimate, solemn prayer of the sort that he wrote for his operas’.  As we walked through the huge iron gates into the garden, from somewhere in a top floor room, we heard the dulcet sounds of a piano wafting down and it was not difficult to believe we were dreaming out loud.  While seemingly composed, our No. 20 must have been feeling somewhat overawed at having to accompany the choir on the magnificent grand piano donated by the great pianist, Vladimir Horowitz and his wife, Wanda Toscannini but as always, rose to the occasion with faultless accompaniment throughout  a sublime performance by the choir, arguably the best on tour.  To spend one’s final years in such a place, the sounds of music everywhere…that’s got to be hard to beat!!

Thank you Margaret ♥

On the evening of our last full day together in Italy, we gathered in our usual Milanese restaurant for our final dinner.  It was obvious from the outset that we were not going gently into that cold night for we supped, sipped, imbibed, laughed and recounted great times and in moments of sanity,  gave thanks to all who had made this tour the success that it had become.  

 It rained as we made our way back to the bus for our return to the hotel and was still raining early the following morning when a handful  boarded the bus for the airport and the long flight home via Singapore while others waited in preparation for further adventures around Europe and places beyond, all with wonderful memories and friendships to last a lifetime.

Alexis, for your incomparable compassion, inspiration, sensitivity and patience; for challenging us with songs so that every note was earned and, for the most part… right; for walking us into the world of music and showing us so much that we never want to leave it and for just being an all-round awesome person and the best in the business,  we give you our warmest thanks.

Alexis in La Scala 

Grazie mille to you all for joining me on this account of our ‘Cantiamo’ tour around Italy. Torna presto a trovarci, alla prossima, ciao ciaobut never say goodbye!

By: Sue Walker (No.25) 

What, More Carbs??!! 

Nola enjoying the  Galleria Vittoria
The Oldest Shopping Mall in the World
Reward for voting - Coffee

This guy prefers a small beer! 

Talent House in Uboldo 

Thank you Luigi our ever reliable bus driver - for getting  us to our destinations safely and on time.

Thank you Ondra  for guiding us through the maze
 of  old towns, directing us to the nearest and best
coffee shops, helping us hurdle the language barriers,
being the source of  endless information including 'height above sea level'.
Grazie Mille;  DÄ›kuji 

Another Prosecco!

  Over the years, the Museum has stored the traces of the presence