The Choir’s History

History of the Macquarie Chapel Choir

by Alan Crapp

Throughout all of its existence, the choir has been fortunate to be led by dedicated and talented Christian musicians.

In about 1974 or 1975, Alison Coates arranged to form a Church Choir from the morning congregation. So, our Choir has operated continuously now for around 40 years, singing at the early–morning service and occasionally, by invitation, at other services. Initially, the group comprised about twelve parishioners and they started rehearsing on Thursday evenings. The church organist at the time was Colin Short, an elder, who took on the extra duties of accompanying the choir. Presentation of additional music at Christmas and Easter was always a priority.

Even in its early times, as well as leading the congregational singing, the choir set the objective of a choral item every Sunday, using just the regular hymn book of that time (the Psalter and Revised Church Hymnary), and occasionally borrowing copies of anthems from a neighbouring congregation. Slowly, the choir was able to build up some additional music, with the church buying copies of the Oxford Book of Carols.

Alison made great use of the Oxford Book to enhance Christmas and Easter choral presentations in the early years. Astute acquisition of various anthems and oratorios from defunct choirs also helped to boost the choir’s library. Other hymn books were purchased, sometimes by the choristers pooling money and on other occasions by a generous donation from a parishioner. By the time the new church building was dedicated in 1979, the choir was fully functional and had grown to about sixteen.

For several years in the 1980s, Macquarie hosted a Choral Festival, where our choir and choirs from other churches in the district came together to present an afternoon concert. The highlight of these concerts was the combined choirs singing a rousing chorus, conducted by the well-known local musician/teacher, Suzanne Maslen.

It was during this period that Colin Short resigned as organist and Annabel Herrimanwas retained as Church organist and choir accompanist. In 1986, Alison relocated to Leura in the Blue Mountains, having married fellow elder Ross Dorward about two years previously. Annabel agreed to take over from Alison as choir leader, while remaining the church organist. When Annabel moved away from the district in 1987, the congregation was fortunate to gain the services of Enid Pordage, a very talented and experienced musician and conductor, to assure the continuation of the Choir. Betsy Graham became church organist. Unfortunately, after about a year as choir leader, Enid died suddenly, whereupon Betsy became choir leader as well as organist.

Betsy researched her music thoroughly. More books and music were obtained and the choir began singing more music from the classical composers. She worked hard to improve the standard of the choir and to extend the choristers’ musical education.

She introduced many of the more-difficult works the choir now has in its repertoire. In the late 1980s, the new Australian-based hymn book “Rejoice” was adopted by the congregation because the previous traditional Presbyterian hymn book had gone out of print and extra copies could no longer be obtained. The major drawback for the choir with “Rejoice” was that the music for many hymns was not visible on the same page opening as the words of latter verses. This problem was overcome when a special “Choir Edition” was printed in 1990, with all verses visible with the music.

Additional copies of the “Choir Edition” were purchased. ‘A cappella’ singing also became an integral part of the choir’s performances, enabling Betsy to conduct the choir instead of only accompanying it. More music was obtained by congregational donations, as many members of the congregationincreasingly valued the singing at Macquarie. Several copies of ‘The New Church Anthem Book’ were donated by the PWA (ladies auxiliary) in memory of their fellow member and long-serving chorister, Rae Donaldson. Additional copies of this book were supplied from church funds.

By 2006, the church’s electronic organ, which had given many years of service, was not able to be repaired, due to the unavailability of parts. This meant replacing the organ. A new organ was researched and the congregation was consulted. It was decided that an Organ Appeal would be put to the church members, to raise the required money. Such was the support, that the full cost of a new organ was covered within a few months.

In 2011, Betsy was diagnosed with terminal cancer, which she fought bravely.  Amazingly, she was able to continue in her role with the choir, with great enthusiasm, until two weeks before her passing in February, 2012, We value and treasure the years that Betsy gave to the Choir, the congregation and to the wider Presbyterian Church. The congregation will be ever grateful for her contribution to all our lives with music, love and unshakable faith.

Throughout most of the recent decades, Margaret Mayger, one of our choristers has been able to stand in as an experienced Choir leader and organist, when required. Situations occurred for various periods during temporary vacancies, or when the incumbent leader or organist has been unavailable due to illness, travel or other commitments. This included the majority of 2012, in the period between Betsy’s death and the recruiting of Chris Czerwinski.

Chris Czerwinski was retained in 2012 to be Musical Director and Organist and commenced his two-year contract in December that year. Chris came from Poland with high qualifications and has broadened the choir’s skills, with training in breathing, musicality, warming-up techniques and voice production. He also has introduced additional instruments, including flute and violin to enhance several of the choral works performed. Allowing for the inevitable gains and losses in numbers over time, the choir has maintained a fairly steady membership in recent years of around 16 to 18 choristers.  Chris finished with us in 2021.

Photos showing just some of MacChap Choir’s huge history.