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On the wings of a song

Choirs are becoming less common in Uniting Church congregations, but some communities are continuing this proud tradition. Rohan Salmond writes.

While church music is trending toward more band-focused music style, some congregations are maintaining their choirs because of the opportunities for community building, outreach and enriching worship on a Sunday morning.

Adele Nisbet is choral director of Saint Andrew’s Uniting Church Sanctuary Choir.

“In the community in general, choirs are alive and flourishing. School choirs continue to be an important ensemble activity when there is good musical leadership in the school,” she says.

“Post-war Australia was blessed by churches that took the initiative to establish activities that fostered community, good health, civil responsibility and companionship, but as secularisation changed this pattern, the church may have lost its vision for the important role that a choir can play in nurturing community and enhancing worship.”

The choir at South Rockhampton Uniting Church is a longstanding tradition.

“I’ve been director for 30 years this year,” says Christine Netherwood. “I was actually in the choir as a teenager as well, so I’ve been associated with it for 40-something years.”

Christine says the choir is a significant point of connection for people in the congregation, even if they come from different generations.

“Probably the youngest in the choir is 50-something, and our oldest is 100. Elsa Stone is 100 this year.

“Everyone is all very good friends. We have a giggle and it’s usually a very fun night.”

Adele says the same thing happens at Saint Andrew’s. “A choir within a church forms its own small-group dynamic, providing a strong sense of belonging, and offering mutual support and nourishment for each member of the group.”

Christine believes that choirs play an important role in maintaining the musical tradition of the non-conformist churches.

“While there is harmony in a praise band, it’s a different style, it’s more your twang and chesty sort of sounds, whereas in the choir you still have this beautiful sound. We’re keeping some of the traditional music alive. There has to be a balance.”

Adele adds, “The spirit is so often carried on the wings of a song, and with a wealth of traditional and contemporary music available for choirs today, there continues to be a special place for choral leadership in our church.”

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