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Choral music

Australian music for choir a cappella

A cappella singing is linked to liturgy, especially of the ‘bells and smells’ variety, but that tradition has consistently generated new work throughout its history. In Australia, non-specialist composers such as Nigel Butterley have contributed to it, and some of the metropolitan church and college choirs have developed a concert-giving and touring profile in which they include new music. More broadly, though, the unaccompanied choir has in recent times become a vehicle for contemporary secular music and concert music of a religious flavor, thanks to the vision of conductors such as John McCaughey of Melbourne’s Astra Society, or several conductors of the Sydney Chamber Choir who made new work an important part of their choirs’ activity. Metropolitan choral societies often maintain a smaller group for performing this kind of repertoire, and in recent years dedicated groups such as the Contemporary Singers and the Song Company have made significant contributions.

Specialist groups – gospel choirs like the Café at the Gate of Salvation – perform new work; all female or all male groups; and fine children’s and youth choirs throughout the country formed and conducted by Stephen Leek, Lyn Williams, Mark O’Leary and others.

Representative works

  Work Notes
Missa brevis (1963) by Gillian Whiteheadthis work for SATB choir has a marvellous sense of resonance.
There came a wind like a bugle (1987) by Nigel Butterleysets poetry of Emily Dickinson (SSAATTBB )
Sydney dreaming (1988) by Stephen Adamswas written for the Contemporary Singers and powerful evokes a Sydney summer evening.
Songs of space, sea & sky (1989) by Stephen Leekinclude ‘Until I saw (for SATB chorus, also exists in versions for SSA).
Digital sheet music sample Talk show (1997) by Elena Kats-Cherninwas written for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir (which commissioned several new works in the 1990s)
Trisagion 1521 (2003) by Elliott Gygerwritten for ATBrB, this work resounds with the resonance of orthodox chant.

Broader categories of Choral music