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The Mordialloc Philharmonic Society

There was a blossoming of interest in philharmonic societies in Melbourne in the 1940s. [1] Edward J Trait as president of the City of Mordialloc Citizens’ League led the local campaign for a philharmonic society. As editor and general manager of the Standard News he wrote articles in the Mordialloc City News urging people to join in the movement and advertisements were placed inviting participation. Early in November 1944 a choral concert arranged by the Citizens’ League was given by the Brighton Philharmonic Choir in the Mentone City Hall. Following this successful presentation one hundred signatures were collected from individuals willing to assist in the formation of a choral society. Subsequently, a meeting was held where the Mordialloc society began its life with the election of office bearers and the appointment of a musical director and conductor. [2][3]

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E J (Eddie) Trait, General Manager of Standard News and first president of the Mordialloc Philharmonic Society. Courtesy Mordialloc and District Historical Society.

E J (Eddie) Trait was elected the first president of the new City of Mordialloc society and he indicated to an Argus correspondent that the first consideration of the new society was the formation of a choir. Once that was achieved the plan was to form a municipal symphony orchestra and possibly a local theatre movement. [4] An important part of the first goal was to find a musical director and conductor. At first Trait was disappointed that such a person had not come forward, but then he received a letter from Roy Warren saying that he would be pleased to do all he could to establish a philharmonic society. Given Warren’s experience and reputation, this was a major achievement. At the meeting in the Mentone City Hall to establish the society Roy Warren was unanimously elected as its first musical director and conductor.

Roy Warren was born in the Ascot Vale district in 1902 and for his secondary education attended Melbourne Technical College. During the World War II he was employed by Vickers Ruwolt in Richmond on essential war work while developing a distinguished musical career which continued over thirty years. He had a fine bass voice and was a soloist at hundreds of concerts, taking his place in many operas in leading roles, in oratorio, in great choral works and for many years was a soloist with the Australian Broadcast Commission and on their music staff for over seven years [5]. He was a finalist for the Sun-Aria competition at South Street Ballarat. Well known in Masonic circles he was often a feature artist at Lodge social functions and sang with several church choirs, including St Paul’s Cathedral and Toorak Presbyterian Church. [6] In addition to his singing, it was said he was a first class entertainer as a conjurer and comedian. On his appointment as Conductor and Director of Music he became a tireless promoter of the City of Mordialloc Philharmonic Society.

The first performance of the choir, numbering just on one hundred members, took place at the Mordialloc City Hall, Mentone in April 1945. The society’s president, Eddie Trait, praised this achievement noting that the society along with the choir had sixty subscribers; this he thought was very good considering the population was more interested in race horses than sopranos! [7] In this inaugural concert of the choir Catherine Walsh, Ailsa McKenzie, George Wellesley Smith and James Kennedy were the supporting artists.

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Mentone Mordialloc Philharmonic Junior Choir - Christmas Eve concert at Mentone City Hall 1948. Members drawn from local secondary schools - Kilbreda, Mentone Girls' and Boys' Grammar Schools, Mordialloc High School, St Bede's College. Four adults - Mrs Berwick pianist, Mr Warren conductor, with Secretary and Treasurer. Courtesy Wendy Lindsay, City of Kingston, Kingston Collection.

Guest artists continued to be invited to participate with the choir in subsequent years. In 1946 William Laird and Jessie Shmith were involved as was a choir of eighty junior choristers. Girls between the ages of nine and fourteen were invited to join the junior choir and were eligible to join the senior choir at the age of sixteen. Boys between nine and twelve years sang with the junior choir and were able to join the senior choir when their voices had ‘settled’. [8] The entire gross proceeds of two concerts that year were donated to charitable and welfare organisations within the City of Mordialloc. [9] The following year saw the introduction of a singing scholarship valued at fifteen guineas each year for three years, available to residents of the cities of Moorabbin, Mordialloc and Chelsea and the shires of Frankston and Hastings, Mornington and Flinders. Female applicants were to be between the ages of 14 and 25 while males were to be between 18 and 25. Two scholarships were available to pay for singing lessons from any teacher approved by the Mordialloc Philharmonic Society. [10]

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Presentation of the Society’s scholarship to Miss Cowper. From left Mr J L Morris (Hon Sec) Mr Neil Barry, Bentleigh winner of Junior Scholarship, Mr A C Lang (Hon treasurer), Miss Cowper, Dr R M Shaw (Vice President), Mr Roy Warren, Mr Allen Parkes (Vice President), and Mr Trait (President) 1947. Courtesy City of Kingston, Kingston Collection.

At the end of the year a complimentary concert arranged by Roy Warren was presented at the City Hall by the City of Mordialloc Philharmonic Society. Advertisements stressed the concert was free with only two reserved seats in a hall with a capacity of 600. The two reserved seats were for the Mayor and Mayoress of Mordialloc, Cr Pearce and his wife. The program consisted of Christmas carols and other popular choral numbers together with a Christmas message from the mayor. The soloists on this occasion included Frances Cowper, Tom Cuddy, William Boucher, Maureen Boyce and June Penny [11]

More than a hundred people attended the third annual meeting of the society in the City Hall at Mentone in December 1947. E J Trait was re-elected president and Roy Warren was re-appointed musical director and conductor, both for a fourth term. [12] The important contribution of Mr and Mrs Welford and Mr and Mrs Fleming in sponsoring the attendance of 150 school children to concerts throughout the year was acknowledged. At the end of the year the society had a credit balance of £68, a small reduction compared to the previous year. [13]

Over the next few years music critics reported their assessments of the choir’s performances in local newspapers. The year 1949 saw the choir broadcasting nationally on the ABC for the second time with Roy Warren as conductor and Arthur Witkins as the ‘young accompanist’. Initially, after the first item, the critic thought the choir was ‘unbalanced’ but later attributed this impression to the misplacement of the microphone rather than an attribute of the choir. He went on to praise the ladies of the choir with their rendition of ‘Moon Marketing’ and the male group’s presentation of ‘The Poacher’ with David Nally as the soloist. Overall he thought the choir was at its best when it sang sacred music. [14]

In 1951 the choir presented its first full length choral piece when it sang Handel’s ‘The Messiah’ at the City Hall, Mentone. There was a good attendance with the proceeds being donated to the Mordialloc Community Hospital. On this occasion the critic was full of praise. ‘Conductor Roy Warren obviously had trained his choir thoroughly. Certainly it has never sung better. Some of the choruses were almost the perfection of choral work. The final note in the chorus, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” was one of those small incidents at a concert which you carry away, and cherish the memory. It was so very perfect.’ While congratulating Roy Warren he also complemented Arthur Wilkins for his artistic pianoforte accompaniment. [15]

The beginning of 1952 revealed tensions in the society and saw some dramatic changes. Roy Warren announced his resignation at the annual meeting. A motion was put that the category ‘subscribers’ should be dropped from the structure of the society and that the choir should be free to give concerts when and where it choose. Warren in moving the motion pointed out that the choir was under an obligation to give three concerts a year in the Mentone City Hall, a constraint, he argued, that inhibited the advancement of the choir. Without this requirement the time saved could be used to develop a program for presentation at Mentone and in other districts. He also stressed the advantages of the choir engaging in competition work. Mr A C Lang, the society’s treasurer, seconded the motion, pointing to the decline in the numerical strength of the society and the sorry state of the finances of the society with the loss of £200 in the previous year. After a lengthy debate, when members were asked to vote on the motion, a small majority supported it but the number was insufficient to comply with the society’s constitution, so the motion lapsed. When the president of the society, Dr Shaw called upon Roy Warren to present his conductor’s report he responded that he had already said what he had to say as conductor and tendered his resignation. His intense disappointment in the failure of the society to implement his recommended changes was reflected in his invitation to those present and interested in choral work to join him at his home at 24 Monaco Street, Parkdale to form a choral group. [16]

A reporter from the Mordialloc News (possibly Eddie Trait?) asked the question ‘What is wrong with the philharmonic?’ going on to suggest that the figures provided by the treasurer indicated the society would die unless some strong action was taken. The society had 98 subscribers of whom 60 were singing members. Only about 200 individuals attended concerts. Too much energy was used in undermining others, he claimed, rather that helping to find new members, new singers, new subscribers and putting new life into the organisation. ‘Something was radically wrong.’ Quality and known artists needed to be attracted to participate in concerts by paying them money according to their worth, he suggested. Moreover, the practice of one rehearsal per week was insufficient time to learn new numbers and avoid rehashing old material for three subscriber concerts each year. The reporter contended that choir members, with some laudable exceptions, did not learn work at home. ‘With eyes glued to music, instead of being word perfect and watching the conductor for his leadership and inspiration, they stagger along with one eye on the music and one eye on the conductor –it is a modern miracle that the choir is not filled with cross-eyed people.’ [17]

The News article brought a response from the president and treasurer of the society in a letter to the editor in the following weekly edition. There they stressed the society was neither ‘moribund nor decadent’. The resignation of its conductor was acknowledged as being a severe blow and an action the committee urged him to reconsider. However, if this situation was not achieved, they said, the committee would reluctantly appoint a new conductor. In their view the Philharmonic Society was too valuable an asset in the City of Mordialloc to allow the current difficulties affect its existence or progress. In answering some of the criticism featured in the previous edition of the paper Shaw and Lang reminded readers that while the committee endeavoured to engage the best talent available for concerts the prime objective was to provide an opportunity for the public to hear its own choir. Solo artists were there in support of the main attraction, the choir. As for dissension between members of the choir, Shaw and Lang agreed occasional differences of opinion had arisen amongst the choir members. Nevertheless all were prepared to loyally accept majority decisions and to work together harmoniously. If this were not so the high standard achieved in choral singing in their recent performance of The Messiah would not have been possible. [18]

Roy Warren did not resume the role of conductor and died 3 April 1954, aged 52 from a heart attack. After his resignation from the society Dr Ehrenfeld conducted the choir in association with the Kew New Philharmonic Society’s Choir & Orchestra on 29 April 1952. In introducing Dr Ehrenfeld to the audience, the president of the Mordialloc Philharmonic, Dr R M Shaw, acknowledged the magnificent work that Roy Warren had done with the choir and announced the society had elected him an honorary life member. [19] The year concluded with the choir participating in a Six Choir Festival at the St Kilda Town Hall and a presentation of Handel’s Messiah at the City Hall Mentone. On this latter occasion Carol Francis was the conductor with Arthur Wilkins as the accompanist. [20]

The next few years saw the choir presenting a Special Coronation Year Concert as part of their subscription series at Mentone and singing at a State Reception to honour the Queen and Prince Phillip during their visit to Australia. The choir joined other choirs in singing at the closing ceremony of the 1956 Olympic Games. Haydn’s Oratorio, The Creation was a feature in 1957 as was the Christmas Festival of Music where the choir joined others at the Melbourne Town Hall. The choir continued to participate in the Christmas Festival of Music in subsequent years with Milton Thrift as conductor and later Edward Fazakerley. [21]

Earlier, in 1954, the Mordialloc City News reporting on the first subscription concert for that year asked the question, ‘Why Empty Seats? The program included ‘A Spring Garland’ by a modern English composer, sea shanties sung by the men of the choir and an unaccompanied part song, ‘Cargoes’ by Gardiner, a piece very well received by the audience. The reporter said the concert was first rate ‘yet the number of empty seats in the hall made one want to blush for our district’s lack of cultural interest in this society’s activities’. [22] A later edition of the newspaper included a letter from Let’s Live a Little who suggest that a selected number of ‘pop’ numbers arranged for choral singing be included in the society’s repertory. This Mentone correspondent thought the programs presented by the choir were far above the average person’s head and there was a danger that those few people in the community who supported the programs of the society might be reduced in number through the presentation of programs of the ‘heavy type’, such as oratorio and similar works. This person recommended the inclusion of musical comedy songs, and maybe pieces by Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein. Even pop numbers like “The Place That I Worship’ could be considered. If this experimentation did not work as a means of attracting people, the choir, in his view, was no worse off. [23]

A concert version of ‘The New Moon’ with narration was presented at the Mentone City Hall in 1962 and the following years saw a production of ‘HMS Pinafore’ and the ‘Wedding of Shon Maclean.’ The production of Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ followed in September 1964. Edward Fazakerley conducted the society in the concert version of ‘Merrie England’ in 1968 under the auspices of the City of Mordialloc Arts Festival Council, and in 1969 Sigmund Romberg’s ‘The Student Prince’ at the Parkdale Library Hall (later to be named the Shirley Burke Theatre). [24]

It was in 1969 that the name of the City of Mordialloc Philharmonic Society was changed to the Mordialloc Choral Society. This was the name that was retained for seven years. During that time the society joined with other groups in presenting cantatas in St Paul’s Cathedral, and contributed to the Christmas Festival of Music at the Melbourne Town Hall, as well as participating locally in ‘Carols by Candlelight’, Handel’s ‘Messiah’, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s, ‘Iolanthe’.

By 1977 the style of productions had changed. As Threadgold writes, productions were now presented in full theatrical splendour.[25] It was in that year that another name change was implemented. The Mordialloc Choral Society became the Mordialloc Musical Society. From 1977 to 1988 two shows were presented each year, usually a well-known musical in the first part of the year, followed by a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta towards the end of the year. Threadgold presents the names of all the producers, musical directors and cast members for these productions – The Gondoliers, The New Moon, White Horse Inn, Pirates of Penzance, Patience Trial by Jury and HMS Pinafore, and the Boy Friend. These performances were held in a variety of locations; the Mordialloc Methodist Church Hall, the Aspendale Technical School Hall and the Hampton Community Hall, along with occasional use of the Library Hall (the Shirley Burke Theatre).

Another change in the society’s name occurred in 1985 when the name Mordialloc Light Opera Company Inc was adopted. The Most Happy Fella, the first production under the retitled company, had its premiere at the Phoenix Theatre in Elwood. This was followed by Ruddigore, The Merry Widow, Annie Get Your Gun, A Century of Musical Comedy, the Pajama Game, and Countess Martiza. The latest renaming took place in 1992 when MLOC Productions Inc was the name adopted. It was believed that this name ‘allowed for an expansion of its supporter base, to the betterment of its theatrical and artistic development, whilst still retaining its tradition.’ Since that time a host of musical treats have been produced with the company celebrating 60 years of ‘glorious music’ in 2005. [26]

Author

Graham J Whitehead

Footnotes

  1. The Argus 30 November.
  2. The Argus 9 November 1944.
  3. E J Trait, president, A Parkes and Dr R M Shaw, vice presidents; J L Morris hon secretary; W A Stephens, hon treasurer; J L Corkeron librarian with committee members Mrs E M Rigg, Mrs A Corkeron, J M Cameron, W E Irving, and A S Zichy Woinarski.
  4. The Argus 9 November 1944.
  5. Mordialloc City News 16 November 1944.
  6. Mordialloc City News ibid.
  7. Mordialloc City News 8 April 1954.
  8. The Argus 20 April 1945.
  9. Threadgold , C. A History of MLOC 1945-2005, manuscript.
  10. Frankston Standard, 1946.
  11. Frankston Standard, 13 February 1947.
  12. Mordialloc City News 18 December 1947.
  13. Officers elected: vice-presidents, Dr R M Shaw, Mr W Irving: committee, Mesdames Berwick, Parkes, Smibert. Messrs Woinarski, Cuddy, Berwick: librarian Mrs Whitehead: treasurer, Mr A C Lang; hon secretary Mr J L Morris.
  14. Mordialloc City News, 11 December 1947.
  15. The Standard (Frankston), 21 July 1949.
  16. Mordialloc City News, 6 December 1951.
  17. Mordialloc City News 31 January 1952.
  18. Mordialloc City News, 31 January 1952.
  19. Mordialloc City News, 7 February 1952.
  20. Mordialloc City News.
  21. Threadgold C., A History of MLOC: 1945 - 2005.
  22. Threadgold, C., Ibid.
  23. Mordialloc City News 13 May 1954.
  24. Mordialloc City News 3 June 1954.
  25. Threadgold C., op cit.
  26. Threadgold C., op cit.
  27. Threadgold, C., op cit.

Category: Did You Know?
Reference Number: 580
Date Created: 4/08/2013
Date Revised:

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