So Good A Thing

Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing!

- William Byrd

Exhibition and Performances Celebrating Fifty Years of Music Making in Canberra as experienced by Judith Clingan AM

Albert Hall, Tuesday 17th - Thursday 19th December 2013

I've just been to the most amazing event. Judy Clingan, composer, singer and music educator extraordinaire, ran a three-day festival at the Albert Hall to celebrate her 50 years of music-making in Canberra. I attended as much of it as I could, which was quite a bit, including the three evening concerts which saw me staggering home after 11 pm every night.

Judy contacted everyone she could find from the wide range of musical groups and environments she's graced so, apart from the music, which was fabulous, there were happy encounters with old friends. And of course there was the Albert Hall, where many of us had endured appearing in Eisteddfods. Emotions ran high!

It would be hard to say what the highlights were: there were so many. The performances included samples of most of Judy's work, and of nearly every piece of choral music you might ever want to hear, and many that you didn't yet know you wanted to hear because they were so new and shiny. As composer Stephen Leek said:


I have just counted up over 97 performances of Australian music at "So Good a Thing" ... These performances happened over 3 days by leading Australian and international artists including Barbara Gilby, Christopher Lincoln, Louise Page etc.. etc... this has to be some sort of record! Congratulations Judy and all concerned in putting this mammoth and important event together!

- On Facebook, 21 December 2013

Judith Clingan AM. Photo by Stephen Leek.

Judith Clingan at So Good A Thing
Photo by Stephen Leek (reproduced with permission)

The choral singing was brilliant, as were the soloists. My award for most spectacular solo goes to Christopher Lincoln Bogg, recently returned from an operatic career in Germany. He decided that nothing was less likely at a Judy Clingan event than a full-blown piece of Italian opera so he stood on stage, in 35 degree heat, with one hand in his pocket and a devil-may-care look on his face, and gave us a hearty rendition of La donna e mobile. The audience was dancing in the aisles!

One of my favourite sessions was a selection of Judy's Songs of Middle Earth, with scene-setting by Judy. Once sung, never forgotten!

Originally this page listed everything I particularly liked about the JudyFest - which was just about everything. I've cut out heaps; instead, here's some of what happens in my head when I hear music I know.

Evening 1: Harmonia Mundi: Favourite gems for choir and instrumental ensemble from 700 years of Western music

Byrd 4-Part Mass (excerpt) - I still know the soprano part off by heart, from singing it one voice to a part all over the place at the drop of a hat in the late 60s, with Julian and whoever would sing with us. Byrd - The Leaves be Green - recorder ensemble. What fun it must be to play this. And I believe I have played it, with Judy, many years ago at Caloola Farm. All the opportunities she has offered and I have missed, for one reason or another, over the years! The last time I ever properly sang was with Judy, in the Knehans Magnificat, in 1988.

Wilbye - Sweet Honey Sucking Bees - one of the best madrigals ever written, along with As Vesta was from Latmos Hill descending - good ol' Wilbye! and listening to it, I get to travel to the Sydney Eisteddfod in 1971 on a bus with Judy and the Canberra Children's Choir and the SCUNA Madrigal Group, and we win. (I saw the adjudicator's report at the JudyFest. Full of praise, but concluding with "Lose the copies!" Easy for an adjudicator to say!) Purcell - Come ye sons of Art - what a jolly piece this is. The sparkling-eyed and incisive Toby Cole conducted and sang, notably the alto duet with all his children - not something you see every day! He gave Judy a shock by getting her up for the phrase "Sing your patroness's praise" - but what an appropriate gesture!

Fauré - La cantique de Jean Racine - reliving our memorial service for Sue Baldwin. Brahms - Behold, all flesh is as the grass - reliving Melbourne IV in 1970, and Chas Rowe's remarkable shaggy dog story about matchboxes A and B, where "'B' holds Al Fletcher's acid grass". Also wanting the accompaniment to smash out like our orchestra did: dee DUM da da, dee DUM da da... Stanford - Beati quorum - one of the few pieces of C20 Anglican music I like. (Parry's "I was guh-LAD" is great, but I can't take it seriously.) Memories of Judy and the SCUNA Madrigal Group, and of Mr Barrett and St Paul's Choir.

Vaughan Williams - G Minor Mass - (excerpt): I am singing in SCUNA's 2nd term concert in 1969. I love this work. I loved being conducted by Chris Burrell. I love our soloists. Hearing Janet is like bathing in silver. Judy's alto has a characteristic warm, slightly husky tone and pinpoint accuracy. Geoffrey is Geoffrey, and infallible. Andrew Barker's tenor is pellucid and soaring. (It was hearing him through the door of the rehearsal room downstairs in the Union in 1968 - Rose and I got down on our knees, peering through the slats to find the source of the beautiful sound - that made us join SCUNA.)

Kodaly's Hymn to King Stephen - part of my first SCUNA concert, and not my favourite. Memories of disagreeing with Chris (!) over folk-influenced Hungarian music. I didn't get into Kodaly till 1976, with Brian conducting Jesus and the Traders. Britten - Rejoice in the Lamb - never sung, always a treat; I love the cat song (For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry). (There was another excellent cat song at the Fest: Pangur Ban from Judy's Terra beata, Terra Infirma. A brilliant song, brilliantly sung by Michael Tatchell. You can see the words on this external link.)

Fanshawe - African Sanctus - a non-SCUNA memory. Sad to learn, on checking my facts, that David Fanshawe has died. I was at the world premiere of this piece, when it was sung by the Saltarello Choir in July 1972 at St John's Smith Square, London. Julian and I were thinking of joining the Saltarello Choir (on the recommendation of English Chamber Choir friend Emma Parrott, who turned out in later years to be Emma Kirkby) and went along to hear what they were like. I wasn't looking forward to hearing a modern work, and there were problems with the tape player (always!), but I found the work exhilarating.

We did join the Saltarello Choir but didn't last in it. Everyone had been to either Cambridge or Trinity College Dublin. All the women were in publishing, and all the men were in the City. We didn't fit in at all, and they made sure we knew it by, for instance, issuing musical scores to everyone in the choir but us!


So that was the first evening. That level of emotion, those floods of memory, persisted throughout the festival - for me, and for others I spoke to.

I got home after 11.30, too wired to sleep, and stayed up another two hours. No way could I get up before 7 and go for the swim I should have had on Wednesday!

Evening 2: Choral Music from the Great South Land

Music by Judy and associates, and every bit of it was full of interest, and excellently performed. Those Wayfarers are impressive. Some of them were hardly off the stage during the fest. What endurance and skill!

I particularly enjoyed all the Missae Breves - and the three compositions by David Cassat that we heard over the three days.


Another late night. Too full of adrenalin to sleep till about 2am.

Last day

I had an osteo appointment in the middle of the day, so I missed most of the sessions, arriving in time for Journeys 2 - more compositions by Australians with a Canberra connection. It was splendid, and I was particularly happy to hear Chris Burrell's song cycle, Footsteps in the soil. Geoffrey Brennan sang it wonderfully well and clearly, and Jo Allan played the spectacular piano part beautifully. The words (poems by David Campbell) were full of surprises.

Next was a workshop on composition with Larry Sitsky. Not being an attender of any but voice concerts, I'd never seen him before, famous though he is - and what a stirrer! Fancy coming to a festival whose motto concerns the goodness of singing and asking why people feel the need to set words!

The Talk Fests I attended - The Early Years with Christopher Lincoln Bogg interviewing Judy, Words and Music, Working Together with Judy and Anthony Hill, and this one, were very worthwhile. I could imagine them going for hours - or a whole conference of them - or an ongoing series.

Evening 3: My Spirit Rejoices: Favourite Christmas music from the last 50 years of performances in Canberra

It was a ripper. I cannot think of a better place to start than Sweelinck's Hodie, which I sang in SCUNA with Chris Burrell and in one or two SUMS Christmas concerts with Peter Seymour - who halved the tempo of the verses, a misstep (I reckon) from a usually flawless conductor. There was no mucking about in Thursday night's version!

Every old favourite you could wish to hear in a Christmas concert was there, together with works by David Yardley, David Cassat, Judy, and Donald Hollier. We had a little taste of Messiah, with angelic singing from Anna Thwaites and Sarah Berger-Alexander. I was transported back to 1970, to an Anglican church in Cooma, where St Paul's choir took excerpts from Messiah. These were the very bits I sang. They were high and light and I struggled with them but I managed! (Thanks are due to Eleanor Houston, who was my singing teacher at the time.)

Brian Hingerty conducted the Monteverdi Magnificat from the Vespers of 1610 and it was wonderful to see him on stage. He had quite a superb instrumental ensemble, with excellent cornettos.

Stephen Leek's photo of Brian

Brian Hingerty at So Good A Thing
Photo by Stephen Leek (reproduced with permission)

Peter Young conducted a very sprightly and crisp Bach Magnificat. Wonderful soloists, but I was hearing SCUNA's 1968 performance with Janet and Susan, Judy and Andrew and Geoffrey, in my head throughout.

I was sitting right down the front and could see Peter as he conducted. This was very interesting. I've heard it said that he's formidable while conducting and I finally understood why people said so. He knows every note and every change, and he signals them, and he's right in the choir's face, especially if they're not looking when he wants them to be. It's an approach that gets results. :-)

The concert ended with Judy conducting excerpts from Hollier's In Dulci Jubilo, which I'd heard when Helen was a shepherd along with Jeremy Tatchell back in the early 80s. We finished with everyone singing O Come All Ye Faithful, and then the crowd went wild, with the third standing ovation in a row for Judy. Wayfarers presented her with a bouquet, and also a donation box to put out the front. I so much hope people will cover any outstanding costs of the event.

To sum up: So Good a Thing was an extraordinary experience, showcasing all aspects of sung music with a Canberra connection - Canberra-born composers, former residents, local choirs, local singers and conductors, local subjects and performances. We got to hear a fair bit of Judy's music, set in context by the composer herself. We learnt more about her history, and about her friends and associates over the years. And we were united in our admiration of her genius, her generosity, her spirit, her endurance. I hope she felt the love.

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Page created 31 December 2013; last updated 09 January 2014