At the conductor’s bidding, the choir starts softly – “piano” –
“I see a little silhouetto of a man,” they whisper sweetly,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?”
Before erupting into – “Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me!
(Galileo) Galileo, (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Figaro magnifico!”
Yes, you guessed it – and you’re probably already singing “I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me!” – but you may be surprised to hear that this rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is belting out, not in some community hall but in one of Sydney’s Neo-Gothic church jewels – Summer Hill Anglican, built in 1881 – known throughout the inner west for its soaring, dreaming spire.
As the run-through finishes, conductor Caely Stevens urges the singers to let go in the big moments of the iconic anthem and just have fun. “Don’t stress too much about getting it right during the concert – just go for it like you do in the car or the shower,” she says.
The Summer Hill Community Choir is at its last rehearsal for two Queen tribute concerts to be held inside the church this coming Saturday, June 22, at 2pm and 7.30pm.
“People are surprised when I tell them we are doing a Queen concert in a church,” a young member of the alto section, Kitty, tells me as the rehearsal wraps up at 7.45pm. “But to me, it makes perfect sense. The words are beautiful.”
She cites the lyrics of You’re My best Friend, especially: “Whenever this world is cruel to me, I got you to help me forgive.”
I’d noticed Kitty not only because she was in the front row but also for how animated and enthusiastic she was.
“I can’t help myself,” she confesses. “I just get so focused on singing that I’m not aware of anyone else around me.”
This is Kitty’s second concert as a member of the Summer Hill Community Choir, which has been going for almost five years, having also taken part in a concert of gospel spirituals earlier this year.
“It doesn’t matter how bad your day has been – you come here and sing it all out and you feel good.” – Isobel, soprano.
For young soprano Isobel, this concert is her fourth – she took part in a Beatles tribute show last year after a “women in folk” concert, as well as the spirituals and a Christmas concert.
She enthuses: “It doesn’t matter how bad your day has been – you come here and sing it all out and you feel good. I love it.”
The vast majority of the 50 or so people in the choir are not members of the church – but the church supports the choir as a bridge into the community.
“Churches have been involved the community for a long time. In fact, they have started lots of community projects – it doesn’t have to be about gospel outreach,” says one of the choir organisers, Catherine Paix.
“It’s nice to see people so excited to come back each week and a sense of community developing among choir members.”
Catherine, Caely and another church member, Luke Sweeting, all invest a lot of their free time into working with the choir for several months of each year. They began in 2014 with a season of Christmas carols. They have appeared at all three Summer Hill Folk Festivals, another initiative of Choir Director and local composer/musician, Luke, as well as community carols events and at a local retirement village.
“There used to be a lot of music in this church, so it’s great that it’s coming back,” she says.
Luke comments: “Our motivation is to bless the community and have fun together. We have a passion for music, and a beautiful space used mostly on the weekend. It’s great for us who run the choir to enjoy singing together and it’s great for others. Singing together is a wonderful start to getting to know people, and we’ve been blessed by the choristers we have in the choir, many of whom are very dear to us.”
“I often speak to people in the street from the choir.” – Chris Braga, Rector
When Chris Braga took over as Rector of the church about 13 years ago, there was no live music at all – there were no musicians in the small congregation, so worship music had to be played by CD.
Over the ensuing years, God has blessed the church richly and now there are a plethora of talented musicians. There are also some faithful members of the choir who have been with it since the beginning but never come to church otherwise.
Chris is delighted with the opportunity he and the church have to make new connections with people in the community.
“We see this as hospitality by the church. And I often speak to people in the street from the choir.”
He admits, however, that it’s going to be hard to top the Songs of Queen in future concerts …
Songs of Queen is at 2pm and 7.30pm at the church, entry by donation.
Inquiries to summerhillcommunitychoir.com