Whether it was rehearsing in the ‘Old Assembly Hall’ or the CLC Choir room, belting out a hymn in Assembly, or singing Nil Sine Labore on the sidelines of a softball diamond, singing has been an integral part of a Grammar girl’s education and experience from the very early days of the School. However, singing in a choral competition only appeared on the calendar in 1956.
The BGGS Magazine of December of that year (page 11) included the following entry: ‘An innovation this year was the Interform Singing Competition, in which every form sang two songs—The Heaven of Heavens and Thy Hand, 0 God, Has Guided’.
What is now known as the R.T. Jefferies Interhouse Choral Award, was established by Miss Anne Etheldreda Jefferies to allow students to enjoy the art of singing in a choir, as well as adding to the competitions that rallied the girls and enhanced their rounded lives at Girls Grammar. Miss Jefferies was a former Music Mistress at Grammar. She introduced the competition in memory of her father, Richard Thomas Jefferies, who was the School’s first singing master in 1875. Miss Jefferies wrote to the Trustees in October 1956 seeking permission for this competition.
Other than Miss Jefferies’ letter to the Trustees, there are no copies of the original written rules for the competition. For many years, the competition was based on the performance of two set hymns sung by each choir, initially in Form groups and, after 1964, as House choirs. Miss Jefferies did stipulate that the adjudicator select a hymn and a part song for two voices. Mr Hugh Brandon, a well-known music examiner of the time, was adjudicator, and the first competition, keenly contested, was won by Form VA. Miss Anne Jefferies herself presented the prize of a Picasso print, ‘Child with a Dove’.
With the passage of time, the rules concerning conducting technique, song choice, and presentation were relaxed. In the original choral competition, not only the choral precision of the choir was adjudicated, but also the conducting. Then, as now, it was a student who conducted, although, in contemporary practice, there may be more than one conductor. Now, the House Choir Captains choose their song, only one, which is approved by the Head of House, and personnel in the Instrumental Music Department give advice concerning musical suitability. Nor is it necessary for only one student to accompany on piano, as in the original rules.
The Interhouse Choral Competition is now an eclectic affair. The huge House choirs often choose contemporary songs from the pop or rock playlist, and the performance may include vocal solos and accompaniment on one or more instruments. This gives a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere to the competition with many songs choreographed with dance movements (within the constraints of the choir stands). Students still wear full uniform, but may also add adornment representing House colours or some small costume piece appropriate to their music choice.
The criteria for the 2022 choirs include both musicality, comprising tone and harmony singing, and presentation, displaying creativity, energy, and ensemble cohesion. How students perform their song is now only limited by their imagination, and perhaps some restraining advice from staff. Adjudication is still done by invited, respected musicians who offer their consideration of the performance and pronounce the winner.
The original prize was a framed print of Picasso’s painting, ‘Child with a Dove’. It is not known why this print was chosen, but it was hung in the classroom of the winning Form. In 1958, the winning form was VIB with conductor, Ann Pressland, and the print was hung in their classroom which is now the M1 Boardroom. Below the print, on the frame, is a plaque reading:
‘In Remembrance of R.T. Jefferies, First Music Teacher at this School.’
For many years, this print was awarded at the annual Speech Day and Prize Giving to the winning Form/House. However, the very size of the work, which made it awkward to carry down from the stage, and the fading of the print with age meant that it was decided to source a trophy and inscribe it with all the winners since the introduction of the House system. The most successful House in the competition’s history is Griffith, with Gibson a close second. Of course, they are two of the School’s first established Houses.
The Picasso print perhaps awaits a future life in the form of a new print and restored frame. Perhaps it could be an appropriate original created by a Grammar student! The plaque and frame remain, to be reused as a reminder of the beginning of this choral event that includes all students. Perhaps, in a nod to the original Form competition, the artwork could be hung in the Year 12 House Group room of the winning House or in the School Museum.
Whatever is decided, it is important that we retain the memory of Richard Thomas Jefferies, an important personage in our history and as a testament to the ongoing significance of music in school life.
Mrs Lorraine Thornquist
Manager, Art Collection