2 March 2024

Want to explore Melbourne’s music scene? Go to church.

Music in church might mean organs and hymns, or it might mean a full symphony orchestra concert.

Maya Pilbrow

3 March 2023

Melbourne gigs conjure up images of rock shows at Rod Laver arena, jazz being played in smoky downstairs rooms, and funky electronica from trendy DJs in Fitzroy bars.

But churches have been a mainstay of the Melbourne live music scene for years, hosting local and international classical performers.

Under the federal government’s recently announced new National Cultural Policy, organisations within the music sector will have a chance to consult with the Australia Council for the Arts on how nearly $70 million of funding will be spent to support the Australian music industry.

For parishes across Melbourne, this represents an opportunity to get more involved in the live music scene and utilise the acoustic advantages that many churches have.

Read more: Hidden church’s musical offering grows

“Churches are natural amplifiers,” Chamber Philharmonia Cologne manager Jens Kehling said.

The CPC, which just completed a 37-date tour of Victoria and New South Wales, plays almost exclusively in churches.

Mr Kehling said it was common for the CPC to maintain ongoing relationships with the parishes at which they performed. The ensemble frequently revisits the same parishes as concert venues on subsequent tours.

Mr Kehling said the acoustics of churches were perfectly suited to chamber music, with no additional amplification needed for audience members to hear and enjoy the full sound of the ensemble.

Read more: Organs are beautiful instruments. Why aren’t people playing them?

St Paul’s Cathedral director of music Philip Nicholls said the Cathedral was a versatile environment for many types of musical performances from soloists, choirs, and full orchestras.

Mr Nicholls said the Cathedral had been involved in many musical and cultural events including White Night and the Melbourne International Arts Festival, which have been merged and rebranded as Rising: Melbourne.

Mr Nicholls said he considered the Cathedral to be a participant in the wider Melbourne music scene.

He said the Cathedral played an important role by partnering with other music organisations such as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic.

Read more: Classical musicians locked in for church’s 2023 offerings

A spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts urged organisations involved in the music sector to give feedback and consultation during the planning process for the newly announced funding “to ensure maximum return on the investment of public funds”.

It’s not just renowned orchestras and world-famous soloists who perform in churches. Local community groups and schools frequently take advantage of the resources and acoustics of parishes.

The Reverend Elizabeth Murray said the past few years had proven difficult for community music groups, particularly ensembles of a larger size, to find suitable performance venues.

Ms Murray’s parish of Holy Trinity Williamstown will be hosting the Western Region Concert Band for a performance at the end of March.

Read more: Church music program a rich and rare education

The upcoming concert by the WRCB will see the parish provide a small fee to the performers, with funds being raised to support other church community projects through ticket sales.

The church is also hired as a venue by local community music groups and schools.

Ms Murray said music was a big part of worship for the congregation and she hoped to expand the parish’s ability to be involved with the local music community.

“It’s a way of getting people into our worship space in a different context,” Ms Murray said.

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