A CONDUCTOR and mentor credited with bringing the healing and comforting joy of music to thousands of young Canberrans has been named 2016 “CityNews” Artist of the Year.
Alpha Gregory was singled out by the Canberra Critics’ Circle judging panel for her 19-year contribution to choral music in Canberra, particularly through her inspirational leadership of the Woden Valley Youth Choir.
In a ceremony tonight at the Canberra Museum and Gallery she was presented with a $1000 cheque and a F!NK vase designed by the late artist Robert Foster.
Known for her passion, energy and commitment, Gregory has shaped the musical lives of two generations of Canberra’s youth. At least one ABC newsreader and many high-ranking public servants have passed through the three choirs that now make up the organisation.
Gregory was born in the town of Maple Creek, in Saskatchewan, Canada, took out two degrees in music and education, then taught in Barbados and at the famous Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, UK, before moving with her husband Gordon to Australia, eventually arriving in Canberra, where they raised their four children.
Alerted by musical notables Nola Bermingham and Jill Bellchambers that local singers could do better than a visiting international barbershop quartet, Gregory became the founding director of the singing ensemble Sophisticated Swing in 1988, following in 1990 with the more youthful ensemble, Rhythm Syndicate.
When the patriarch of the Woden Valley Youth Choir, Don Whitbread, announced his retirement, he called on Gregory to take over and the rest is history.
A stern but respected taskmistress, she quickly became conductor, teacher, CD producer, administrator, yearbook publisher, choreographer and in-house music critic of her young charges, raising the international profile of the choir by touring interstate and as far as South Korea. She commissioned original music for them from Australian composers, saying: “I think we should have more things that are Australian, not imported.”
“We’ve had fabulous experiences,” Gregory says, citing Remembrance Day performances, where she advised her choristers, “soldiers might faint but we never will – wiggle your toes and wiggle your fingers so you don’t keel over.”
They’ve also sung for royalty, participated in “Voices in the Forest” and provided vocal back-up for Opera Australia.
“An absolute highlight was having the choir sing for Nelson Mandela at Llewellyn Hall in 2000,” she says.
Gregory is a true believer in the power of music for all ages and has long taught music to babies through her own school Pied Piper Music for Littlies.
But she tells her bigger singers: “If you want to perform on the stage, you have to act like a mature person.” And they do.
The ACT Arts Awards evening, hosted by the Canberra Critics’ Circle at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, also featured the Circle’s own awards, which went to: dancer-choreographers Alison Plevey and Liz Lea; visual artists Avi Amesbury, Emma Beer, Denise Higgins & Gary Smith, Michael Taylor and Judi Elliott; writers Josh Inman, Geoff Page, Niloofar Kanaiyan, Kaaron Warren, Zoya Patel and Robert Macklin; the makers of the film “Joe Cinque’s Consolation”; musical theatre artists David Cannell, Lucy Matthews, Alexander Clubb, Kelda McManus, Canberra Philharmonic Society and Vanessa de Jager; theatre artists Pigeonhole Theatre, Katie Cawthorne, Dick Goldberg, Jenna Roberts, PJ Williams and Chenoeh Miller; musicians Michael Sollis, Barbara Jane Gilby, Gary France, Leonard Weiss, Alpha Gregory and The Young Docteurs.