St Mary's Cathedral Choir, Sydney

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St Mary's Cathedral Choir in Sydney is the oldest musical institution in Australia. In 1818 a group of choristers was formed to sing Vespers before the Blessed Sacrament in the Dempsey Household, the centre of Roman Catholic worship in Sydney as a penal colony. When St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, was constructed, the successors of these choristers formed the Permanent Cathedral Choir under the guidance of Catherine Fitzpatrick.

Now over 198 years old, the choir is formed of approximately 20 boy choristers and 11 lay clerks, and sings Mass and Vespers daily (excluding Saturday). The choir has gone on many tours and concerts, sometimes singing with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (2003, 2005). The choir is directed by Thomas Wilson with Assistant Organists Michael Butterfield and Dominic Moawad, and Music Administrator Hannah Burt.

Choir tradition[edit]

Predating the cathedral's foundation in 1833 and led initially by a woman, the choir began as a mixed group of singers (male and female) as was the custom of the 19th century. The repertoire, both before and under John Albert Delaney (choirmaster largely from 1872 to 1907[1]) and then continuously prior to 1955, favoured Gregorian chant, polyphony and the classical Masses and operatic-style sacred works popular in the 19th century. Under Benedictine episcopal leadership and then diocesan episcopal leadership the choir was variously mixed or single sex.

In 1955, the mixed choir of men and women was reformed under Fr Ron Harden into a choir of boys and men and incorporating a choir school. Since 1955, consistent to the Benedictine English tradition from which the cathedral's founders came, the choir has been a liturgical choir for male voices, boy trebles and adult men, thus finally confirming to the motu proprio of Pope St Pius X aimed at restoring the tradition of Catholic liturgical and musical heritage. The musical heritage of Gregorian chant and polyphonic Masses, including composers typified by Palaestrina and Victoria, was given priority in the reformed choir. Fr Harden's successor as director was Fr John De Luca.

Under the direction of the successor of Fr John De Luca, David Russell (1976-2009), the choir undertook three international concert tours, two to Europe and one to the United States.

Under Thomas Wilson (Director of Music) the cathedral choir has expanded its repertoire and involvement in the cathedral's life of prayer and worship. The choir currently sing at daily services of Vespers and Mass (excluding Fridays) and continue to sing at Solemn Mass each Sunday at 10:30 am. The gentlemen of the choir sing Vespers most Sundays at 5:00 pm. New choristers (who attend the Cathedral College as trebles in Year 5) learn not only about music, but also about the Catholic faith, history and culture.

The choir continues to perform works by composers such as Palestrina, Victoria as well as modern composers such as Macmillan, Bingham, Matthew Martin and David Briggs. In addition to the wide range of polyphonic repertoire the choir sings Gregorian Chant at all services. The Gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir have recently released a CD of Marian Vespers and the full choir will be releasing a CD that encompasses the full church year (currently in post-production).

In 2010 the Cathedral Choir were invited to sing at the opening of Domus Australia in Rome, which was presided over by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. While on tour in Rome the choir performed at St Peter's Basilica, St Paul's Outside the Wall, St Maria Maggiore, Domus Australia, Santa Maria in Trastevere and Santa Maria Dei Pellegrini.

Choir crest[edit]

Choir crest

As part of the cathedral, the choir has its own coat of arms. This crest appears on the medals worn by head-boys, corner-boys (assistant head-boys) and others with a special role. The crest is divided into two equal parts, both with much symbolism. In colour it is blue (the colour for St Mary), crimson and white (the choir colours) as well as gold (colour for feasts of Christ).

The left panel bears the arms of the cathedral itself. The cross, symbol of Christian faith in the redemption, is mounted on the crescent moon, symbol of the Virgin Mary, the patroness of the cathedral. Christian tradition represents her as the Fair Moon, preceding the rise of Christ, the Sun of Justice.

The right panel displays a musical stave of Gregorian chant, imposed upon an archbishop's cross. The stave bears the first notes of the famous Gregorian hymn to the Virgin Mary, "Alma Redemptoris Mater" ("Hail, thou Mother of the Redeemer"). It is a reminder both of their musical vocation and of the cathedral's special consecration to the Virgin Mary. The archiepiscopal cross with its double cross-bar belongs exclusively to archbishops, and may be carried before them in procession. It is the sign that the cathedral is the personal seat of the archbishop, the centre of unity in the diocese.

Directors of Music[edit]

  • 1818-1843 - Catherine Fitzpatrick
  • 1872-1907 - John Albert Delaney
  •  ? -1954 - William Caspers
  • 1955-1970 - Fr Ron Harden
  • 1970-1975 - Fr John De Luca
  • 1975-2009 - David Russell
  • 2009-2010 - Elizabeth Swain
  • 2010–present - Thomas Wilson


  • 1834-35 J. de C. Cavendish
  • 1839 J. A. Reid
  • 1840c ? Ross
  • 1841-42 Isaac Nathan
  • 1842-43 G. W. Worgan
  • 1848c-54c Walton [Bishop Henry Davis is also known to have played regularly at this *time]
  • 1856-70 William J. Cordner
  • 1870-74 John T. Hill
  • 1874-77 John A. Delany
  • 1877-78 ? Hughes
  • 1879-88 Thomas P. Banks
  • 1888-95 Neville G. Barnett
  • 1895-1907 John A. Delany
  • 1907-63 Harry Dawkins
  • 1963 Neil Slarke
  • 1964-71 Errol Lea-Scarlett
  • 1971-74 John O'Donnell
  • 1974 Mark Davies (?)
  • 1974-79 Errol Lea-Scarlett
  • 1979-1987 Gavin Tipping
  • 1988-2011 Peter Kneeshaw

Assistant Directors of Music[edit]

  • 2011-2015 Oliver Brett
  • 2016-2016 Andrej Kouznetsov
  • 2017-present Michael Butterfield

Organ scholars[edit]

  • 2011 James Goldrick
  • 2012 Michael Butterfield
  • 2013 Joshua Ryan

See also[edit]


  • St Mary's Cathedral Choir Chorister's Manual, Archdiocese of Sydney (Published By The St Mary's Cathedral Choir, Compiled by James Chegwidden, Copyright (C) 2002-2006)

External links[edit]