Newspaper Article 1999 – Music festival sparks memories

Music festival sparks memories


A 1951 Hastings Primary Schools Choir festival programme said “it appears the annual concert is becoming more akin to a music festival”.

Several years later, the Hastings Primary Schools Music Festival Society was formed and it is now in its 44th year.

Hastings businessman Garry Mulvanah saw an article in Hawke’s Bay Today last week about the 1999 music festival and it brought back memories.

Mr Mulvanah was in the choir for four years from 1948.

It had only 160 children, compared with 1000 this year. Unlike this year, they didn’t sing New Zealand or locally-composed songs. The main similarity was that they used the Hastings Municipal Theatre.

Mr Mulvanah said the Maori group always did the Maori songs and concerts always started with God Save the King and ended with the national anthem. Titles in the 1948 programme included Clouds O’er the Summer Sky, The Shepherd’s Cradle Song, Early One Morning and The Cockle Gatherer

From around the world, there were Czechoslavakian [Czechoslovakian] and French carols, such as Whence is that Goodly Fragrance, and a German folk song called The Little Fox Cub.

The choir sat on the old wooden Hawke’s Bay Wrestling Association grandstands on the Municipal Theatre stage, in their navy shorts and white shirts with the girls in blue gyms.

“It was only one night then, not three, after rehearsing for what seemed like the whole year. Once a week we’d go to St Andrew’s Church Hall to practise.

“All the teachers wore long gowns and had corsages and it was a really special night, really exciting,” Mr Mulvanah said. The conductor was always Miss (Kath) Coles, a teacher from Mahora.

The 1948 concert almost didn’t happen because of the polio epidemic at the end of 1947. Everyone was doing correspondence school from home.

Mr Mulvanah said many members of the choir from Central School, which he attended, went on to have further involvement with the musical world, such as the Morgan family.

Naomi Morgan, now Naomi Wenley, became founder and president of the Hawke’s Bay Opera Society. James Morgan became a life member of the Hastings Group Theatre and director of many musicals for the Napier Operatic Society. Three other Morgans joined the Hastings Junior Orchestra, now the Hawke’s Bay District Orchestral Society.

Mr Mulvanah said the choir also started his lifelong interest in theatre.

“I got a job selling programmes for four years at the theatre. I got to see all the national and international shows that came to the city.

“I was secretary/treasurer when we set up the Municipal Theatre Trust in the 80s to refurbish the theatre.”

The present music festival society’s patron is Jim Norton, whose first association with the society was in 1966. He was treasurer before becoming patron after he retired in 1978.

He said its ongoing success was the enthusiasm and dedication shown by the young singers. “I was there on Tuesday night, the first night, and the enthusiasm of the children was just wonderful.

“We talk about problem children but there were several hundred children there who were self disciplined and obviously really enjoying themselves,” Mr Norton said.

“They had a great rapport with the conductor and the teachers of their groups and that’s something that’s too good to lose.”

Photo caption – GARRY MULVANAH with copies of some of the programmes that were used when he was involved.

Original digital file


Date published

6 September 1999

Format of the original

Newspaper article

Creator / Author

  • Kate Taylor
  • Tim Whittaker


Hawke's Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Miss Kath Coles
  • James Morgan
  • Naomi Morgan/Wenley
  • Garry Mulvanah
  • Jim Norton

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