Chorale Conversations: Mary Hartley, alto


In your work as a nurse, what’s it been like since COVID-19 began?  

I am a neonatal nurse and work as part of the Clinical Facilitator team in a large neonatal intensive care unit. We are based in an office on the unit,  and a big part of our role since COVID-19 started has been face to face in-service for staff (well over 200 neonatal nurses) so that we all know what to do if there was to be a suspected or actual COVID mother whose baby needs to come to the nursery. Our work has thankfully been ‘business as usual’, but with a definite COVID overlay, particularly for those first few months. I feel fortunate to be in a position to have access to reliable information and to have an infection control team who we can ask if we need clarity, so that we can care for ourselves, the babies and the families. This also helps me to look after my own loved ones.         

As a choral singer who’s also involved in the medical profession, how do you see choirs moving forward into the future in a way that’s safe for both members and audience?

I’m not sure how it’s going to look, to be honest. I think that the Zoom choirs have been helpful in keeping people engaged, whether in participating in rehearsals or sing-alongs. I’ve found that every time I return to a place or activity I previously frequented, I initially feel a bit emotional or concerned, so I anticipate similar feelings when I return to actual rehearsals, until I know how it will be in practice, and whether everyone is observing the recommendations. I know there is a strong desire for musical performances to happen again, and I do hope this can be achieved. I think audiences are going to be ready and so appreciative to be attending if the conditions are right.

What made you first fall in love with choral music?

It was a natural progression once I had started singing lessons and discovered that I could sing, which wasn’t until I was around 40. I was fortunate to be with a teacher who also directed a choir, where we had some opportunities to sing solo in our own concerts, plus to be engaged for smaller choral groups for concerts such as Qld Pops. I also joined in community singing events such as folk and gospel singing. I think the opportunities just helped me to grow and to trust more in my ability to learn and perform, and to be excited rather than terrified before performing (sometimes I’m still a bit terrified!). I also love the social side of being in a choir and the play of Alto against other parts, particularly the Bass. I also found early on that I just loved being able to observe and listen to the orchestra.

Out of all the local choirs, why did you want to be part of Brisbane Chorale?

After my first choir folded due to the director retiring, I moved with a couple of other choristers to Justine’s choir at Hillbrook, which was fun, but a long drive. At a fund-raiser concert, a chance conversation with a fellow chorister from my first choir led me to audition for Brisbane Chorale. I was taking singing (jazz and show songs) and piano lessons (very basic ability there), so my teacher helped me to prepare, and I got into the big time! I was attracted to the idea of having regular concerts and becoming more confident.

What’s your favourite choral performance that you’ve been a part of and why?

I’m fortunate to have loved most of what we have performed, even though  I may have never heard it before we start rehearsing something new. Sometimes it has surprised me how much I’ve loved something that seemed quite strange or difficult to begin with, such as the Symphony of the Floods. Being part of the Hamburg orchestra performance was an amazing experience. The Opera Galas are also wonderful to be part of.

What work or works do you never tire of performing?

I never tire of (Not) the Last Night of the Proms. My parents and I used to watch when ABC broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall. My father was English and loved classical music, so had told me the history of the Proms. When I lived in London in the late 90s, I went to enough concerts to qualify for a standing ticket for the last night, but instead went to the Hyde Park version with friends. So I’ve always loved it, especially Jerusalem & Rule Britannia.       

Inside every choral singer is a frustrated soloist! If you were a world-famous singer choosing repertoire for your next concert tour, which piece of music would you absolutely have to include and why?

Nothing is springing to mind, but it would be something that brings out the Alto horns. If it was jazz, it would be a belter. 

Give us a fun fact about you or your life.

I’m a big Italy fan, and have travelled there multiple times. I’m woefully out of practice, but have studied Italian in Brisbane and three times in Italy. I love Italian food, but apart from some baking, I find cooking to be a chore. And I love listening to Bruce Springsteen, preferably loud. 

Besides singing, what else do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to walk, especially beside the water, to go to the movies and to read. I spend time with my elderly mother and make sure I find opportunities to spend time with friends. Sitting near the water with a book and perhaps a wine is a favourite way to unwind.