Chorale Conversations: Michael Cooke, bass


Tell us a bit about your musical background, including, how many years you have sung in a choir?

I went to an all-boys school, primary and secondary. My earliest memories of singing are from about Grade 4 as a second soprano in the school choir under long-suffering choirmaster Mr Kelly. In my first year at the senior school, I was one of Major-General Stanley’s daughters in the school production of the Pirates of Penzance, complete with bonnet and pantaloons! The school was well known for its long tradition of putting on annual boys-only productions of Gilbert and Sullivan. Of course, now they are co-productions with a sister school. Then there was a bit of a gap before a year with the Flinders University Choral Society in my early twenties. The choir sang the Mozart Requiem that year, but I had the frustration of being sent on a field trip in concert week. After this, life became pretty busy with career and family responsibilities, and it wasn’t until 2004 that I returned to singing.

What made you fall in love with choral music?

For me, it was a gradual awakening along with a growing appreciation of classical music, starting in my late teens. Clearly, participation in choral music has been very stop-start for me as the circumstances of my life allowed. But the more I have been exposed to it, the more a part of life it has become to me.

Why did you decide you wanted to be part of Brisbane Chorale?

When the last of my four sons left home, I cast around for something to do with my emerging freedom. Singing was an old talent I decided I could develop further. In 2004, I joined QUMS because it was a non-audition choir. A year later my wife saw Chorale’s ad calling for auditionees and convinced me I had nothing to lose by trying out. The audition wasn’t one of my shining moments, but Emily accepted me as a provisional member. I think she forgot to retest me, and I neglected to remind her, so I’m still here 17 years later! I have managed to survive the reauditions we all have to do, so she must be reasonably happy with her original decision!

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

I like a project you can really get your teeth stuck into. I’ve sung The Messiah 11 times, and still love it along with anything else by Handel. The centennial performances in 2018 with Auckland Choral at Auckland Town Hall were amazing because of the beautiful venue which was packed to the rafters, the strength of the combined choir, and the soloists, especially the soprano Marlena Devoe. But my favourite choral experience was singing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius in 2013, again with Auckland Choral. The oratorio tells the story of the journey of a pious man’s soul from his deathbed to his judgment before God and settling into Purgatory. Rather a heavy theme, but the musical journey is beautiful, and the climax in the Praise Chorus and the following judgement scene is just awesome.

Inside many choral singers 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?

If I were a baritone, not a bass, I would like to sing the role of Giorgio Germont, the father of Violetta’s lover Alfredo in La Traviata. His aria, Di Provenza il mar, il suol, as he tries to comfort his son over Violetta’s farewell, is a favourite.

You’re the Concert Manager for Brisbane Chorale – tell us a little bit about what your role involves.

My job is working with Emily and Ian to help organize the rehearsal and concert venues for the choir, ensuring everything we need is in place. Concert days are where the rubber hits the road, especially for our own concerts. The main tasks are pre-production and on-the-day coordination with the venue operator, the orchestra and front of house, as well as setting up the choir walk-on and walk-off so that they happen with some semblance of order.

Besides singing, do you have any special talents or skills you’d like to share with us?

I am a bit of a home handyman. Through the 70s and 80s, I renovated two Victorian houses in Melbourne, replacing floors, plumbing, wiring, bathrooms and kitchens, restoring Victorian architectural features that had been removed in previous makeovers, then painting and decorating.

About 15 years ago, I took up road cycling. Riding has brought a level of fitness, a lot of new friendships, and travel to destinations with a purpose. My wife and I have had great holidays in Europe climbing some of the famous Tour de France cols. These days our rides are more local, but we hope to travel with our bikes again when COVID restrictions ease.