In our inaugural Chorale Conversation, which is a regular monthly series of profiles of particular Chorale members, we’ve invited Stephen Brierley, Emergency Physician, to share some information about himself, the current situation, and his love of choral music.
In your work as a healthcare professional/doctor/nurse etc, what’s it been like since COVID-19 began?
When stories of the new pandemic started to circulate there was much fear in my Emergency Medicine field of practice. Fears of a tidal wave of ill patients overwhelming hospitals were felt acutely and staff were mindful of their own vulnerability to the new virus.
Fortunately Australia averted a disaster, through planning, and I am sure, to a degree, through the country’s natural social distancing and space. Nevertheless, every patient with a fever, respiratory symptoms or contacts had to be managed as if they were possible Covid19 patients, and this became very onerous considering the low incidence in the community. Finding appropriate equipment became difficult and departments had to be redesigned to accommodate possible outbreaks.
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 believe we will not be rid of this new virus and we can only hope to control its spread. As with most aspects of life, there is risk. At some point we will have to accept that we have done as much as possible to achieve a low prevalence in the community, and then choristers will have to make up their own minds about acceptable risk.
What made you first fall in love with choral music?
I have always loved music. My family had no interest in classical music. During my internship I was introduced to the classical repertoire by a nursing coworker. Like many in our community, I was blessed with a reasonable voice, but never good enough to perform alone. Choirs have given me the opportunity to enjoy creating classical music and to sing. They have been the source of some of dearest, and most enduring friendships.
Out of all the local choirs, why did you want to be part of Brisbane Chorale?
Having had a long break from choirs, I knew I needed the discipline and creativity of singing to offset the stresses in my occupation. I tried several choirs, always cognisant of the Brisbane Chorale’s standing in the local community and creative industries. In the end, I had the pleasure of joining this society of fine musicians and to be led by an artistic musical director who brings much joy and knowledge to the job.
What’s your favourite choral performance that you’ve been a part of and why?
My favourite choral performance was many years ago singing with the Leeds Festival Chorus in England in the late 1980s. The chorus commissioned a new work by composer Michael Berkeley based on poetry of DH Lawrence. It was titled “The Red Macula” and was fresh off the press. The composer was often revising passages as we learned the new piece. The music was exciting and sometimes cacophonic. We eventually performed it in concert for a recording by the BBC.
What work or works do you never tire of performing?
There are pieces of choral music which are enduring because they are wonderful. I love the simplicity of the Faure Requiem, the clarity and beauty of the Mozart Requiem, and the joy and frivolity in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. For the church calendar, there is nothing to compare with Handel’s Messiah, especially if you are living in Yorkshire where it is a rite of passage for choristers.
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?
Despite the squeak I make, I would love to further develop a countertenor range and sing the great songs of the Handel.
Give us a fun fact about you or your life.
I have made several cameo television appearances: once as Banjo Paterson in an ABC production on the origins of Waltzing Matilda, and once on a health promotion advertisement for Queensland Health. Both were potent reminders of why I stuck to my day job!
Besides singing, what else do you like to do in your spare time?
My greatest love is keeping fit and active.