The Illawarra Choral Society grew out of the Illawarra Singers, established in 1947 with sixteen vocalists. The group quickly became a driving force in the development of choral music in the Illawarra, performing classic works with an ever growing number of choristers.

1954 saw the first combined choirs’ performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Choral Society, the Methodist Church choir, and singers from many other choirs in the district – a tradition which continues to this day, performed every other year.

The choir gives three major concerts each year, which aim to display different aspects of the Choral Society’s repertoire.

The ICS continues to proudly support young up and coming musicians and singers.


Dr. Carlos Alvarado

Carlos Alvarado Musical Director

The Illawarra Choral Society is delighted to welcome Carlos Alvarado as our Musical Director commencing in February 2020.

Colombian born Carlos started his musical career as a pianist under Maestro Jorge Zorro, one of the leading personalities in the Colombian Music Education System. Having won a full scholarship from the Colombian Institute of Credit to study in Russia , Carlos obtained his Doctorate of Opera and Symphonic Conducting at the Tchaikovsky Conservatorium of Music of Moscow where he studied under Gennady Rozhdestvensky, who commended both his musicianship and his commitment to high-quality performance. He also undertook higher studies in choral conducting, piano theory and voice technique, and was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree in choir conducting from the same Conservatorium.

In 1990-92, he was invited by Professor Hellmuth Rilling and the International Bach Academy of Stuttgart to take part as an Active Conductor in various courses and festivals with the Bach Collegium Orchestra and the Gachinnger Kantoire Choir in Stuttgart (Germany), Moscow and Santiago de Compostela (Spain).

Carlos returned to Colombia after finishing his academic studies. During this time he was guest conductor of the main Colombian orchestras, conducted several groups, choirs and ensembles and taught conducting in most of the important universities in Bogota, Colombia. At that time he took part in various international competitions in Brazil, Russia, Spain and Italy. Since his arrival to Australia in 2002, Carlos has been actively developing his musical career. He was appointed Musical Director of the Manly-Warringah Choir in April 2003. In 2004 Carlos was Co-founder of the Wollongong Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra that became a symbol of the cultural development in Wollongong and the Illawarra region (NSW) Australia.

Many Important Australian and International figures as James Morrison, Timothy Kain, Konstantin Shamray, John Chen, Tatiana Kolosova, Alexandra Loukianova, Deborah De Graaff, Emma Moore and many other soloists have been part of the programs conducted under Carlos Alvarado’s baton.

Carlos has founded a variety of choirs and music ensembles. The most recent being “Cantares”, a choral ensemble with members from the Shoalhaven, Illawarra and Wollongong areas.


Helen Barker

Helen Barker Accompanist

Helen has an honours degree in music from the University of East Anglia in the UK, during which time she studied the piano in London with David Parkhouse and Richard Markham. She also has a postgraduate degree in education from Leeds University, specialising in high school music and English teaching.

Helen has taught music in high schools and primary schools in London, Kuwait, Dubai and Melbourne. Since coming to the Illawarra in 1995, she has taught piano and Early Childhood music in the Wollongong Conservatorium, and she currently has a busy private piano teaching studio. She also accompanies instrumentalists and singers in AMEB examinations and other performances.

Helen grew up in England and has always had a strong connection with choral music. The University of East Anglia had close ties with Benjamin Britten's annual 'Aldeburgh Festival' at Snape Maltings, which involved students in the running of the festival, as well as in the 'Aldeburgh Singers', the festival choir. Later, while living and teaching in London, Helen sang and recorded with the Royal Choral Society. She has accompanied various school choirs and community choral and musical theatre groups in Europe, the Middle East and Victoria.

Helen has been a member of the Illawarra Choral Society since 2011, in which she has enjoyed singing alto, and she is excited about her new role as accompanist


The Illawarra Singers – precursors of the Illawarra Choral Society – were established in 1947 by two young enthusiasts, Joyce and Norman Tonge, with sixteen singers drawn from their friends and pupils. Many of the sixteen were in the choir of Wollongong Methodist Church (now Wesley Church on the Mall). Care was taken “to obtain only the best voices for the choir, many of whom were able singers in their own right.” The group quickly became a driving force in musical development in the Illawarra.

By 1949 there were 40 singers – by then known as the Illawarra Choral Society (an incorporated not-for-profit association) – and in that year they performed Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Dvorák’s Stabat Mater, as well as winning prizes in the Wollongong and Sydney Eisteddfods.

When the Tonges left the district In 1951, the Society came under the baton and guidance of Harold Brissenden as musical director and Nada Brissenden as accompanist – both greatly loved by their choristers, and later affectionately known in Wollongong as “Mr and Mrs Music”. The ICS is honoured that its association with Nada Brissenden, now a Patron of the Society, continues to this day.

St Matthew Passion 1959
The Illawarra Choral Society sings St Matthew Passion by J.S.Bach 1959.

1954 saw the first combined choirs’ performances of Handel’s Messiah by the Choral Society, the Methodist Church choir, and singers from many other choirs in the district – a tradition maintained to this day, with guest choristers singing in the 2006 and 2011 performances of Messiah.

With 85 singers, the Society in 1959 gave the first performance in the Illawarra of Bach’s choral masterpiece, the Saint Matthew Passion. Three years later, there were two performances in the then Methodist church, with 100 voices in the choir. Astonishingly, nearly 500 people squeezed into the church; the reviews were ecstatic.

Under Harold Brissenden the Choral Society developed its repertoire, which currently ranges from the classic choral works through light opera to spirituals, show songs, folk songs and jazz. There have been only five subsequent musical Directors: Graham Russell 1964 (while the Brissendens were in Wagga), Rodney Hollands 1974-1975, Robert Smith 1975-1999, Houston Dunleavy 2000-2007, and since 2008 Meryl Jackson-Kew. Each has worked to expand the range of the repertoire and raise the levels achieved by the singers.

The accompanist is an essential person in a choral society. From Nada Brissenden to Keith Baxter, David Vance, Marnie Ruth Dunstan, Brett McKern, Pam Fisher, Lisa Baraldi, Tom Johnson, Jesse Pinazza and Gail Mear to our current accompanist Brenda Thomson, the ICS has been fortunate in attracting accompanists with great technical and professional skills.

The ICS is also proud to be able to attract professional singers as soloists, and over the years has featured many who went on to perform internationally, including Wendy de Beyer, Yvonne Minton, Raymond McDonald, Lauris Elms, Peter Seymour and locals Roy Jackson and Kevin Stumbles. The most recent to follow in their footsteps with international appearances include tenor Russ Ixer, sopranos Siobhan Patrick and Kate Wilmot, and mezzo Anna Dowsley. In July 2012 Anna, who has sung in France and Germany, won the prestigious Lady Fairfax New York Scholarship which provides $43,000 and the chance to study with New York’s best vocal, language and movement coaches.

Wesley Church on the Mall logo

Wesley Church
on the Mall

Wollongong University logo


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Dorothy Ebblewhite gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Ann Duffy to the information in this website. Ann has also provided links to learning materials for members. Lisa Enever, Glen Rixon and Richard Burnett have also allowed their photographs to be included.

© Dorothy Ebblewhite July 26 2012