MUSICAL DIRECTOR, Illawarra Choral Society

Meryl is a professional music educator, conductor of choirs and orchestras and music examiner. She has a BMus BEd from UNSW, and AMusA and ATCL in both singing and piano. Just to keep her out of mischief, Meryl also holds Certificate III in Media and Live Entertainment and Cert IV in Training and Assessment.

Meryl has been associated with the Illawarra Choral Society since she was a toddler listening to her dad, Roy Jackson, perform. She was a member of the society under the baton of Harold Brissenden, leaving only when further studies and travel in Europe beckoned. These studies included orchestral and choral conducting training at Holy Names College in Oakland CA and intensive choral conducting at the Ferenc Lizst Academy in Budapest.

Meryl has been Musical Director of the Illawarra Choral Society since 2008, conducting twenty concerts ranging from Bach to Bernstein and beyond. She strongly believes in providing opportunities for developing musicians to perform with the Choral Society. Young instrumentalists are invited to join professional orchestral players for great choral works. Opportunities are also provided for young singers from primary and secondary schools to take part in suitable works or to perform as a group. Voice students in the final year of advanced opera courses at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music – and prize-winners in national operatic awards – are also given opportunities to sing with a large, established choir and to enlarge their repertoire.

From her many years in Senior Music education, Meryl noticed a lack of resource material based on topics for senior music students. Hence, as a co-author with Aleksandar Vujic, she has now released her sixth published textbook for Senior Music students, through Wirripang Publications.

Recognition of Meryl’s outstanding work in Music Education has led to her receiving two awards for Excellence in Teaching and the Order of Australia Medal in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

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A graduate of Sydney Conservatorium where she studied organ with Norman Johnston, Heather has been organist and director of music at Scots Kirk Presbyterian in Mosman for the past twelve years. She is also pianist with the Mirrabooka Singers, giving concerts in retirement villages and nursing homes.

Every Christmas and Easter she is busy playing for several performances of Handel’s Messiah, both in Sydney and beyond - including last December with Illawarra Choral Society.  During the past year she has given solo recitals at St Stephen's Macquarie Street, St Andrew's and St Mary's cathedrals, and recently at Hornsby Uniting Church. On Palm Sunday in Goulburn she was organist in a performance of music from Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Last August she accompanied an English choir, the Cranmer Company of Singers, when they performed in Finland.

In addition to a private teaching studio in Sydney’s Hills district, Heather teaches piano at Georges River Grammar School and is an examiner with the Australian and New Zealand Cultural Arts.

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Soprano Soloist

Sydney-based soprano Sarah Ampil holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of New South Wales, and a Master of Music Studies (Performance) and Graduate Diploma in Music (Opera Performance) from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She is an alumna of the Pacific Opera Young Artists Program, and was the winner of the 2016 Sydney Eisteddfod Joan Sutherland Memorial Award. She has also previously won the Sydney Eisteddfod Operatic Aria (21-25 years) and the Penrith City Aria. Most recently, Sarah performed as a finalist in the inaugural Limestone Coast Opera Aria Awards in Mount Gambier, South Australia, in conjunction with the Opera Festival in Lucca, Italy.

In 2018, Sarah has performed the roles of Wife, Young Woman and Old Woman in the Australian Premiere of Ben Hoadley’s Miss Brill for the Omega Ensemble, and Ginevra in Handel’s Ariodante for The Apollo Opera Collective in conjunction with the Sydney Baroque Music Festival. Other stage credits include Micaëla (Carmen, Central Coast Opera), and Sandrina (La Finta Giardiniera, Operantics). She has been engaged as a soloist with several ensembles; highlights include Haydn’s Creation with Box Hill Chorale, Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus and Beatus Vir with the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic, Last Night of the Proms with Willoughby Symphony Orchestra, Mozart’s Requiem for Central Coast Philharmonia, and opera scenes with Queensland Symphony Orchestra for the Lisa Gasteen National Opera School.

Sarah has been very fortunate to work with several accomplished conductors, mentors and coaches through a variety of initiatives. These include workshops and showcases at the IFAC Handa New Zealand Singing School, masterclasses at the WAAPA International Art Song Academy (led in 2017 by Dr Graham Johnson OBE and Dennis O’Neill CBE), and a masterclass by internationally-acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming as part of the Sydney Opera House Opera Awards.

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Since 1990, Verna has won critical acclaim for her performances with her playing recently described as “all tears and goosebumps”.

After learning piano and violin from a young age, she decided that she needed a bigger instrument so took up the harp. She made her solo debut at the age of 15, she has toured Australia as a soloist as well as studying and performing in Germany, the United Sates, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand.

With 45 concerto performances to date, she has premiered contemporary Australian concertos, lesser known harp concertos as well as numerous performances of the Mozart and Handel harp concertos. She was also a featured soloist with the Australian Youth Orchestra at the Adelaide Arts Festival in 1996 performing Ravel's Introduction and Allegro.

In 2012, Verna was awarded a grant for her soldout multimedia performances, The Harp In Nature, which showcased stunning images of the Australian landscape accompanied by solo harp works by Australian composers. This recital was also performed at the World Harp Congress in 2014.

She has worked and recorded with various orchestras such as the Singapore Symphony, the Sydney Symphony, Australian Opera and Ballet, Adelaide Symphony and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras and spent 10 years as principal harpist with the Australian Youth Orchestra. Despite all this, she seems to be more famous for appearing in the movie The Matrix.

Verna has also performed with international artists such as Sumi Jo, Aled Jones, Il Divo, Tina Arena, the Kiev Ballet, the English National Ballet, the Deutche Kammerakademie Neuss, Greta Bradman and regularly accompanies soprano, Amelia Farrugia.

As well as teaching at the Sydney Conservatorium High School, private schools and at a busy private studio, she also directs the Sydney Harp Eisteddfod, organises harp weekends, workshops and camps, and presents lectures at various harp festivals.

Future performances this year include Sydney Chamber Music Festival, Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto with Strathfield Orchestra and the opening concert of the Bowral Autumn Music Festival in 2018.

In 2015, Verna started learning the Baroque triple harp to explore the role of this instrument in the early music (thus giving her the perfect excuse to host Medieval banquets).

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© Dorothy Ebblewhite July 26 2012