JOY OF SONG: Members of Toowoomba's Helen Earley Ensemble prepare, with Helen on piano, for this year's Christmas musical.
JOY OF SONG: Members of Toowoomba's Helen Earley Ensemble prepare, with Helen on piano, for this year's Christmas musical.

Christmas comes Earley for unique 'family' choir

THERE are many hours of dedication involved in what she does, but Toowoomba's Helen Earley has never considered it to be work.

Having started piano lessons at just 7, Helen said music is and always has been her life, whether performing or creating music and musicals, singing, training or conducting, from classical to contemporary pieces.

At "70 going on 50", the director of the Helen Earley Ensemble is delighted that, while the roles may change, there's no "use by" date on singers or choral conductors.

"I love it; it's been very rewarding and I just enjoy every day," Helen said.

"I go to bed with a smile on my face and wake up with a smile."

She and her choirs - the Helen Earley Ensemble (ages 13-75) and the Exultate Choir (formed in 2014 for children 6-12) are putting the final touches on their annual Christmas musical to be performed at St Paul's Hall on Saturday, November 24.

It's a two-piece program, with the children performing The Christmas Motel, in which the motel manager retells the story of a "special night long ago", followed by high tea and the Christmas Miracle, performed by the all-ages choir.

While proud of the ensemble's professional quality sound, Helen said neither choir is auditioned, and you don't have to read music to take part, just love singing, be able to hold a tune and happy to learn.

Known affectionately as "Toowoomba's Family Choir", the ensemble comprises people from all walks of life, from musicians to teachers, engineers, tradespeople, IT and other professionals to students and retirees, all united in their love of music.

"We're a very unique choir," Helen said.

"Sometimes when we have our halftime break, I see people in their 60s sitting with a couple of teens, having a chat - sometimes there's one or two generations difference - but we are just like a big family, supporting and encouraging each other."

Born and bred in Toowoomba, and having "happily chosen not to go anywhere else", Helen completed her A Mus A in 1986, later gaining her nursing diploma, but kept on singing.

She has performed in 10 musicals, is heavily involved in both the Toowoomba and Queensland eisteddfods, adjudicates and has now been a singing teacher for 31 years, helping many students on to tertiary studies and the stage.

She formed her first choir, The Earleybirds, in 1988, and another two choirs in 1992 which amalgamated into the ensemble in 2004, with some of the original choristers singing to this day.

And, Helen said, while the choir has many supporters who go along to every production they put on, Christmas remains a special time.

"It's a lovely time for people of all ages to come and celebrate the season, because it's important to keep the meaning of Christmas - we don't want to lose that," Helen said.

She also urged anyone interested in becoming a choir member to go along to the concert and "see what's possible" and think about joining next year.

Practices for the main choir, which currently numbers about 50, are from 7pm Thursdays.

The Helen Earley Christmas Musical is at 6pm on November 24 at St Paul's Hall, Phillip St, Toowoomba. Adult entry is $30 and pensioners and students (over 13) $20, children $10. Phone (0746324204 or 0418159857.

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