While most of us look forward to slowing down as the year draws to a close (the busy Christmas period notwithstanding), for Melbourne-based conductor Andrew Wailes, November, December and January are his busiest times of the year.
Christmas without carols and other seasonal music just wouldn’t be the same, and rehearsals and performances become Andrew’s life, as he prepares the Australian Children’s Choir, the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic and Melbourne University Choral Society for a multitude of concerts.
Kicking off Andrew’s long list of performances is being chorus master for The Salvation Army’s Our Christmas Gift concert at Hamer Hall in Melbourne, leading his acclaimed Australian Children’s Choir, featured alongside The Salvation Army Melbourne Staff Band.
Growing up in Melbourne, sacred music was a big part of young Andrew’s life, as a chorister in the Anglican Church and the Royal School of Church Music choirs.
‘The Christian message I learned as a boy was like a musical soundtrack,’ Andrew tells Warcry. ‘Each piece of music played a special part in the telling of the story, especially at Christmas. I think an appreciation of sacred music makes it much easier to understand many complex issues relating to personal faith.’
He is also passionate about the social importance of Christmas music.
‘Beautiful carols and Handel’s “Messiah” inspire and uplift us, and are a musical reminder of the Christian message and all that Christmas stands for,’ Andrew says.
One of the big events of the year for Andrew’s Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, of which he is the youngest conductor in more than 150 years, is the RMP’s annual performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’.
This year will be the 237th performance, making the RMP the world record holder for an unbroken sequence of performances of Handel’s immortal work. Conducting ‘Messiah’ and the annual Carols in the Cathedral concerts always gives Andrew goosebumps.
‘There’s something very special when you sense the audience rise behind you during the famous “Hallelujah Chorus”, or hear them bellow out their favourite carols at Carols in the Cathedral,’ he says.
While most of us are frazzled with our Christmas shopping, Andrew is famous for squeezing his into the very few hours he has between Christmas rehearsals and performances.
After Christmas Day, surely maestro Andrew Wailes has time to relax? While he is usually found at the Boxing Day test at the MCG, this year he flies out to Dubai for a camel safari and Bedouin cooking classes, before spending two months performing and travelling in Europe.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way.