The death of a choral director who became the longest serving head of music at Avondale will not silence the voices of those he mentored.
A massed choir performed the hymn “It Is Well” and the choral benediction “Peace I Leave With You” during the funeral service for Alan Thrift in Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church today (Friday, November 18). Choir members primarily came from each of the ensembles—Avondale Singers, Sydney Male Choir, Lake Macquarie City Choir, Lake Macquarie City Ladies Choir, Avondale Memorial Chorale and The Men’s Shed Chorale—Thrift directed over a 60-year musical career.
Friend Russell Gibbs offered a poetic opening prayer. “There is no night without a dawning, no winter without a spring, and beyond the dark horizon our hearts will once more sing, thinking of him as living in the hearts of those he touched, for nothing loved is ever lost, and he was loved so much.”
President Professor Ray Roennfeldt spoke of Thrift’s artistic and ministry connections in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and among Avondale alumni and his profiling of Avondale in Australia’s performing arts community. “It’s due in large measure to his influence that this relatively small Australian Christian denomination, and small college, punches well above its weight in terms of the musical literacy and music appreciation of its members.”
Thrift’s tenure as head of music at Avondale began in 1957 and would span 34 years. His legacy: expanding the choral repertoire into a broader range of styles and genres, producing highly accomplished, technically challenging performances and touring widely. But Thrift’s mentoring of young musicians is perhaps of more importance.
One of those then young musicians: Professor David King, Founder and Artistic Director of National Australia Brass. King described himself and the other musicians in the church as “nothing more than support acts.” He spoke of Thrift’s fear of failure as “the very reason he never did.” This commitment to excellence manifested a “menacing and magical” musicality.
As a member of the then Avondale Symphonic Choir, Dr James Bingham also matured under Thrift’s tutelage. “Alan changed the direction of my life,” said Bingham during a recorded tribute. The Chair of the Music Department and Director of Choirs at Washington Adventist University (Maryland, USA) also spoke of an enviable Thrift trait: his rapport with students and members of his choirs. “While his music was great, his friendship was even greater.”
Graham Wilson helped produce at least 20 recordings of Thrift and his choirs. The Manager of Production and IT at 2NURFM remembers a speech Thrift gave during a Sydney Male Choir farewell. “He said, ‘Choir is like a wonderful instrument, like a great orchestra or an instrument I can play. And I love playing you.’”
“Softly, As I Leave You” lingers in the memory of Norma Rosenhain, “but I could never bring myself to imagine it would be Alan who was leaving us,” said the Sydney Male Choir Vice-Patron moments before the ensemble and The Men’s Shed Chorale performed the song. “Goodbye my dear friend. . . . You have inspired so many of us, and we are missing you already.”
"We learned to experience music, interpret music and perform music."
Dr Lyell Heise, Director of the Institute of Worship at Avondale and like Thrift an honorary patron of Avondale Conservatorium, closed the service. “The maestro has laid down his baton, but the music still sounds in our hearts,” he prayed. “Unite us all in hope and in the final realisation of all our hopes in the bright dawning of eternity.”
Thrift graduated from the Music Course at the then Australasian Missionary College in 1951. He had already received an Associate of Music Australia. Certificates in primary teaching and singing teaching preceded employment with the Victorian Education Department. The call to head the then Music Department at the college soon followed.
Within a year of his call, Thrift conducted the symphonic choir in the first television broadcast of a choral program in Sydney. He added secular music to the repertoire, formed a smaller ensemble to facilitate travel and organised tours throughout Australia and to New Zealand. Thrift’s experience at Andrews University (Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA), where he graduated with a Master of Music in 1971, confirmed the wisdom of these changes. The renamed Avondale Singers would tour the United States twice, including a performance at the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church session in Indianapolis in 1990.
Thrift retired that year, becoming musical director of the Sydney Male Choir, a position he held for 20 years. He introduced new ideas—singing from memory and moving to music. These and concerts and tours, including England, Ireland and Wales (1998), Australia (2000) and New Zealand (2009), broadened the choir’s appeal.
Thrift returned again to Avondale to direct Avondale Singers in 1998, retiring for a second time in 2004. He maintained his interest in conducting, directing until 2009 the Lake Macquarie City Ladies Choir, which he formed as the mixed voice Lake Macquarie City Choir in 1981. Thrift continued to help direct the Avondale Memorial Chorale, an ensemble formed by Yvonne, almost until his death.
The funeral service comes almost a year after the college of higher education awarded Thrift the honorary title Master of the College. Avondale Alumni also named him as its Alumnus of the Year in 2011.
Thrift, 86, died in palliative care at Bayside Aged Care in Morisset this past Friday (November 11). Predeceased by Yvonne and daughter Karen, he is survived by son Michael.
“Rest well, maestro,” reads Thrift’s life sketch. “You have set the world to singing.”
Watch the funeral service for Alan Thrift on Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/mycollegechurch).