Strolling down William Street at lunchtime on a Friday, your ears may perk up to the mellifluous notes of a flute or the majestic sounds of a pipe organ emanating from Uniting Church in the City, Wesley, just across from the Hay Street Mall. The music is part of a free lunchtime recital series which runs from March to December, every first and third Friday at Wesley and every second Thursday at Ross Memorial in West Perth.
Since its establishment over a hundred years ago, the recital series has become a central feature of the cultural heart of the city. Evocative themes such as “Love and Loss” and “One Hand, One Heart” and others like “Beethoven and Shostakovic” give clues as to what mood and music to expect.
Regular comers, spontaneous visitors, tourists and others seeking an alternative lunchtime experience gather in the pews to enjoy the beautiful music, historic venues and illuminating aesthetics. The recitals last some 45 minutes with spare time at the end for applause and a catch-up chat with the performers.
Pre-COVID this catch-up occurred over coffee and cake, with Wesley hoping to reinstate this hospitable tradition again from the end of July.
Angela Currie has been the Director of Music at Wesley since 2012. She explains that the aim of the recital series is to share Wesley’s strong heritage of music with people in the city, while at the same time offering a performance platform to rising stars such as the Wesley Scholars, Wesley Alumni and other musician friends of the church.
The Wesley Scholars that Angela speaks of are part of an annual Wesley scholarship program, now in its 15th year, through which the church offers performance opportunities to undergraduate music students to enhance their musical development. Angela says that the program gives its Scholars the opportunity to perform for the love of the music, rather than to pass an exam or assessment.
Throughout the scholarship year, Scholars may play at Sunday services, the recital series and other special concerts, at several venues, including Wesley, Ross Memorial and Trinity church.
Angela is fully aware of the influence that carefully selected and well prepared music has on a worship experience and works with the Scholars to select music appropriate to the lectionary of the day which they then skilfully deliver alongside the regular pattern of hymns and choral music. “Their music enhances our worship and at the same time offers them invaluable solo performing experiences to develop their craft and thrive in the world of music,” she says.
The current Wesley Scholars possess a wide range of musical gifts and skills and were selected from The University of Western Australia’s Music Department through a competitive selection process. They are: Martin Baker (trumpet), Elyse Belford-Thomas (soprano), Alexis Chin (guitar), Jude Holland (piano), Helena O’Sullivan (violin) and Verity Hagen (flute).
After their scholarship year, many Scholars continue to give back to Wesley and become part of the
Wesley Alumni. “After growing and developing with us, they return to perform time and time again and
we all continue to enjoy the benefits of our expanded music family,” says Angela. “Whilst our program
is primarily about the music, it’s also about the longstanding friendships and support that grow
out of it. Members of our choir and congregation regularly attend the performances of our Wesley
Scholars and Alumni here and at other venues – so our #teamwesley grows beyond the church and into
the external world.”
Angela has always had a passion for helping young people develop their musical talent to become exceptional artists and performers; and she feels particularly privileged to do this through Wesley’s scholarship program. As a child, her love of music eventually led her to study pipe organ and piano at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. After graduating, she went on to enjoy a rich and varied career in Scotland before moving to Western Australia where she has worked as a music tutor, organ recitalist, choral director, accompanist and now Director of Music and organist at Wesley. In the past, she has performed at prestigious venues such as St Giles Cathedral, Palmerston Place Church, Greyfriars Kirk, Dunblane Cathedral and Glasgow Cathedral – however the recital series holds a special place in her heart.
“At every recital, I am reminded about the special quality that music has in bringing people together. People from all walks of life, who don’t know each other, come together to enjoy the experience of
listening to beautiful music – that feeling of community is unmatched, it transcends so many barriers.”
Over the years, the recital series has gained a strong following, but attendances have dipped slightly since COVID. However, Angela is positive, “If you haven’t been to one of our recitals, there is no better time to visit. We have an exciting line-up of classical, folk and jazz recitals to come this year. I always look forward to catching up with our guests after a performance.”’
Rev Hollis Wilson, Minister at Wesley, added, “I am thrilled that our current music program is part of a long commitment to the arts and also that its availability to the wider community has continued to remain free of charge. As we transition into the post-COVID era and move confidently towards the 20th
anniversary of the Wesley Scholars, I look forward to what lies ahead in 2027. Brava/Bravo!”