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Charlie Swan: singing his way from Cathedral to Opera House  


On Saturday 18 May, Charlie Swan (Year 8) was under the bright spotlights at the Sydney Opera House as he sang a leading part in Mendelssohn’s Elijah. It’s been an exciting journey for this St Andrew’s chorister who first joined a choir when he was in primary school and became a St Andrew’s Cathedral School chorister when he started at the School for high school.

We interviewed Charlie and his chorister coach, Organist and Director of Music, St Andrew’s Cathedral School, Mr Ross Cobb, to learn more about Charlie’s journey and how he went from singing in St Andrew’s Cathedral to performing alongside some of opera’s biggest names!

Q&A with Charlie Swan

When did you start singing? And why did you join the Choristers?

I first joined the choir at my local primary school in Year 6, but I have been going to church my whole life so singing church music was always familiar and enjoyable. Then when my family was choosing my high school, we chose St Andrew’s Cathedral School so I could excel in my musical education. When I was enrolled, my dad heard about the Cathedral Choir and so he contacted Mr Cobb, asked about an audition and the rest is history!

Can you tell us about Mendelssohn’s Elijah and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir? What is it and what is the significance of the event?  

The Sydney Philharmonia Choir (festival chorus) is a 400-voice adult choir that presents major productions throughout the year.

A few weeks ago, the conductor from the Philharmonia came to the Cathedral Choir and auditioned five choristers. We had to learn a piece of music and sing it for him. When I heard the news that I was chosen, I felt shocked, overjoyed and excited!

During the performance at the Sydney Opera House, I performed alongside Teddy Tahu Rhodes and other significant opera singers including Andrew Goodwin who graduated from St Andrew’s Cathedral School in 1996! I sang the part of ‘The Youth’ who is Elijah’s servant boy. Elijah prays for rain to break the drought and sends the youth to the mountain top to look for clouds. I got to sing from the organ loft which was an amazing experience.

Overall, it was astounding to perform alongside so many incredible singers, as well as the full symphony orchestra.

How has St Andrew’s Cathedral School helped you on your singing journey?

It has revealed to me my voice. Mr Cobb and the choristers have greatly influenced my singing journey. It has been unlike anything I’ve ever done. It’s the highlight of my life. 

What’s next for you?  

I will absolutely keep on singing, especially church music as it’s both beautiful and Biblical. I would hope to help others enjoy singing and understand the Word of God through it.

Q&A with Mr. Cobb

Do you have any comments about Charlie and his achievements? 

It’s been a tremendous privilege to see Charlie blossom into the singer he is now – his parents were unsure that he could even sing two years ago, and were very surprised when I suggested he join the choristers. To go from that to him being one of the leading choristers in the Cathedral Choir and singing solos at the Opera House with Teddy Tahu Rhodes and the full Sydney Philharmonia is wonderful to see. He’s done it all with real humility and grace.

I was together in the Opera House that Saturday with his mum and dad, and I was nervous as anything, even though I’d gone through it all over and over with Charlie. But he absolutely nailed it!

The Opera House was at capacity and they went wild when he took his solo curtain call at the end! Rene Pulikkaseril was also selected to understudy for the role and the best thing was seeing their faces as they were shown to their own private dressing room at the Opera House – complete with their names on the door! 

What has it been like mentoring/knowing Charlie while at St Andrew’s Cathedral School and in the choristers?

I know I keep using the word privilege, but it really is one to lead them. The rest of the choristers respected and supported Charlie, and were really proud of what he had done. They are all such a talented bunch of kids and they are so committed to musical excellence and love the Cathedral’s music. They are also hilarious together and we all have a lot of laughs as we rehearse. They all get to learn an enormous amount of music to the highest levels each week, often performing, like Charlie, with some of Australia’s finest musicians, so they learn to be professional pretty quickly.

The morning after Charlie’s Opera house gig for example, he and the choir were singing a full Bach cantata with orchestra. Was sublime! It’s great to see the boys learning and responding to such complex music like that and then hearing them singing it round the school in the daytime!

Do you have any words of advice for anyone who might be an aspiring chorister? How best can they apply…etc.?

Please do come and see me. We’re just looking for boys with potential, not full-developed singers. Most of the choristers have had very little or no musical training before joining, so don’t be shy.

We’re holding an open session on 16 June at St Andrew’s Cathedral School. Please come and listen to what the chorister programme entails, and maybe have an informal audition. 

Click here for details.