Northside Opera Study Group Inc.
Discover the wonderful world of opera




It can easily happen that a full-time occupation, such as looking after a house and young family, leads to the sacrifice of other activities and interests.   This was Pat Alderson's concern around 1975 and she decided that she needed to renew and foster her interest in opera.   Pat had studied singing as a teenager so it was natural to wish to extend her appreciation of music.   She spoke to a few friends and made contact with Sydney University's Department of Continuing Education who were able to provide boxes of discussion notes and long playing records.   A meeting room was found at St. David's Church, Lindfield by arrangement with the YMCA which was renting the space from the church at that time.   Pat advertised the sessions widely and received an encouraging response.


A pattern was established of devoting two 'study days' to each opera, the first being an overview of the opera and the second morning making a close study of the whole opera.   Members were asked to do some follow-up study at home.   Pat often prepared an introduction to the topic.


The enthusiasm of the group was a little dampened by the fact that the box provided by the University contained very well-used records and had to be collected and returned to Kogarah.  


Pat and member Jan Strang considered ways to improve the program and it happened that Professor Donald Peart was about to retire from Sydney University and was interested in encouraging the appreciation of music in the community.

Professor Peart was Professor of Music at Sydney University from 1948 to 1974 and had a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm. Professor Peart agreed to lecture regularly to the group, giving about 15 lectures each year.   These were supplemented by talks from other speakers and from Pat herself.   The result was an enthusiastic group which continued to meet on Monday mornings at St. David's Church.   Members came from a wide area and a name was needed which reflected this.   The name Northside Opera Study Group was chosen.


A wide range of operas was studied, from Monteverdi and Gluck to Britten and Berg.  Also, a series on aspects of opera production was given by Roger Covell, Tom Lingwood, Robin Lovejoy, Werner Baer, Gerald English, Glenn Winslade and John Pringle.



From 1977, lectures were recorded on cassette and libretti were provided. Many hours were spent struggling with recalcitrant photocopiers and touchy recording equipment to produce these study aids.   Considerations of copyright, the cost of printing and the problem of storage had to be considered at a later date.


In October 1981, Professor Peart suffered a heart attack and died some two months later.   During the years, he had given over a hundred lectures to the Group, sharing his knowledge of opera and enthusiasm for teaching.   His loss meant that more speakers had to be found and, over the next ten years, some forty experts gave talks on aspects of opera.   The list of names gives insight into the musical life of Sydney in those years.   John Milson began the practice of informing NOSG of operas being performed at the Conservatorium and other opera groups now follow this practice too, often giving a valuable introduction to upcoming performances.


Resulting from the Group's success, a number of people complained that they were unable to attend daytime lectures and wanted an evening group.  One was formed, meeting first in a home in Roseville and then at the Stanton Library, North Sydney.   Eventually it separated from the daytime group and continued to meet in private homes for some time.


Clearly, none of this was achieved without a great deal of effort and a vibrant committee was needed to ensure continuity and to spread the load.    It was established that each President would serve a maximum of two years and committee experience generally ensures that the next incoming President is familiar with what is needed for a smooth transition.   It is interesting to see that Jan Brown, Sandy Dudgeon, Cushla Maas, Barbara McNulty, Jan Strang and Nicky Thorpe, committee members in those early days, are still members of NOSG today.


The President in 1993, Barbara McNulty, had experience in the management of non-profit organisations and suggested that NOSG seek Incorporation.   This would ensure a framework for such matters as the conduct of the association and immunity from individual liability (e.g. for debt).   Mr. Rhys Strang acted as honorary solicitor and a Constitution was adopted based on the model rules provided by the then Department of Consumer Affairs.   On 12th October 1993, a Certificate of Incorporation was granted.   Barbara McNulty became the first Public Officer of the Association.



Since that time, NOSG has continued to meet approximately eighteen times in each semester of the year, enjoying talks from a range of well qualified speakers.   Operas which are to be performed by Opera Australia or other opera groups and centenaries of composers' births or deaths are frequently marked by special talks.

For many years, Conservatorium students have given a Christmas concert and other singers and groups have come from time to time.


The membership in 1993 was 77 and in 2009 is almost 100.   Some current members were among the very first to join and twenty of the 1993 members are still members today.  Pat Alderson and Jan Strang have been awarded life membership for their contribution to NOSG, as were past members Rosemary Brown and Sheila Major.   Jan Brown and Wendy Hamlin, members for many years, currently share the vital role of program co-ordinator and many others have contributed unobtrusively but vitally to the continuance of NOSG.


The group still meets at St. David's Church, Lindfield.


Changes in technology have brought about a number of developments.   Issues of copyright led to the tape recording of talks being discontinued and in 2009 the tape collection was reluctantly destroyed, both for copyright reasons and because the tapes had deteriorated badly.  Around this time, with the availability of libretti through the internet, it was decided   that NOSG no longer needed to provide this service on a regular basis. A grant from Kuring-gai Council enabled the purchase of a computer so that libretti can be viewed and a   further grant in 2010 covered the purchase of a new screen.


Complaints about not hearing the speaker emerged fairly early and efforts to remedy this were tried as technology and money allowed.   Thankfully it has been possible to buy far better sound and visual equipment and to build a library of CDs, DVDs and books.   The technology remains a challenge for many and NOSG is lucky to have members who cope with this.   Maybe there will be more challenges to come but NOSG can be proud of having increased its membership over the years, confirming the high quality of its programs.  Long may they continue!


In closing, I sincerely thank Pat Alderson for sharing her records and knowledge and other members who have added details to the story.


Jean Murphy   

February 2010