All year round, St Mary of the Angels Basilica in Geelong is host to a variety of musical events, often designed around the Church’s liturgical seasons.

For Lent 2024, a series of free weekly musical ‘presentations’ is taking place every Sunday at 5–5.30pm, featuring different types of reflective music as we journey towards Easter. The program, which is part of their ‘Encounters’ series, is called, ‘A Voice, Lent to Music’, and showcases the talent of a variety of artists.

The opening night featured flautist Brighid Mantelli, and last Sunday Allister Cox drew the audience in with the clarinet.

The program has been organised by Frank de Rossa, the basilica’s artistic director and organist, and his wife Jane. Together they run Music at the Basilica, a charitable organisation that does not receive funding from the parish but is supported through community arts grants from the City of Greater Geelong. They have been going for 18 years now, and their mission is not only to build community and make use of St Mary’s pipe organ for public enjoyment, but also to promote sacred music as an art form.

Jane says this musical series and others they organise are ‘a form of outreach’. Music can often be inviting, even for those who might be reticent to approach the Church in ordinary circumstances.

‘The whole idea behind it was to bring people into the Church who may not necessarily be Catholic or Christian, or may even be lapsed, who still want to mark the season in some way,’ she explains. ‘It’s a gentle way of inviting them back in.’

Although the program is not primarily liturgical music, it is religious or classical in ‘flavour’, as all the pieces of music were composed with Lent in mind.

‘We present it at the church because we think that there are a lot of people out there who are spiritual but not religious, and they’re looking for something to make sense of the world we live in. And there’s so much background noise out there, it’s nice for people to be in a place where they feel comfortable and serene,’ Jane says.

‘The ambience of the basilica lends itself to that experience. Art, architecture, music—they all have a part to play in heightening any sort of spiritual experience, or anything that people might have within them.’

In Jane’s experience, a lot of people who attend their musical events wouldn’t normally participate in Church-related activities. At least 50 people have been going every week to their Lenten presentations, and many of them are not their usual parishioners.

Allister Frank 2 3
Allister Cox on the clarinet and Frank de Rossa on the organ. (Photo courtesy of Music at the Basilica.)

All of this will culminate in the basilica’s Windfire Choir Easter Concert, a ticketed event that will feature a performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, interspersed with corresponding movements for the cello by Peter Sculthorpe, a contemporary Australian classical composer. The night will also feature a reading of the poem The Seven Last Words by Mark Strand, and contributions from many other talented artists.

Jane says that the Windfire Choir is comprised of members from greater Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula and the Surf Coast, most of whom are not Catholic. Many of them simply connect with the music.

‘Something in the music speaks to them, and they come along and like to sing,’ she says.

2024 A4 Faure Requiem

There are still three weeks left of the Lenten series ‘Encounters: A Voice, Lent to Music’. The next event on Sunday 3 March will feature artist Patrycja Radzi-Stewart on the violin.

Coming up in October 2024 is also their popular Windfire Musical Festival, organised with other churches in Geelong. This year will be the festival’s 15th year.

For more information about the Lenten series ‘A Voice, Lent to Music’, please visit the Music at the Basilica website.

You can book tickets for the Windfire Choir Easter Concert here.