Prestigious choral music prize awarded to Sydney Con student

23 May 2024
The Helen Channon Memorial Prize supports the next generation of choral composers.
Lucy Blomfield, a PhD student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, has won the inaugural Helen Channon Memorial Prize for her composition A Struggle for Life, premiering in Verbrugghen Hall on 23 May.

Growing up surrounded by the sounds of Elena Kats-Chernin, Paul Stanhope, Luke Byrne, Joseph Twist, and many more, Lucy Blomfield has always loved Australian choral music, leading her to study a Bachelor of Music (Composition) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (SCM). Lucy, now a PhD student, has won the prestigious Helen Channon Memorial Prize, receiving $5,000 and further development support for her choir and organ composition A Struggle for Life.

Lucy Blomfield, PhD student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, has won the inaugural Helen Channon Memorial Prize for her choir and organ composition A Struggle for Life.

Open to undergraduate and postgraduate students at the SCM, the Helen Channon Memorial Prize involved submitting an original choral or choir and organ composition that has not previously been performed or published.

Lucy’s submission was chosen unanimously by the distinguished jury panel consisting of Associate Professor Paul Stanhope, Dr Huw Belling and Dr Ivan Zavada. Exploring contrasting and varied layers of sound, Lucy submitted a composition for both choir and organ, a challenge that will pay off wonderfully once the piece is performed alongside the SCM Choir and the restored 1973 Pogson organ in the vast podium of the Verbrugghen Hall.

A Struggle for Life is about how unlikely and amazing life is,” Lucy said. “I was excited to write for the Verbrugghen organ as it’s one of Sydney’s best organs, and the organ is an instrument of infinite tone colours and timbres. At the end of my piece, you will hear the Verbrugghen organ producing a sound that most people have never heard before – I’m thrilled that I could incorporate this technique into the climactic conclusion of my composition.”

Dr Elizabeth Scott conducting the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Choir, with Callum Knox on the organ.

The choir sings words taken from the final paragraph of Charles Darwin’s 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, and Hildegard von Bingen’s 1152 morality play, Ordo Virtutum. “I was fascinated by the intersection of Hildegard and Darwin’s writings on life from their respective worlds of spirituality and faith, and science and evolution,” Lucy said. “This work marries the two: the beautiful struggle for life in the infinitely small chance of existence.” 

Community through music

The Helen Channon Memorial Prize was generously made possible by the Channon family through a philanthropic gift, with the intention to support the next generation of choral composers in Australia. The prize was inspired by the life and memory of Helen Channon, the first female pipe organ performance graduate from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and the recipient of the Medal of the Order (OAM) in 2007 for her service to the community.

Dr Ivan Zavada, Program Leader in Composition and Music Technology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music coordinated the call for works from students within the composition division.

“The Helen Channon Memorial Prize is significant as a choral music prize, as they are rare today in our ever-growing global consumption of commercially oriented music,” he said. “It encourages students to think of collective works involving large ensembles and performers, something often overshadowed in today’s context.”

To involve many performers on stage for a newly created work by young Australian composers – as the Helen Channon Memorial Prize encourages – is important, says Dr Zavada: “Choral works have the power to energise a sense of community and bring together performers and listeners in times of social transition, which is particularly important with the emergence of new technologies like artificial intelligence.”

“I think choral music will always be important to music and society as it’s an accessible and communal experience of music-making and has always been a part of human culture,” Lucy added.

A Struggle for Life will be performed by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Choir with organ in Verbrugghen Hall at 12:30 pm on 23 May, as part of the Con’s Lunchbreak Concert series. You can attend the performance in-person or watch it through a livestream.

Lucy Blomfield is a Sydney-based composer. She recently completed a Bachelor of Music (Composition) with Honours at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and is currently undertaking a PhD in new Australian opera.