Geoff Kilby was the first chorister on the Australian Boys Choir ledger. Just like all of the choir’s founding members, he was a student at Toorak Central School, where the choir’s founder, VJ Kelly, was a school master. Their first rehearsal was held on Friday October 20, 1939.
Geoff joined around 20 boys at the Association for Advancement of the Blind club rooms, opposite the Kooyong tennis courts, to rehearse repertoire ranging from hymns, to popular classics, to madrigals, under VJ Kelly’s instruction.
“VJ would choose music with a strong melody that was ‘easy on the ear’,” Geoff recalls.
Light operas were also popular – the boys provided their own costumes and played their roles with glee. “We always had a great time with Gilbert and Sullivan,” Geoff smiles. He also remembers performing outdoors in Seaford on a hot summer’s day. “We were sunburnt to blazes and getting a bit tottery. Some of the boys went close to fainting, but it was all part of the fun!”
VJ Kelly was well liked by the boys, though he didn’t stand any nonsense. “He ran a tight ship,” Geoff recollects, but the music schools and tours were “all good fun”. In those days, tours were more of a holiday, but the boys assembled every day for rehearsal and the odd performance.
Geoff believes the choir taught him to live with other people - an experience that stood him in good stead in his early Air Force days. While the Air Force took him away from Melbourne, his association with the choir and VJ Kelly continued. He is planning to meet up with a couple of his choir mates at the 75th Anniversary celebrations.
“Singing was a very enjoyable part of life in my younger days. A very good basis for life. The music was great. The camaraderie was terrific”.
A very good place to start, indeed!