Community Music in Ballarat

By Amie Brûlée

Ballarat has a long history of music in various guises, from the Royal South Street Competitions to Dame Nellie Melba singing from the balcony of Craig’s Royal Hotel, rocking gigs at the Civic Hall in the 1980s and concerts in the gardens by the lake. There are excellent music programs running at primary, secondary and tertiary level and some top notch professional venues, but what’s going on at a community level? You don’t have to dig far to find that the Ballarat is a veritable beehive of community music activity. Whether you want to learn ukulele in a social setting, or be part of a large orchestra, sing the Messiah, or jam some Irish tunes, you’re sure to find a way to tickle your musical fancy.

The City of Ballarat Brass Band is among the longest running musical groups in Ballarat. It was originally a private band formed in 1887 and became the Ballarat City Brass Band in 1900, just in time to play for the Federation celebrations. As well as the senior band with around 30 players, there is a junior band training the next generation of brass players. The band plays a mix of traditional marching music, classical and popular music. They rehearse on Tuesday evenings from 7:30pm at 212 Ripon Street South and welcome new players.

Bigger but younger, another large ensemble in the Ballarat community music scene is the Ballarat Symphony Orchestra. Established in 1987 it has been rehearsing and performing a wide range of orchestral music ever since. Currently under the baton of conductor Gyula Cseszko, the BSO players are music teachers and skilled amateurs of the Ballarat area. The orchestra plays a wide repertoire, features a range of soloists and guest conductors, and performs three major concerts per year. Rehearsals are Friday evenings at Ballarat Grammar, and for more information on joining or attending upcoming concerts hop onto their new website.

For a big band sound, the Ballarat Memorial Concert Band includes reeds, brass and percussion, regularly performing at community events in Ballarat such as Heritage Weekend and the Ballarat Show. The band began in 1924 as a returned soldiers band, adopting the current name to reflect social change and membership in 1987. There is also a Developmental Band for training the younger players. The repertoire includes marches, classical, jazz and popular styles, and in addition to concert performances the band regularly participates in marching events. The band which rehearses on Wednesdays at 7pm in the Wilkinson Hall at 108 Barkly St, Bakery Hill. New members are welcome.

If singing is more your cup of tea, there are plenty of options.

For those with no musical training, Sing Australia is based on the philosophy that everyone can sing and that singing together brings joy. It is for anyone who enjoys singing without any expectations, and values fun and friendship. The sessions are led by an experienced choir director with accompanist, and each song is taught in an approachable way. There are two Sing Australia groups in Ballarat: the Ballarat group meets on Mondays at 7pm at the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute, and the Ballarat North group meets on Thursdays at 10am at BLOC at 608 Peel St North, Black Hill.

The more formal Ballarat Choral Society is a community choir of around 40 people, singing predominantly classical works. From Handel’s Messiah to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, this is the place to get your teeth into large-scale four-part harmony singing. Choir rehearsals are on Wednesdays at 7:45pm at the Ebenezer Hall, 212 Armstrong Street South, Ballarat

For a choir that’s more focused on singing technique, the Thursday Night Choir is run by Coco Sounds. In their words, ‘there are no rules on attendance’ and the focus is on ‘developing your harmony and rhythmic skills and of course having fun’ with songs from around the world.  Choir practice runs on Thursday nights from 7-8pm at the Ballarat Welcome Centre, 25-39 Barkly Street, Ballarat. Coco Sounds also run the audition-only Sweet Mona’s choir, Mini Mona’s Choir, Hanz On and Mini Hanz On drumming. If you would like to learn to play they also offer private lessons in a range of instruments centred on contemporary rock, pop, funk and jazz.

And for a completely informal sing with a drink in your hand, get along to a Bar Choir event. It’s exactly as it sound – a sing at the pub.

That’s not the only community music happening at the pub either. On Thursday nights the Ballarat Ukulele Group strum the night away at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel (401 Pleasant St South) from 6pm with a beginners session, then the main group from 7:45. On any given week there will be around 50 people singing and playing their little 4-stringed instrument that’s guaranteed to put a smile on faces. They play songs that range in style and difficulty – everything from 1930s to last week’s top 40. It’s a very inclusive group and loads of fun.

With a broader range of instruments and leaning towards folk, groove and Celtic, the Ballarat Acoustic Sessions take place on the 2nd & 4th Thursday at the North Britain Hotel (502 Doveton St N, Soldiers Hill) from 7:30pm. It’s an informal session where any instrument, style and skill level is welcome and everyone is encouraged to bring a song to share. This is a great place to learn new songs, new chords and enjoy the company of other musicians.

For a full-blown Celtic Jam Session, head to Irish Murphy’s at 36 Sturt St on Sunday afternoons from 3pm. Here you’ll find fiddles, mandolins, guitars playing great tunes from Ireland and Scotland. Some of the regulars are also behind of the new Bended Knee Festival on Friday 29th and Saturday 30th March in Buninyong. It opens with a Bush Dance on the Friday night followed by a full day of Folk, Celtic, Blues, and Bluegrass music.


Where do you go when you break a string, need a new uke or guitar, tuner, lead or lessons? Crossroads Music at  32 Skipton Street, Ballarat is a great place to start.