The Hunter Valley has always musically punched above its weight. Is it part of the rich cultural legacy of the Welsh people who made our region home a century ago?
One of the most noticeable parts of that heritage is the extraordinary Abermain Eisteddfod, one of the longest running in NSW. One hundred years ago the Cessnock local government area had multiple eisteddfods, including at Cessnock, Kurri Kurri and Weston.
Much talent was unearthed at these competitions and it also allowed some inspirational teachers to shine. One such teacher was Jayne Thompson who took a local children's choir to extraordinary levels of success in the 1920s.
The Weston Juvenile Choir first performed in February 1921 at the Weston Eisteddfod. They already had their eye on greater things and after a successful fundraiser later that year set off to compete in eisteddfods in Newcastle and Boolaroo.
While the choir at that stage wasn't very successful in competitions, they certainly were enthusiastic, performing at local charity and community events, at hospitals and benefits, often with the adult Weston Town Band. But in November 1926 all that changed, when Jayne Thompson took over as the choir's conductor.
She had been a seasoned eisteddfod competitor herself, achieving an extraordinary level of success in singing, piano and elocution and winning hundreds of awards. She performed at Weston Music and Literary Society events and was renowned for her beautiful choral singing at the Weston Methodist Church.
Under Jayne's baton the Weston Juvenile Choir soon became a force to be reckoned with, regularly winning the juvenile choir category at eisteddfods across the Hunter Valley, in Newcastle and in 1928 going head-to-head with a Sydney choir for the Juvenile Chorus Championship of NSW.
When the choir performed at the Cessnock Eisteddfod that year, the musical adjudicator, from the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, declared that the choir's singing was amongst the best he had ever heard. He promptly awarded them first place, adding to their growing hoard of awards.
A couple of years later Jayne Thompson had taken the choir to State success, winning the NSW State Championship for juvenile choirs. For the children the juvenile choir had a strong social aspect, by 1930 their annual end-of-year picnic to Wangi Wangi was so popular three buses had to be hired to take them all on this social outing.
Jayne also worked skilfully with adult singers, becoming the first conductor of the Weston Choral Society when it formed in 1928. A musical tour-de-force, Jayne Thompson is a Weston heroine forgotten no more.
- Kimberly O'Sullivan is the Local Studies Librarian at Cessnock Library. She can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.