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Trafficking Modernities--Gender and Cultural Authority in the Case of the Woman Organist, Lilian Frost.

Lilian Frost served as Pitt Street Congregational Church (PSCC) organist for over fifty years, spanning the first half of the twentieth century. Although much-loved, she did not enjoy a smooth career. While her skills were recognised within the church, her music was treated as peripheral to its core work. It is possible to explain the tensions inherent in Frost's story in terms of the intersection of gender, modernity and aesthetic reaction to modernity. Recent scholarship explains the emergence of modernity and modernism (commonly viewed as the high aesthetic response to modernity) in Australia, in terms of individualism, urbanisation, consumerism, and migration (1), rather than class and political idealism. (2) Considered in this light, Frost cannot be viewed as a woman consigned to the cultural margins due to any potential embodiment of modernity on her part. Outside the church, she engaged with key contemporary cultural forces in a manner that demonstrated her capacity and cultural authority. Nor does her case demonstrate clear continuities between ideological modernities and aesthetic modernisms. She ambiguously blended gendered modernities with notions of professionalism, artistic genius, cultural authority, and nostalgic aesthetic idealism that manifested in evolving formations across Australia, Europe and America from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. While she demonstrated a belief commonly expressed by the civic minded in Australia, that certain types of cultural practice provided a necessary antidote to the levelling effects of democracy and modernity, she enacted ambivalent aesthetic responsiveness to modernity by embracing cultural progressivism, as well as romanticism (3) and nostalgia.

Frost may, however, be regarded as a trafficker of cultural modernities. (4) Her presence within the narrow community of a major city church provoked strong reactions. Those reactions might appear as a denial of the gendered modernities that she, as a single, professional woman, embodied. They might also imply resistance to the broader social, cultural and technological changes that even a conservative cultural scene was forced to accept. As this article will show, Frost represented the first intrusion of modernity into the protected world of the PSCC, a key source of tension and anxiety, and eventually, an ambiguous symbol of both a changed present as well as a romanticised cultural past.

Born in 1870 in Launceston, Tasmania, Lilian Frost's early demonstration of musical talent led to her parents' decision to take her to London for three years of tuition at the Guild Hall of Music when she was barely 10 years old. Her father, John Frost was a leading light in Launceston's musical world with a central role in the Launceston Musical Union, and Launceston Christ Church (Congregational). (5) From the mid-1880s, his talented daughter began to perform in both Musical Union and Church events. Some time in the summer of 1886-7, she was appointed as the church organist. This development seems possible in part due to her father's own civic and church roles, and the existence of the Congregational ideal of girlhood musical service. (6) However, Lilian Frost's early success also needs to be seen in terms of her combination of sacred and secular performances. In May 1891, she played at the opening of the new Albert Hall, demonstrating the 1859 Charles Brindley organ's quality, the hall's acoustics, and her own skills in the presence of the visiting Tasmanian Governor, Sir Robert Hamilton. (7) Frost officiated as organist at most concerts held in the hall during the New South Wales--Launceston Tasmanian Exhibition of 1891-92.

According to the local press, Frost as both soloist and accompanist on piano and organ was reported to exhibit a musical maturity beyond her years, and stamina considered unusual for a 'young lady', but clearly this was problematic. Her talents peaked in The Storm, a fantasia by Weber, which epitomised the emphasis placed by composers of Romantic music on individualised expression and virtuosity. Also, the energy entailed in pedalling the organ for the lengthy periods of time demanded by pieces such as The Storm astounded many an observer, leading one to assert that 'the unceasing attention and effects from beginning to end would have tired many a strong man.' (8) A celebrated English organist, Mr W.H. Jude, who passed through Launceston at the time of the exhibition, commented on hearing Frost play:
    Jealous minded organists of the sterner sex are apt to say that
   cannot play the organ; but the meritorious performance by Miss Frost
   dispels that illusion; for here is a lady who can play the organ. (9)

This appeared to provoke a shift in reportage on Frost's performances: whereas previously newspaper reports repeated an established complimentary four-lined rift, detailed reviews soon replaced them, most adding to the theme of Frost's anomalous physical strength:
    The organ is not an instrument which lends itself readily to a
   playing, it usually being considered more amenable to the stronger
   muscles of the sterner sex. Miss Frost, however, has proved that she
   possessed not simply the necessary power, but the delicacy of touch
   sympathy of expression which alone mark the difference between the
   mechanical player and the true musician. (10) 

This was high praise indeed, for she had risen above disparaging stereotypes linking both church organists and female musicians with amateurism. Few female musicians, artists and writers of the period earned praise that made allowance for artistic genius. Yet, through it all, the papers persisted in using the term 'lady' with reference to Frost, and constructed her as feminine by connecting her musical talent to qualities suggestive of vulnerability and emotion. Confronted with evidence of a physical strength that confounded contemporary notions of female fragility, commentators found comfort in her youth, petite stature, expressive style and religiosity. The tensions inherent in the contradictory figure of Lilian Frost were already beginning to emerge.

This tension was further exacerbated by a growing awareness that Frost was acting as a cultural authority, not simply as a talented church musician. Some church concerts were held with the Mayor's patronage, while her work outside the church became increasingly high profile. Her pedigree may have helped to add credibility to perceptions of her musical professionalism and leadership, but her musical choices and performances clearly had a noted impact on the tastes of the community. (11) Reports on her own pupils' concerts revealed not just the potential of a new generation of musicians but, according to the papers, the careful application of her high musical standards. Further, the size of the community may have amplified her role when widely publicised events brought attention from across the colony, Australia and abroad. This certainly occurred when Jude commented on her performance at the exhibition in 1892 (12) and there were many instances when travelling entertainers visited Tasmania as part of their colonial tour circuits and immediately identified Frost as an appropriate professional to include in their programs. She thus accompanied people like Professor Francik, a renowned Prussian violinist reportedly favoured by the nobility of Roumania and Austria, when he performed in Hobart. (13) She also participated in a series of entertainments staged by the visiting English elocutionist, Lawrence Campbell, and in 1895, the touring Kowalski-Poussard Company arrived in Launceston. It included in its programme a piano duet played by Henri Kowalski and Miss Beatrice Griffiths, of Sydney. While Griffiths rendered most of the accompaniments, Frost did play one, and concluded the program with a selection of organ solos. (14) Perhaps as a result of this contact with Sydney-based entertainers, Frost soon became a part of that cultural traffic, and journeyed from the periphery to the metropolitan centre of Sydney. A leading concert manager, Charles Huenerbein, invited her to give a series of recitals in Sydney. The subsequent performances attracted positive, though not rave reviews; with a hint of faint praise one paper suggested that her powers excelled that of 'most of her sex.' (15) A final recital at Pitt Street Congregational Church (PSCC) led to her appointment as organist at one of the city's oldest churches in September 1895.

On settling in Sydney in 1895 Frost quickly established herself as a member of the city's professional musical community, performing, accompanying others, coordinating events, and teaching. Only a year after her arrival, Frost played the Sydney Town Hall organ for the first time. This massive instrument with five manuals and 126 stops by far excelled in resources anything she had previously played. A photo shows Frost's petite figure dwarfed by the organ as she played. (16) By the conclusion of her 1896 season, favourable criticism in the press had caused her audiences to distinctly swell in numbers. From her arrival Frost also participated in the entertainments arranged by elocutionist, Lawrence Campbell. In April 1898 Frost acted as accompanist in a concert for the touring singing duo, Philip Newbury and Emily Spada, thus launching an association that lasted for four years and included tours to Queensland and Tasmania. Frost also toured with the Lawrence Campbell Concert Company in 1903, and the Sydney Concert Company in 1904. Her career as an accompanist peaked during the first decade of the century. She assisted a series of vocal and instrumental proteges discovered by Melba, Madame Ella Christian of Sydney's successful Garcia School of Singing, Lawrence Campbell and George Rivers Allpress, among others. From this period stemmed her long-term association with such artists as the composer and pianist, Esther Kahn, professional singers Miss Ernestine Louat and Emil Sussmilch, and violinist Henri Staell. When the city organist, Arthur Mason, arranged a dinner for the world-famous organist and transcriber of orchestral music, Edwin Lemare, in July 1903 he invited fifty Sydney organists, including just two women, Lilian Frost and Manly Presbyterian Church organist Alice Bryant. (17) In 1912, Lilian Frost took extended leave from her position at the church organ console, and travelled to Europe. She studied under Sir Walter Alcock, the sub-organist at Westminster Abbey, London, and later, the Parisian organist and composer of 'organ symphonies', Charles Marie Widor. (18) Before she left England, she performed at Royal Albert Hall, and created 'quite a sensation' in Liverpool when she played at St George's Hall. (19) In 1926, Frost travelled again, this time visiting the French composer, reputedly 'the greatest living organist' and successor to Widor at St Sulpice, Marcel Dupre. In England, she again performed at key venues. Interestingly, a much-quoted paragraph in the Liverpool Daily Post claimed that; 'her rapid and unerring pedalling recall[ed] the brilliance of the late Mr W.T. Best.' (20) Edwin Lemare had likewise been compared to Best when his reputation as an organist was initially established, but the similarities to Frost's earlier Tasmanian critics are hard to ignore.

What is clear from this outline of her practice as a professional musician is the extent to which she was engaged not only in a local musical community that itself actively engaged with international musical networks but also directly engaged with international circles in which musical practice was being negotiated. In particular, she had direct contact with the key exponents of the French Symphonic Tradition in organ music performance and composition. This tradition emerged from a lineage of French teachers and students from Cesar Franck to Louis Vierne (via Charles Widor), to Camille Saint-Saens and Marcel Dupre. They emphasised the organ's ability to encapsulate the richness and variety of sounds produced by symphony orchestras, particularly with advancements in organ production and technique (among them the technique of 'thumbing' developed by Best). The school thus laid stress on the talents of the organist, and drew on romantic notions of individual expression and virtuosity. (21) Although Frost claimed to play a variety of music, her influences are clear: she included Bach (an inspiration for many members of the French school), the Romantic composers Mendelssohn and Rheinberger, as well as Lemare, and modern French works by Dupre, Vierne, Saint Saens, and Guilmant. (22) As we shall see, Frost's clear penchant for this style of music and performance appears to have caused her some problems in her work for the Pitt Street Congregational Church.

Frost also established herself as a talented and dedicated teacher, who sought to create performance opportunities for students and colleagues alike. Her success as a piano and organ teacher is well documented and testimonies from past students abound. (23) In later years, Frost trained a junior church choir and arranged for their performances outside the usual forum of Sunday services. It was thought exemplary in standard, and some of its members became well known singers in Sydney. Frost also appears to have participated in arranging a massed junior choir from among the various churches of the denomination, and in October 1925 accompanied the 150-voice ensemble at the first Annual Young People's Festival held in Sydney Town Hall. (24) Local composers likewise gained much encouragement from Frost. From the earliest years of the century she had included compositions by Sydney pianist, Esther Kahn, in her Town Hall recital programs. At a 1927 concert, the diverse program included 'The Australian Patrol', a composition by Sydney journalist May Summerbelle. (25) Frost played the same piece at recitals on her subsequent English tour. In 1936 she worked to create much interest in the work of a well-known Sydney woman, Adeline Parry of Watson's Bay, showcasing a composition dedicated by Parry to her mother, entitled 'Sabbath Morn'. (26) In addition, Frost provided work and experience for hundreds, perhaps thousands of new and established vocalists and instrumentalists. Over the many decades of her career, she rarely performed a whole program herself. Week after week, she engaged soloists to sing or play in programs arranged for either public entertainment or church worship. She thus offered experience in recital work, much-needed publicity and additional earnings to musicians of varying levels of expertise.

Yet Lilian Frost was just one member of a network of professional Sydney musicians, performers and educators. The musical community had two key centres: the buildings used by the music supplier, William Henry Paling (27); and later, the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. Many teachers congregated in the 'little "Latin Quarter" of "Bohemia"' surrounding the Paling buildings. There, the 'noted musicians of the day' taught in their studios, or gathered in the ground floor rooms to 'converse with the brilliant visiting artists.' (28) Among those with studios at Palings before the turn of the century, was the violinist of Bohemian origins, Joseph Kretschmann. (29) At some point, Lawrence Campbell, Frost's 'oldest professional friend in Sydney' (30) founded a 'School of Public Speaking and Dramatic Art' in a studio at Palings. (31) Campbell was prominent in the Australian Eisteddfod movement, the Henry Lawson Memorial Society, and a plethora of other cultural movements. (32) He and Frost regularly appeared in each other's recitals, worked up innovative performances together, and campaigned to assist or farewell numerous Sydney proteges. Many other key figures taught in Palings' studios: the singer Mabel Batchelor; the former PSCC choirmaster and renowned bass singer Reginald Gooud; the second wife of Conservatorium director Roland Foster and voice production teacher, Thelma Houston; and long-time St James' organist, George Faunce Allman. Even renowned singers such as Madame Ada Baker and Nellie Stewart taught in studios there, while many musicians with international origins and credentials became permanent fixtures in the Palings community. (33) It was clearly a key port of call on the antipodean cultural traffic routes.

Professional women musicians made up a fair proportion of this community. For example, one of Kretschmann's star pupils, Esther Kahn, taught piano there. (34) A child protege she published three compositions in the 1894 Australian Musical Album. (35) Kahn also wrote 'delicious tit-bits for the organ, the tit-bits always composed with the colour resources of Sydney's Town Hall organ' and the 'deft organ craftmanship--or rather craftwomanship--of her friend, Lilian Frost,' in mind. (36) Frost included Kahn's 'Intermezzo' in her 1907 series of Town Hall recitals, and the association of these two artists quickly evolved into a life-long friendship. Kahn also founded the 'International Society of Musical Therapeutics of Australia', further affirming that members of the Palings community were engaged in transnational discourses about modernity. (37) Other influential women teachers occupied studios around the city, such as Lute Drummond in Bond Street, and Emily Marks in the Strand Arcade. It is evident that women dominated the ranks of the music teaching profession in Sydney. The Music Association's register reveals that particularly in the suburbs and rural towns the proportion of female to male teachers was distinctly biased towards the former. In Sydney the proportion appears more balanced, although women still outweighed men, while male and female teachers were represented in almost equal numbers at the Conservatorium of Music. (38) Nevertheless, according to Monique Geitenbeek, key music institutions resisted any according of female cultural authority through formal appointments; the Australian Musical Education Board resisted the appointment of women as examiners until the 1940s, (39) and men certainly occupied key Conservatorium positions.

Lilian Frost was thus a well-established member of an increasingly active community of music educators that emerged in Sydney from the start of the century. Discourse about the state, civic society and culture increased in its sense of urgency during the war and led the State Government to found the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music. The city experienced a brief surge in civic musical activity at the hands of the Conservatorium's first Director Henri Verbrugghen. On his departure in 1922, and in a classic reaction to the forces of modernity represented in the simultaneous rise in popularity of jazz and other vernacular cultural expressions, the city's music professionals and concerned citizens worked collectively to institutionalise music education and choral, chamber and symphonic musical practice. This movement, which accelerated towards the end of the 1920s and culminated in the institution of Music Week in 1930, gave scope for women like Lilian Frost and Emily Marks to take on more active roles in the musical community and exercise some cultural authority. Marks, another child prodigy who went on to perform in London, join the touring circuit, and study voice production in New York, returned to Australia in 1923. (40) She made her most crucial contributions to the musical community of Sydney after the launch of the Music Week movement in 1929. She participated in key organisational committees for each Music Week staged throughout the 1930s, launched the Music Lovers Club in 1932, founded the journal Harmony in 1933, was pivotal in the emergence of the City of Sydney Eisteddfods in 1934, and regularly acted as adjudicator over the ensuing years.

Music in Australia, a journal first published under the name of the Australasian Phonograph Monthly claimed responsibility for initial discussion of the idea of holding a Music Week in Sydney, based on a similar event held in America. While the aim was education for the civic good of the state, its key organ, the journal Music in Australia originated as a commercial enterprise, and the first President of the Music Advancement Guild that it was originally meant to service, was the Managing Director of the music-publishing house of world renown, Chappell & Co. (41) These commercial forces quickly joined forces with local civic and state institutions such as the Conservatorium and Associated Music Clubs. The idea had roots in the bourgeois pursuit of cultural validation and grew on the back of American commercialisation of those interests. That the idea took hold in interwar Sydney and found networks of music organisations and practitioners, in which women were active members, who were willing to participate enthusiastically in this movement towards the institutionalisation of high aesthetic musical practice is surely not coincidental. A 1929 Music in Australia article in support of the Music Week cause reasoned that, 'if you do not attempt to cultivate beauty in the child mind you cannot possibly expect to find beauty in the national mind.' (42) Feminist analysis over the past few decades has pointed to the rise in female organisationalism in the interwar period as civic service provided a means of entering into the nationalist enterprise. Through such means women acquired a public agency they were yet to attain through political methods. We thus see in interwar Sydney a conflation of modernities, including the transformation of musical practice in the face of consumerism and technological advancement, increased anti-modern anxiety, and the emergence of new configurations of feminist cultural activism with linkages to the process of the consolidation of the civic state. The cultural enterprise did not reflect clear-cut partisan politics, or even feminist politics; rather, the increased female assumption of cultural authority might be viewed as among the alternative modernities that added to anti-modem anxieties for some members of the musical community. This is best demonstrated through examination of Frost's service within the smaller community of the Pitt Street Congregational Church.

Lilian Frost arrived in Sydney to take up her post at the Pitt Street Congregational Church as this period of intense discourse over state and culture was just beginning to emerge. The Pitt Street Congregational Church had a history of musical excellence. It was established in Sydney in 1833 at 264 Pitt Street, and early prime movers in the church included key wealthy and influential Sydney families. From the family of the founder of the newspaper empire, Andrew Fairfax served as the church choirmaster from 1861. Choir singing was at the time a respectable pastime and many young men and women from Sydney's colonial elite circles met and married during the choir's heyday. The choir went into decline, however, when Fairfax resigned in 1892. (43) A series of choirmasters and organists took up and resigned the posts in rapid succession. This state of affairs continued until Lilian Frost was appointed organist in 1895, and Walter T. Colyer was appointed choirmaster in April 1896. This appeared to stabilise the musical affairs of the church, although, as families drifted to suburban churches and their sons and daughters were lured away by other pastimes (common problems for many choral groups), the choir never regained its appeal to younger members of the church. Instead, Frost's performances of sacred music prior to services became the 'special attraction,' (44) although, given her success on the Sydney Town hall organ in 1896, her tendency to individualised expression, and predilection for orchestral organ music, it is possible that, even then, the performances were not so 'sacred'.

The newly found relative stability in the musical affairs of the church lasted until the early years of the new century, and came undone as a series of male choirmasters experienced difficulties working with Frost. Colyer resigned in 1903 due to undisclosed organ-related difficulties. It may have been related to the diaconate's 1901 decision to replace the existing organ, but Colyer's replacement, a renowned bass singer, W. Reginald Gooud, tendered his resignation a number of times due to disagreements with Frost as well and eventually left in November 1906. His successor, Samuel Kenny, resigned in 1913. Sometime towards the end of World War One, Colyer resumed the position of choirmaster, but resigned again in 1924, for reasons deliberately not recorded in the minutes. His successor, the singing teacher Clement Hosking, resigned only a year later, indicating that an 'older man' with 'greater experience' might prove more appropriate for the position which, 'under existing circumstances,' he found 'impossible.' (45)

It is plausible that Frost's performing style, and her efforts to transfer her secular cultural authority into the church may have been at the heart of the problem. Within the confines of the church, the influence of romantic individualism on Frost's expression, her modern orchestral selections and virtuoso techniques challenged the primacy of the choral tradition in church functions, and of course the sacredness of the musical component of congregational worship. For instance, Gooud first reported a disagreement with Frost over the order of the programme for the Good Friday sacred concert in April 1904. Preferring not to upset Frost, the diaconate kept her out of the discussions and resolved that they could not authorise Gooud to 'dictate the details of organ manipulation by Miss Frost.' (46) In 1904, 1911, and 1913, Frost's conflicts with choirmasters respectively concerned the organist's physical location during the service, the proportion of the program devoted to organ-music, and attempts to change the order of service to focus more exclusively on congregational singing. On the first count, the secretary of the diaconate recorded in the minutes that he felt Frost 'entirely in the wrong,' before being forced to delete the comment. (47) Strong feeling was expressed in Frost's favour during the 1911 and 1913 disputes with choirmaster Samuel Kenny. (48)

Perhaps the conflict surrounding the respective views of Frost and Kenny was symptomatic of an emerging concern within Christian and musical communities over the quality and function of church and organ music. Two theories of sacredness current at the time alternately linked sacredness to religious community function and individual responsiveness. (49) Choirmaster Kenny clearly advocated the former view, seeking to implement a stricter approach to the use of music in services, and arguing that organ music distracted from the atmosphere of worship. (50) But church music was increasingly felt to be uninspiring and often poorly executed. Following World War Two, a wider re-evaluation took place. In 1922 a committee was established in England to evaluate 'the place of Music in the worship of the Church.' The Anglican Church of Australia launched a similar inquiry in 1932, (51) just as secular journals more directly entered into the discourse, clearly with more concern for the quality of music, then devotional effect. (52) Music in Australia (perhaps unfairly) distinguished between 'gifted city professional[s]' and their far from 'extraordinary' rural or suburban counterparts. It criticised the 'hideous hymnody thrust on [Protestant Churches] in the Victorian era' that they continued to play, expressing great concern for its impact on the congregation's musical taste. (53) Potentially, this interrogation of the role of music within church worship also intersected with concern regarding the decline in Congregational Church attendance in the first decade of the twentieth century, (54) and the new theology beginning to make an appearance in the Australian Congregational Church. There was a push for a church that was less doctrinal and severe, more humanitarian and personal. Frost's clash with a series of choirmasters in the early part of the twentieth century may thus be viewed as an expression of the PSCC's early anxiety-inducing encounters with the forces of modernity, replete with both ambiguous and strident reactionism.

In time these forces may have been harder to resist. At the time, Frost, as the conduit for cultural traffic, also appeared as a force of modernity herself: she came into the church with an air of professional assurance and independence that challenged notions of womanhood currently held even within the more progressive Congregational Church. Was she the good Congregational girl grown up, or that sinister creature, the new woman? Part of the problem, it seems, was not that Frost introduced new and challenging ideas regarding the role of music, particularly organ music, into the church and that this tied into denominational Christian anxieties regarding declining numbers, but that she introduced such ideas with an air of cultural authority. The local and national, and portions of the international world of music seemed ready to applaud Frost for her talent and leadership, but this did not translate into ready exercise of musical authority within the church. Choirmasters consistently and naturally assumed their authority in the musical affairs of the church and expected Frost's compliance to their direction. Guides to church music directorships presented organ playing as peripheral to the management of the musical affairs of the church. (55) When Gooud first reported a disagreement with Frost in 1904, the diaconate felt it necessary to assure him of their confidence in him, as well as their recognition of him as 'head of musical authority.' (56)

There was another aspect to the perception of Frost's work as an organ player being peripheral to the musical affairs of the church; it capped her earnings at a minimal amount. Further, it seemed that, as a 'handmaid' rendering service to the church, Frost could not secure remuneration appropriate to her qualifications as a professional musician, or for additional work that she performed for the church. When she returned to her post in 1912 after extended travels to France and England, Frost immediately requested a salary increase, and that the church pass on to her fees paid to the church for organ music at weddings conducted therein, a standard practice in most churches. At the same time, she also proposed to hold weekly mid-day recitals. (57) Agreeing with her on the point concerning fees for weddings, and with the idea of weekly recitals, the PSCC diaconate stipulated that she could take a collection at the recitals and retain the proceeds remaining after the payment of expenses. (58) The first four recitals, held in June 1913 were watched with interest and proved successful. No formal salary increase, however, was forthcoming. When, during the war, the diaconate could no longer afford to retain a choirmaster Frost took on additional duties, but without an increase in her executive powers, her musical freedom, or her salary. Repeatedly applying to the diaconate for permission to hold incidental recitals, for approval of recital programs, for reimbursement of expenses paid towards choir activities, and for anything out of the usual routine, proved a tedious business. Requests made by Frost since 1913 for a paid singer to lead the choir--'I should be glad to organise a special effort with the choir to help with the financial part' (59)--finally met diaconate approval in 1920, while Frost's requests for a salary increase eventually met success in 1921. It constituted her first pay rise since the financially beleaguered PSCC had asked her to accept a cut in 1906. On that occasion, the diaconate had reduced her salary by 20 [pounds sterling] to 50 [pounds sterling]. Fifteen years later, after repeated entreaties by Frost who explained that amateur organists received the same amount, while she had done all that she could 'from a professional point to make [her] work a success,' they agreed to raise her salary to the rate of 72 [pounds sterling]. (60)

It appears that, although conscious that Frost possessed a talent that exceeded standards set by most church organists, and that she could potentially fill a fundamental need to improve the quality and attractiveness of church services, the diaconate still saw Frost's role as subsidiary. Devout nonconformist women, as Clyde Binfield and Linda Wilson have argued, could not extend their 'spiritual guardian[ship]' into a fully public or authoritative role as it contravened the conventional notion of primarily domestic feminine duty. (61) Lingering assumptions of this kind no doubt affected the PSCC diaconate's approach to the administration of Frost's work. She could enhance church life with her music and, like the proverbial 'angel in the house,' cheer, nurture, and cultivate the spirits of her fellow worshippers, patiently enduring her own difficulties without complaint, but she could not act with authority or even receive the salary of a professional. Yet the democratic impetus of the nonconformist churches and the particular openness of the Congregational Church to the educational, professional and leadership aspirations of its female members has been noted by a number of religious historians. And the new theology seems to have eventually had some impact in relation to the possibility of women's agency within the church. A Congregationalist from Adelaide, Winifred Kiek, in 1927 became the first woman ordained in Australia, while another, Margaret Holmes, whose prolonged work from 1923 for the Student Christian Movement itself was notable, contributed through it to the ecumenical movement. (62) Congregational women were educated and aware of their changing role in society. Even the Woollahra Congregational Church Women's Guild held a 'women's rally' in 1921 and fielded comments concerning women and public responsibility at its annual meeting in 1922. (63) For the first quarter of the twentieth century, however, the spectre of a new woman asserting her cultural authority caused consternation for many a choirmaster assuming his musical authority, while the diaconate failed to financially acknowledge Frost's professional worth due to the church's own masculinist inflection of the Australian notion of the family wage.

Nearly thirty years after Lilian Frost first assumed her post as organist at the Pitt Street Congregational Church she was suddenly freed from the limitations that a cautious and ambivalent diaconate and succession of choirmasters had placed on her. This ironically occurred when her secular work was reframed in terms of its benefit for the church. In June 1925, the Reverend T.E. Ruth arrived at Pitt Street Congregational Church as its new Pastor. He set to work immediately on a host of problems, material and other, afflicting the church. He also founded a newsletter, the Pitt Street Church News (News). Through the News, Ruth reported to his congregation on the progress of an appeal for funds to perform much-needed repairs on the church building. He also remarked on Frost's abilities. That, of course, was not unusual. However, he referred to them in terms of their sacred function: her playing conveyed 'spiritual significance'; in her hands the organ was 'an instrument of worship.' (64) Her music 'freely offer[ed] on the altar of public service' was 'instinct with spiritual genius,' but this genius emerged because of Frost's very personal involvement with her music. In growing up with the organ, she had 'made a comrade, a companion, a confidant of it.' 'She knows it intimately,' he continued, '[s]he loves it. Sometimes I think the organ knows her and loves her. It will certainly do more for her than for anybody else.' (65) And again, '[s]he knows how to make the organ, a living, speaking thing--a thing of spirit and life, an actual instrument of One Whose "voice is as the sound of many waters".' (66) Thus Ruth affirmed that, in Frost's hands music was indeed a tool to spiritual upliftment and inspiration, applying a second, more contemporary interpretation of sacred music. Frost's music, replete as it was with individualisms, influenced as it was by developments in the secular world, performed as it often was for the benefit of the secular world, was presented as an act of worship, one that could evoke a spiritual reaction within and without the church. Her music, because she played it, was sacred. Yet her genius was not a freak of nature. Frost's relationship with the organ was womanly; she used to speak of the organ as a temperamental child. (67) Whether the organ was seen as a child, a lover, or friend, Frost nurtured and trained it to offer up its best and holiest qualities. No longer that almost androgynous and suspect creature, the single independent woman, Frost gained a new premise for respectability. The tension implicit in reportage on Frost over the years had disappeared.

When yet another Choirmaster resigned in 1925, an idea mooted but rejected previously took hold. Lilian Frost was named Musical Director, her salary increased accordingly, and a greater degree of musical autonomy was finally realised. An unspoken policy also appears to have evolved, providing for Frost to obtain approval and guidance direct from Ruth, rather than through the diaconate. In 1926, for the first time, Frost was granted leave with full pay. (68) Perhaps more importantly in terms of understanding the authority that had been denied her, her work was declared a 'Ministry of Music'. Recognition of Frost's ministry meant that whereas before she acted as an individual participant in the musical life of the city, she now played for the church to the people of Sydney; she preached the Gospel through her music. Over the years, people wandered in off the street, attracted by her musical ministrations. She held weekly lunchtime recitals for years, drawing the secular world into her sacred one. When the PSCC began to broadcast its Sunday services on 12 July 1925 on 2FC, she reached thousands of listeners who in turn expressed their appreciation of the musical component of the program in writing. In 1932, the philanthropist Frederick Harold Stewart, M.P. (later Sir) founded 2CH, thus providing the Council of Churches with twenty hours of airtime a week. Having accepted its share, PSCC hosted the 'United Opening Service' broadcast on 15 February 1932. (69) The venture extended the ministries of both Ruth and Frost far beyond the walls of the church. Sydney Congregationalists living in England reported that on Saturday evening, their time, they had heard Frost playing at the Sunday service in Sydney. The broadcasts also blurred the boundaries between sacred and secular music, by airing music accepted as an aid to worship, into otherwise secular contexts. The forces of modernity now worked to bring recognition of both Frost's cultural and religious authority.

Further, Frost's style and personal musical preferences had particular relevance to both Ruth and the period in which this transformation of her circumstances occurred. In the context of the cultural anxieties leading to the launch of the Music Week movement, and strenuous efforts to found a Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Frost's predilection for the romantic-inspired French Symphony tradition in organ music, many hoped, might have a positive impact on the musical tastes of the public. Just as F.R. Leavis began to articulate cultural nostalgia as a cure-all, Ruth further helped to reinvent Frost's virtuosity in a series of indulgent entertainments in the 1930s. A series of services and concerts were held in 1933 to mark the centenary of the founding of the PSCC. Subsequent PSCC anniversaries, beginning with its 101st in 1934, featured Lecture-Recitals arranged by Ruth and Frost. These successful and imaginative events centred on English poets, primarily of the Victorian era. The first, entitled 'A Great Englishman of 101 Years Ago--Lord Alfred Tennyson, Poet, Philosopher, Patriot' set the tone. The next year featured Browning, the following year 'The Sons and Songs of Devon,' then 'People and Places of the West Country,' and 'The Sons and Songs of Dorset--Who's A-Fear'd?' (70) Ruth spoke imaginatively about the subjects, while Frost arranged vocal and instrumental musical illustrations. Following the first of such events, the Congregationalist exclaimed, 'What a night! A veritable literary feast, musical treat, and inspiration to faith plus service.' Tellingly, it also pictured both Ruth and Frost, referring to them as, 'the perfect pair of artists in the power of music and literature.' (71) This final phrase was loaded with both sacred and secular meaning. Here the arts were used as an antidote to the impact of the modern on contemporary tastes and religious observance.

As the years rolled on, Frost's service approached marathon proportions. She celebrated her 1000th weekly recital on 13 November 1940, with telegrams and messages of congratulation from political, cultural and civic leaders across Sydney and Tasmania, and musicians from abroad. (72) Dr Edgar Ford, the English organist, composer, and examiner for Trinity Music College, London, wrote a special fantasia in honour of the occasion. (73) The Jubilee anniversary of Lilian Frost's ministry at Pitt Street Congregational Church, which occurred in September 1945, brought further congratulation. Students, church members, senior musical figures, musicians of national and international repute, radio listeners and music-lovers in Sydney and Launceston combined in honouring Frost through a 'Festival of Music' initiated by the church. (74) Critics thought seriously about her service to music. Contrasting the presumed functional role of most church musicians, whom, it was thought, played as if 'pitted against the high musical standards of concert goers,' Frost offered a different standard of sacred music, as well as emotive, even spiritual or sacred interpretations of organ music to secular audiences in concert halls. She formed a link with a mystical past when high music reigned supreme with little threat from technology, mediocrity or apathy. Lilian Frost was 'of today as well as that half-century ago, when the Philharmonic shone in its glory; when Hazon was Czar of local music and those two giants, Weigand and the Town Hall organ, were associated.' (75) It is not surprising that, in the immediate wake of World War Two, Frost served as a symbolic link between the cultural past and present, and religious and secular worlds. She enacted the type of aesthetic reactionism to the forces of modernity that looked to the past for inspiration and solace. Yet, for half a century, as a cultural authority and a single, professional woman, she had acted as a trafficker of the gendered and cultural modernities that played a large part in challenging and transforming the old religious and cultural worlds.


(1) Robert Dixon and Veronica Kelly, 'Australian Vernacular Modernities: People, Sites and Practices', Impact of the Modern: Vernacular Modernities in Australia 1870s-1960s. Ed. Robert Dixon and Veronica Kelly, Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2008, xv.

(2) Peter Beilharz, 'Two New Britannias--Modernism and Modernity Across the Antipodes', Antipodean Modern: ACH 25 (2006): 145.

(3) Beilharz 'Two New Britannias', 151.

(4) Beilharz, 'Two New Britannias', 156.

(5) Graeme D. Rushworth, Historic Organs of New South Wales. The Instruments, Their Makers and Players, Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1988, 384-86. See also 'Frost, Lilian', obituary, Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) 30 Dec 1953.

(6) 'Christ Church Choir Concert', Examiner 7 May 1887, in Lilian Frost, scrapbook, Pitt Street Congregational Church Records, ML MSS 2093, 57, 3; '1000 Hours at an Organ', no source cited, in Frost, scrapbook, 152; and Rushworth, Historic Organs.

(7) Rushworth, Historic Organs, 384; and cuttings in Frost, scrapbook, 10-13.

(8) No title cited, Examiner, 21 June 1888, in Frost, scrapbook, 5; and 'Concert at Christ Church', Examiner, 27/12/90, in Frost scrapbook, 9.

(9) 'Concert at Christ Church', Examiner 6 April 1892, in Frost, scrapbook, 13.

(10) 'Sacred Concert', in Daily Telegraph 17 Feb 1893, in Frost, scrapbook, 17.

(11) Frost's impact on the town's musical taste is suggested by one journalistic report that tradesmen and professionals alike could be heard whistling snatches of symphonies and overtures recently played by Frost, or discussing the merits of her favourite pieces Zampa and Semiramide. See 'Music at the Exhibition', Examiner 6 Feb 1892, in Frost, scrapbook, 13.

(12) For years, in fact decades, proud Tasmanians repeated amongst themselves and to visitors from mainland Australia and abroad variations of Jude's praise, taking it as a compliment to their colony as well.

(13) See cuttings, Frost, scrapbook, 18-19.

(14) 'Kowalski-Poussard Company. Sacred Concert at Albert Hall', Daily Telegraph 14 Jan 1895, in Frost, scrapbook, 38.

(15) 'Amusements. Miss Frost's Recital Concert', Daily Telegraph 17 July 1895, in Frost, scrapbook, 47.

(16) Rushworth, Historic Organs, 386. See also assorted cuttings, Frost, Scrapbook, 68-71.

(17) Assorted cuttings, Frost scrapbook, 68-71, 75-86, 98; and Rushworth, Historic Organs, 385. A similar distinction was accorded her at a dinner for Alfred Hollins the following year.

(18) Lilian Frost to Mr Cuthbertson (PSCC Hon. Sec.) 10 June 1912, in 'PSCC Correspondence, General, 1912-1921', PSCC Records 43, 29; Rushworth, Historic Organs, 386; and 'Well-Known Organist Dies', in Examiner (Launceston), 23 Dec 1953, cutting from Launceston Reference Library.

(19) 'Miss Lilian Frost at Wallasey: Memorable Recital on Town Hall Organ', from Liverpool Daily Post, quoted in Pitt Street Congregational News 13, Summer 1927-8, in 'Printed Material', PSCC Records 70, Item 4, 4; 'A Famous Woman Organist', quoted from London Christian World, in Congregationalist XX, n.1, 10 Jan 1928, 3; and 'Music of the Month' in Society 1 Oct 25, 32.

(20) 'Revival in Organ Music: Dupre the Master Praises Women Players', Daily Telegraph 17 July 1939, 8; and Robina Dallen, 'Report of the Pitt Street Congregational Church Choir', 23 August 1928, PSCC Records 16, item 8, 33.

(21) See E. Alan Meece, 'Louis Vierne (1870-1937): The Man and his Music. The Organ, Yesterday and Today',; Jonathan Gradin, 'The Popular Organist: A Brief Overview of the Life and Legacy of Edwin H. Lemare',; and Daniel Michael Dries, 'Marcel Dupre--the culmination of the French Symphonic Organ Tradition', Doctor of Creative Arts Thesis 2005, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong.

(22) 'Sydney Workers like Bach: Nine Hundred Mid-day Recitals', cutting, source not cited, Frost, scrapbook, 152; 'Mid-day Organ Recitals' in Harmony 3.27, 25 March 1936, 7; and '1000 Hours at an Organ', cutting, no source cited, in Frost, scrapbook, 152.

(23) For example, see assorted cuttings, letters and notes in Frost scrapbook; articles in Australian Musical News XI n.5, 1 Dec 1921, 216 and XII n.8, 1 Mar 1923, 287; Sydney Morning Herald 8 Dec 1924, 6 and 10 Dec 1924, 12; Daily Telegraph 17 July 1939, 8; Minutes 20 Dec 1926 and 18 Nov 1929, Minute Book 13 Nov 1922--21 March 1932, PSCC Records; and 'In Memoriam. Lilian Frost', in Congregational Union and Home Mission Board of NSW, The Congregationalist Feb 1954, 3.

(24) 'Pulpit notice. Congregational Union of New South Wales. Young People's Department', 13 Oct 1925, PSCC Records 45, 13.

(25) 'Miss Lilian Frost's Farewell', SMH 28 April 1927, 12.

(26) 'A Charming Composition', Harmony 3.29, 25 May 1936, 35.

(27) See Andrew McCredie, 'Paling, William Henry', in ADB 5, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1974, 389-90.

(28) Eve Keanes, Music for a Hundred Years: The Story of the House of Paling, Sydney: Ziegler, 1954, 53.

(29) Joseph Kretschmann, 'Autobiographical Sketch', in J. Wren Sutton, 'The Joseph Kretschmann Club', unpublished typescript booklet, Sydney, 1938, n.p.; Sutton, 'Kretschmann. The Man' in 'The Joseph Kretschmann Club, 9; and 'Herr Josef Kretschmann and the Music Club Honouring His Name', Harmony 17 April 1934, 16-18.

(30) 'One Thousand Recitals. Miss Frost's Fine Record' cutting, source not cited, in Frost, scrapbook, 152.

(31) George A. Taylor, 'Those Were the Days' Being Reminiscences of Australian Artists and Writers, Sydney: Tyrrell's Limited, 1918, 61.

(32) Lawrence Campbell, 'The Spoken Word--the Art of Speaking Effectively' in Blennerhassett's Commercial Educational Society of Australia, Sydney, 'Business Lectures for Business Men,' 1940 Session, Lectures 5 & 6, 33, 41.

(33) Keanes, Palings, 53-55.

(34) 'Sanity in Art. Esther Kahn. Her Story and Career', AMN, 1 May 1923, 351.

(35) Banks, W.J. (compiler), The Australian Musical Album, Sydney: W.J. Banks, 1894.

(36) 'Sanity in Art. Esther Kahn.'

(37) Esther Kahn, 'Musical Therapeutics. A Science of Sounds', AMN XVII, n.2, 1 Sept 1927, 49; and 'Musical Therapeutics. The International Society', AMN XXVII, n.7, 1 Feb 1928, 29.

(38) The Musical Association of NSW, Annual Report of the Association, 1938- 39 and Registrar of Teachers Recognised by the Musical Association of NSW, Sydney: Musical Association of NSW, 1939.

(39) Geitenbeek, 'The Role of Women in the AMEB'.

(40) 'A Chat with Madame Emily Marks', Society 2.2, 1 Feb 1923, 33.

(41) 'Music Industry Advancement Society', Music in Australia IV, n.1, 20 May 1929, 34.

(42) 'School Music' in Music in Australia IV, n.12, 20 June 1929, 3.

(43) F.W. Gravely, untitled paper, recollections about the PSCC choir pre-1900, in 'Miscellanea, Extracts from Minutes, Reports, etc, 1837-1969', PSCC Records 54, 263.

(44) Andrew Fairfax, 'Pitt Street Choir-A Retrospect', typed transcript, published posthumously in The Watchman 4 Ap 1896, PSCC Records 54; and 'Recent Developments -By a present member 4 April 1896', typed transcript for The Watchman, in PSCC Records 54, 273.

(45) Clement Hosking to Cuthbertson, 16 Oct 1925 'PSCC Correspondence, General, 1925-1827', PSCC Records 45, 37; and assorted minutes 1913-25, PSCC Records 5-6.

(46) See 'Minutes of the Deacons (MODM), May 2 1898--Aug 31 1903,' PSCC Records 3, 104-118; and Minutes of Church Meeting 1903, 'Church Book, May 1898-Nov 1922', PSCC Records 13, 125; Mr Roseby to Gooud, 5 Aug 1904, PSCC Records 48, 443. See also MODM 3 Aug 1904, PSCC Records 4, 78-82, which includes 5 resolutions concerning the choirmaster's position of authority, but stipulated that Frost was not to be informed, and MODM, 31 Aug 1904, PSCC Records 4, 92.

(47) MODM, 28 Mar 1904, PSCC Records 4, 44; and minutes for 1911-1913 for details of other ongoing disputes, PSCC Records 5.

(48) Samuel Kenny to Mr Cuthbertson (secretary of the diaconate) 25 Feb 1913, in 'Correspondence, General, 1912-1921', PSCC Records 43, 105-09.

(49) Eric J. Sharpe, 'Sacred Music and the Sacredness of Music', Australian Religion Studies Review 3.1 (1990): 23.

(50) MODM, Mar, May and June 1911, PSCC Records 5, 16-29.

(51) H.P. Finnis, letter to the editor, AMN XXIV, n.12, July 1934, 33.

(52) R.D.S., 'Church Music' [Brisbane], AMN XXIV, n.11, 25.

(53) See Dr Keith Barry, 'Hymn-Playing', and 'Organ Voluntary', in Music in Australia, 4-5; 'Gossip of the Month' 5.1 20 July 1929, 15; 'Topics of the Day', 5.12, 25 June 1930, 5; and 'Church Music', Music in Australia 6.9, 20 Mar 1931, 5.

(54) Hugh Jackson, 'Religious Ideas and Practice in Australian Congregationalism 1870-1930', Part II, 441, 443.

(55) Kenneth W. Osbeck, The Ministry of Music, Michigan: Knebel Publications, 1985.

(56) Mr Roseby to Gooud, 5 Aug 1904, PSCC Records 48, 443.

(57) 'Sydney Workers like Bach: Nine Hundred Mid-day Recitals', cutting, source not cited [1938], Frost, scrapbook, 152; and 'Miss Lilian Frost. Mid-day Recitals, 1913-34' Harmony 1.5, 17 Mar 1934, 30.

(58) MODM, 30 Ap 1913, PSCC Records 5, 73.

(59) Lilian Frost to Mr Cuthbertson, 2 Aug 1916, PSCC Records 43, 319.

(60) Frost to Cuthbertson, 1 June 1921, PSCC Records 44, 15; and MODM 1 June 1921, PSCC Records 5, 249.

(61) Linda Wilson discusses, for example, women whose earnest commitment to the church aroused a desire to preach or minister to the church, but who, due to concern about the woman's responsibility to home and family, were not permitted to occupy governing or ministering positions. "Constrained By Zeal': Women in Mid-Nineteenth Century Nonconformist Churches', Journal of Religious History 23.2 (1999): 201. See also Clyde Binfield, Belmont's Portias: Victorian Nonconformists and Middle-class Education for Girls, Leicester: Friends of Dr Williams' Library (1981), 9.

(62) Anne O'Brien, 'Sins of Omission? Women in the History of Australian Religion and Religion in the History of Australian Women. A Reply to Roger Thompson', Australian Historical Studies 28.108 (1997): 131; Janet West, Daughters of Freedom: A History of Women in the Australian Church, Sydney: Albatross Books, 1997, 320-8; Frank Engel, Australian Christians in Conflict and Unity, Melbourne: Joint Board of Christian Education, 1984, 140; Rosalie McCutcheon, 'Margaret Holmes: Larger than the Roles She Played', ed. Sabine Willis, Women, Faith and Fetes: Essays in the History of Women and the Church in Australia, Melbourne: Dove Communications, 1977, 94-116; and Hilary Carey, Believing in Australia: A Cultural History of Religions, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1996, 134. Julia Pitman, 'Prophets and Priests: Congregational Women in Australia', 1919-1977, PhD Thesis, University of Adelaide, 2005.

(63) See 'Women's Department--minutes of the Women's Guild', in Woollahra Congregational Church Papers, ML MSS 2704 13-15.

(64) 'The Artist at the Organ', Pitt Street Congregational News 3 (Aug 1925): 3.

(65) 'The 500th Organ Recital', News 10, (Aug 1926): back page.

(66) 'After Thirty Years', News 5, (Oct-Nov 1925): 3.

(67) 'Miss Frost's 900th Recital', News Winter Number (July 1938): 6.

(68) MODM, Oct, Nov 1925, Nov, Dec 1926, PSCC Records 6, 98-102,134-136.

(69) 'The Broadcasted Service', Congregationalist, XVII, n.4, 10 May 1925, 1; Robina Dallen, 'PSCC Choir Report', 25 Nov 1926, PSCC Records 16, item 8, 25; 'News and Personal', 6, 10 July 1925, 3; Rev. A.E. West, 'Shall We Broadcast Our Message', Congregationalist XXV, n.2, 11 Feb 1932, 7; and 'United Opening Service' 3, 4 Mar 1932, 5. See also C.J. Lloyd, 'Stewart, Sir Frederick Harold', ADB 12, Melbourne: MUP, 1990, 87-89.

(70) Programs in "Programmes and Service Sheets of the PSCC, 1858-1971', PSCC records 70, item 3.

(71) 'Mr Ruth Starts a Second Century' Congregationalist XXVIII, n.5, 10 May 1934, 10.

(72) 'Miss Frost's 1000th Recital' in Congregationalist XXIX [the volumes are misnumbered, and this should be v.XXXIII], n.12, 1 Dec 1940, 5.

(73) '1000 Hours at an Organ', cutting, source not cited; 'Miss Frost's 1000th Recital'; and 'One Thousand Recitals. Miss Frost's Fine Record', cutting, source not cited, in Frost, Scrapbook, 152.

(74) At a special service on 30 September, featuring a united Rockdale, Cathedral and PSCC choir, the congregation offered Frost a generous gift of 500 [pounds sterling]. Unfortunately a large proportion of this was lost in tax. MODM, 15 May 1945, PSCC Records 7, 325; MOCM 1945-1946, PSCC Records 14, 328-333; and 'The Lilian Frost Jubilee Celebration', insert in PSCC Service Sheet, 'Celebration Services for the Lilian Frost Jubilee (organist since 1895)', 30 Sept 1945, PSCC Records 70; 'Lilian Frost Jubilee Concert', source not cited, cutting in Betty Marie White, 'Scrapbooks of Newspaper Cuttings 1945-1950', ML F780.8/1, 2, 115; 'Pitt Street', Congregationalist XXXIII [XXXVII], n.11, Nov-Dec 1945, 12; 'Tribute Paid to Organist', source not cited; Invitation, 'An Evening at the Lyceum Club' 4 Sept 1945, RSVP Joyce McMillan; and 'Lilian Frost's 50 Years at the Organ', source not cited, all cuttings in Frost, scrapbook, 153.

(75) 'Lilian Frost's 50 Years at the Organ', source not cited, cutting in Frost, scrapbook, 153; and A.L.K., 'Veteran Organist's Jubilee. Sydney Honours Lilian Frost', AMN, XXXVI, n.6, Dec 1945, 23.
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