Carols choir stalwart Peter Casey steps aside after 30 years of service

20 December 2018

This year's Vision Australia's Carols by Candlelight will be the last one for the choir's co-artistic director and conductor, Peter Casey, who is retiring.

We at Vision Australia thank Peter for his generosity and dedicated service to Carols by Candlelight each year since 1988.

Come and see Peter conduct the National Boys Choir for the final time at Carols by Candlelight. Last tickets are available via the Ticketmaster website here.

Peter Casey has no firm plans for Christmas Eve 2019 after 30 years at the heart of Vision Australia’s Carols by Candlelight.

But Peter, who is retiring as conductor and co-artistic director of the National Boys Choir, is certain he’ll be watching.

The National Boys Choir joined Carols by Candlelight for the first time in 1988.

National Boys Choir co-artistic director, wearig a black dinner suit, holds a battery-powered candle with a Christmas tree and cellophane-wrapped gift baskets in the background.

The choir has been a constant in Peter’s life. His father Kevin established the choir in 1964. Peter joined as a singer in 1967 and became artistic director in 1987.

After 51 years’ involvement with the choir, Peter is stepping away early next year as his wife, Kathleen, battles Huntington’s disease, a degenerative brain condition.

“She has been battling that for about 15 years and it’s just got to the point that my energy needs to be concentrated on her,” Peter said.“I have very mixed emotions. I started singing with the choir when I was seven and I have been involved in every major performance as a performer, or staff member, or director since then.

“It will be quite a wrench given that the family started the organisation, but there are more important things to do at the moment.”
Carols first touched the Casey family in 1982, when Peter’s younger brother Richard was selected to sing with performer Robert Colman.

“I remember vividly sitting in the audience for the first time,” he remembered. “I was blown away by the atmosphere around us.”

Six years later, and a year after his father handed artistic directorship to him, Peter led the National Boys Choir onto the Carols stage for the first time.

“There have been many great times that we have sung with tremendous artists and backed them,” Peter said.

“The other obvious outstanding memory for me was when my own son Simon opened Carols in 2012 with one of the members of the Australian Girls Choir. They did O Come All Ye Faithful, and that was special because I was directing and he was up there singing.”

O Come All Ye Faithful is Peter’s stand-out favourite Christmas carol. “It is really hard to beat when you have the orchestra going, and the big choir comes in over the top with those big descants. It makes your hair stand up on end. It’s just so inspiring,” he said.

“I’m not a big fan of what I would call the twee American songs. Things like Here Comes Santa Claus don’t do much for me, unfortunately. Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – they’re fine. They’re a bit of fun and kids really enjoy them, but I think you can go too far with the twee, cutesy, over-the-top Christmas songs.”

Peter said Carols by Candlelight and the choir’s many other performances have led to other incredible opportunities, including the choir’s role in a series of iconic Qantas I Still Call Australia Home TV commercials.

“The then-CEO of Qantas, Geoff Dixon, saw the boys on Carols on Christmas Eve in 1996 and left a message on our office phone on Boxing Day,” he said.

“He was inspired by our look on Carols, and so started the most highly acclaimed Australian commercial of all time.”

Peter said he loves fostering the talent of young singers, many of whom have gone on to professional careers in music.

“There is a joyful feeling in seeing a young lad join the choir quietly, and six years later he’s got lots of self-confidence and experience from all sorts of activities, and off he goes into the world,” he said.

The greatest change Peter has seen in 30 years with Carols by Candlelight has been the growth of rehearsals from a private affair for the friends and families of performers to a public event that allows families to enjoy Carols in a less formal way.

Another aspect that has grown over the years is the feeling of family that’s shared by the performers and the support crew.

“I think now when you’ve got people like Silvie Paladino, Denis Walter, David Hobson and Marina Prior being quite regular over a long time, it has become much more of a sense of family. Saying hi, giving each other a wave, it’s become much more of a family,” Peter said.

While reluctant to name a favourite, Peter spoke warmly of Denis Walter and Silvie Paladino.

“The choir first performed with Denis Walter on Young Talent Time. That’s how far back our links with Denis go. It’s always special to see him because the links go so far back,” he said.

“And it’s always great to sing with Silvie. She’s a beautiful singer and very sincere in the way she performs. It’s always a joy to perform with her.”

There are many things Peter says he’ll miss about being away from Carols by Candlelight for the first time – the thrill of performing at such a high level with some of the nation’s best singers, even the exuberant bus ride home with the choir boys as they countdown to midnight and celebrate the arrival of Christmas Day.

“Perhaps the most special moment is the very end, the finale. The pressure is off. We’re all out there and able to look at that sea of candles in the audience. You really feel that joy that’s coming towards you.”

Peter said he’s unsure what his Christmas Eve will look like in 2019, but it’s sure to include Carols.

“I’m sure I’ll be watching in some way, whether it’s on the television or live. Vision Australia has been kind enough to say they’d love me there as a guest next year so that I can see it from the other side of the fence. That would be lovely,” he said.

“On the other hand, I’ve spent more than half my life’s Christmas Eves at Carols, and maybe I’d like to just watch it with the family while wrapping presents like many other people do and just experience what it’s like not to be there on Christmas Eve.”