Alan George Thrift

1930 - 2016  

Alan Thrift was Senior Lecturer, choir director, and chair of the music department at Avondale College in Australia for 34 years, a record in music department leadership at Seventh-day Adventist schools. He started teaching at Australasian Missionary College, now AC, in 1957; and although he retired in 1990, returned to conduct the Avondale Singers again for seven years, from 1998 to 2004.

Thrift was born in Quirindi, New South Wales, Australia on June 14, 1932. He entered AMC in 1946 and completed an A.Mus.A in 1947 and a Mus.Dip. in 1951. While attending AMC, he met and married Yvonne Zanotti, a singer and pianist, who had been born in Tasmania, an Australian island state off the southern coast of the mainland. He then continued his education, receiving a Trained Primary Teacher Certificate at Melbourne Teacher's College in 1952, and a Singing Teacher Primary Certificate from the Victorian Education Department in 1953.

In 1954 Thrift started his conducting career as an employee of the music branch in the Victoria Education Department. He distinguished himself during that first teaching experience when he prepared and led 1200 children in a performance for the Governor General when he visited Ballarat, Victoria, that year. He then served as Music Director of the Western Australian Seventh-day Adventist Conference in 1955 and 1956.

Thrift, who while still a student had assisted with piano lessons and sung in George Greer's choir at AMC, was invited to lead the music department at AMC, teach piano and music subjects, and direct the Symphonic Choir, beginning in 1957. He and his wife would teach at the college for the next four decades.

Within a year of his arrival at the school as Music Director and teacher, he conducted the AMC choir in the first telecast of a choral program in Sydney. It would be the first of several telecasts of his choral programs over the years by the Australian Broadcasting Company.

Thrift continued and built on the tradition of choral excellence and touring at AMC that had started with Greer in the previous decade. In his years at the college, he would take acclaimed tours with its choral groups throughout Australia and to New Zealand and the United States. Two tours were taken to the U.S., in 1983 and 1990; the latter included performances from coast to coast, in nine states, and an appearance at the General Conference Session in Indianapolis, Indiana.

During his 41 years at the college, Thrift moved from performing only sacred choral music to including secular music. Beginning in the 1960s, he formed a smaller group from within the choir that performed madrigals and other secular works. This change was more fully implemented with the full group in the next decade, in part because of the experience he had when attending Andrews University in the U.S. from 1969 to 1971. In those two years, while completing both a B.Mus. and an M.Mus., Thrift immersed himself in the AU choral program, directing The Good News Singers, a male chorus, and serving as the accompanist for the University Singers, the select choir, in his final year.

Inspired by this experience, upon returning home he changed the name of the Avondale Symphonic Choir to the Avondale Singers, reduced its size to facilitate travel arrangements, and started programming both sacred and secular music. This renamed ensemble took its first tour, to Tasmania, in September 1972.

Thrift and his choirs worked closely with David Clark, an organist who had started teaching at AC in 1969 when Thrift was in the U.S. After Thrift's return, Clark traveled with the choir, accompanying and playing as a soloist. They toured throughout Australia and internationally until Thrift retired for the first time in 1990.

When Thrift returned to direct the choir in 1998, they again worked together before he fully retired, along with Clark, in 2004. Both men had been honored at the time of the school's centennial in 1997 with centenary gold medals for their service in music. 

During their final year at AC, they toured to New Zealand with the Singers and a chamber orchestra conducted by Clark. Both men were honored for their service during a farewell concert presented by these groups during the 2004 graduation weekend.

In 1976 the Avondale College yearbook, Jacaranda, was dedicated to both Thrift and his wife, Yvonne. They were praised for their ministry through music as well as their leadership, friendliness, and untiring devotion. He became Senior Lecturer at AC in 1977 and Senior Lecturer II in 1983.  Avondale Alumni named Thrift its Alumnus of the Year in 2011 and in 2015 he was honored with the title Master of the College.

While still teaching at AC, Thrift founded the Lake Macquairie City Ladies Choir in 1981, a group he conducted until 2009. At the time of his first retirement in 1990, he was invited to become Musical Director of the Sydney Male Choir, a noted ensemble with an extensive and varied repertoire that was founded in 1913. The SMC, now a group of over seventy members, under his direction performed before enthusiastic audiences in Australia and toured with acclaim to New Zealand in 1992 and England, Ireland, and Wales in 1998.

In 2005 they took a highly praised tour to Tasmania, singing before sold-out crowds. After retiring from this position in 2010 following leading the choir for twenty years, Thrift continued in an advisory capacity as emeritus conductor.

Following the death of his wife, Yvonne, in 1996, Alan assumed direction of the Avondale Memorial Church Choir, which she had started five years earlier. He assumed leadership of the choir and directed it until shortly before his death twenty years later.

He was living in Morisset, when he died on November 11, 2016, at age 86. A week later an overflow crowd attended his memorial service at Avondale College.

He was praised  for his ability to produce highly accomplished performances of a broad reange of music and for the mentoring of musicians who have achieved at a significant level. James Bingham, Music Department Chair and Director of Choirs at Washington Adventist University and a member of Thrift's choir, observed in a recorded tribute that "Alan changed the direction of my life. While his music was great, his friendship was even greater."


Sources: Robb Dennis Interview with Thrift, October 2007; Avondale; Experiment on the Dory, Milton Hook, 1998, pgs. 206, 233, 234, 262, 316; Resume (2008); 1976 Avondale College yearbook, Jacaranda dedication; Biography at Sydney Male Choir website (2013); Obituary for Yvonne Thrift, The Record (South Pacific), August 31, 1996; "Avondale Icons finish on high note," Unknown Publication, 2005; Unknown publication (likely The Record),  January 29, 2005, pg. 7; The Record, 20 September 20, 1997, pg. 11. Brenton Stacey, "Hundreds attend funeral service for Alan Thrift," November 16, 2016, Adventist Record@RECORDAdventist.