Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frost, Lillian Mary (1870–1953)

by Jane E. Hunt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Lillian Mary Frost (1870-1953), organist, was born on 4 September 1870, at Launceston, Tasmania, second of seven children of John Frost, a draper and amateur musician, and his wife Amelia Annie, née Sage. Lillian was baptized at St John's Church of England. Identifying her musical talents, her parents took her to London in 1879 for three years of tuition, the final year at the Guildhall School of Music.

From mid-1886 Frost performed and taught at Launceston. Soon appointed organist at the Christ Church Congregational Church, she performed at the opening of the local Albert Hall in May 1891 and at the New South Wales – Launceston Tasmanian Exhibition of 1891-92. She also accompanied touring musical groups, including the Kowalski-Poussard company from Sydney. This led to an invitation to perform in Sydney, which in turn resulted in Frost's appointment as organist at Pitt Street Congregational Church in September 1895. According to the Tasmanian press, the young musician exhibited both musical maturity and physical stamina. Her dramatic style suited the emphasis on individual expression favoured by the Romantic composers.

Frost's career at the church in Sydney proved long and difficult. A new organ took nearly ten years to come and led to court action against the church in 1909. The case turned into an attack on Frost, whom the church and a range of musical experts combined to defend. Friction also arose over the next three decades between Frost and a succession of male choirmasters, who objected when she asserted her musical authority. Frost was underpaid for most of this period. Her position changed in 1925 when a new pastor Rev. T. E. Ruth proclaimed her work a musical ministry, giving her greater autonomy as musical director and higher pay. In September 1945 a 'Festival of Music' drew church, civic and musical circles together in celebration of Frost's jubilee as church organist.

From her arrival in Sydney in 1895, Frost was active in the secular musical world. She gave a successful series of recitals at Sydney Town Hall in 1896. Photographs showed the massive city organ dwarfing her petite figure. As accompanist, she toured with a range of international musicians in 1898-1904; in 1903 she was one of two women invited to a reception for the English organist Edwin Lemare. Frost travelled to Britain and Europe in 1912, when she studied with Sir Walter Alcock and Charles-Marie Widor, and again in 1927, when she also visited the United States of America. In Sydney she gave lessons and collaborated with the wider musical community to encourage promising pupils and to raise musical taste. With conservatorium staff and other organists and teachers she served on the organizing committee of the first Australian Music Week in 1930. She also conceived and promoted the idea of 'Music Sunday' to draw the churches into Music Week activities.

Combining her professional, teaching and religious roles, Frost had launched a series of musical recitals in 1913. Held in the Pitt Street Church, they featured a range of local and visiting musicians and a diverse selection of old and modern music; the Wednesday recitals became an institution. A sign of their sacred and secular significance was the scale of congratulation that greeted Frost's 1000th recital on 13 November 1940.

Although hindered by the onset of Alzheimer's disease and a hip injury in 1947, Frost continued her ministry to December 1948. She lived the remainder of her years with her sister at Launceston. Miss Frost died on 22 December 1953 at St Luke's hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • G. D. Rushworth, Historic Organs of New South Wales (Syd, 1988)
  • Canon (Sydney), 7, no 7, Feb 1954, p 294
  • Examiner (Launceston), 23 Dec 1953, p 4
  • Pitt Street Congregational Church papers, MSS 2093 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Jane E. Hunt, 'Frost, Lillian Mary (1870–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/frost-lillian-mary-12930/text23363, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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