In this, the second in a series of How To videos from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Interactive Composition lecturer David Haberfeld demonstrates how to create an acid dance track with the Roland TB-303, which he describes as "the electric guitar of electronic dance music".
Haberfeld has more than two decades of experience as an electronic dance music artist, producer, composer, performer, and DJ. He is best-known for his productions and live performances under the artist moniker Honeysmack.
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Banner image: Acid Pix/Flickr
Erin Helyard is internationally recognised as a leading baroque music specialist, virtuosic soloist and inspired conductor. Here, he discusses his debut solo album featuring the keyboard works of George Frideric Handel, and the instrument on which he performed them.
By Dr Erin Helyard, Senior Lecturer in Music at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
I recently released my debut solo album, surveying the keyboard works of the baroque composer George Frideric Handel. Drawing on my knowledge of Handel's operas and playing on a unique, recently-restored, instrument from 1773 capable of dynamic shading, I was able to reassess the works of Handel as well as some of his contemporaries.
Performers and composers had very close and fruitful relationships with instrument builders back in the 18th and 19th centuries. CPE Bach and Silbermann, Mozart and Anton Walter, Beethoven and Nannette Streicher, and Liszt and Sebastian Érard are just some of the few that come to mind.
My own close relationship with a builder has been with Carey Beebe, who has been my colleague and friend since I was a teenager first trying out harpsichords. Carey approached me last year to say that he had completed a restoration of a 1773 Kirckman single with a machine stop, and to ask if I would be interested in recording on it. My answer? Well, yes, of course – and that's the instrument on which I recorded this album.
Kirckman was an extremely famous and renowned English builder of harpsichords and, as my PhD research had been based around Muzio Clementi’s exposure to these kinds of instruments in the 1770s in London, my interest was piqued.
Since the historical harpsichord revival in the 1970s, players and builders have unnecessarily ignored the English tradition – partly because it was unfairly assumed that no great composer had written for these instruments. The reality is that these magnificently constructed instruments were highly-prized on the continent as well as in England.
The 1773 Kirckman, for instance, has some of the most beautifully machined jacks I’ve ever seen, as well as some of the most superb joinery. Owners of English harpsichords had a large variety of imported and local repertoire. Of the imports, the most notable favourite was the music of Scarlatti.
The 1773 Kirckman harpsichord is equipped with a particularly English piece of technology, the so-called “machine stop”. This pedal enabled me to make very quick and often nuanced registration changes in order to affect different dynamics and textures.
I have used the device as idiomatically as the music suggests, mostly to enhance implied ritornelli/tutti divisions in fugal movements as well creating more subtle and exciting effects that are rarely heard on recording or on performance. The earliest machine stop dates from the late 1740s, so it is entirely possible that Handel would have heard or experimented with one, even if his playing days were behind him by then.
The work of Handel over the last few decades has engaged me mostly as an opera conductor. Like Handel himself, I have conducted many of his operas from the keyboard, as was often the way in his era. Handel, born in Halle, Germany, in 1685, considered himself an Englishman after emigrating to the UK in 1710. In his new country he encountered and played upon English harpsichords in addition to (mainly Flemish) imports. The work of the founder of the firm, Jacob Kirckman, would have been known to Handel.
Handel was renowned as a virtuoso keyboardist in his day so it is somewhat sad that only a small corpus of music composed by him exists, mainly dating from his early years in London. His operatic career soon intervened and he seems to have left composing for the keyboard aside.
Handel’s music has always been somewhat marginalised by keyboardists as it is often (unfairly) compared with that of Bach and Scarlatti.
After discussions with Toby Chadd, manager of ABC Classics, we decided that, given my unique experience with Handel opera, it would be interesting to focus an album on the many transcriptions of arias from his operas as well as some of the so-called “Great Suites” of Handel himself.
Handel uses a rather skeletal notation in some of these suites, and often ornamentation is left to the performer. This incomplete notation may partly explain the haphazard reception the works have received in the 20th and 21st century. In this recording, I have been inspired by my own research into this improvisatory culture, and have attempted to ornament in the very florid style that I believe Handel and his contemporaries would have recognised.
What is so remarkable about the “Great Suites” are their extraordinarily eclectic and wide-ranging deployment of styles and genres. Besides the traditional dance elements of the Franco-German keyboard suite (allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, and gigues) there are dense fugues, overtures in the French style, Italian sonatas and arias, preludes in both incomplete and highly precise notation, and variation forms.
The suites give us the impression of a performer and composer who was highly sophisticated, well-travelled, open-minded, and cosmopolitan. It reveals a keyboardist who had quite a large hand span and a predilection for the German vollstimmig (or fully-voiced) style and was equally at home with both Italianate virtuosity, German profundity, and French élan.
I also tried to bring out the vocal qualities that I know so well from my engagement with Handel operas, an effect often heightened by the expressive capabilities of the machine stop.
The resulting recording, I hope, pays testament both to Handel and the harpsichord.
Banner image. Erin Helyard, by Robert Catto.
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For more than 15 years, artist Jon Campbell’s Remedy programs have encouraged Victorian College of the Arts students to explore artistic expression beyond their studio practice. He talks to Precinct ahead of this year's events.
Jon, you’ve curated Remedy, two programs of performance by alumni, staff and current students. Can you tell us what they’ll involve and what audiences can expect?
The program will include a series of five-minute performances with short changeovers between acts. A stage will be set up in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, complete with special lighting and a mirror ball. Past Remedy flyers will be enlarged to poster size and displayed throughout the gallery. The audience can expect a lively program that includes group and solo singing, storytelling, costumes, plate-smashing and experimental noise, to name but a few.
Your Remedy programs have been going for more than 15 years. How did they come about and how have they evolved?
When I started teaching in the VCA Painting Department in 1999, I quickly realised a lot of students had an interest in music and performance and thought this interest could be expanded as part of their experience at art school. It wasn't about skill or being a good singer – it was about the desire to perform to an audience, often for the first time. The program has generally been the same format throughout the years. We put out a call for performers, make a flyer, set up the gallery and let the students give it their best shot. I imagine Remedy will go on, year after year, until no one wants to do it anymore.
How has your own artistic practice changed over your career?
I started out making loose, gestural figurative paintings. Now I make hard-edged text-based paintings. I feel the subject matter has generally stayed the same but expanded, and I've become more critical and demanding of my work. The use of text has allowed me to explore other mediums such as neon, flags and banners and lithography.
A couple of years ago I exhibited recent text paintings alongside figurative paintings I made 25 years earlier and I think the subject matter, the vibe and the politics held them together as a group, even though they looked very different pictorially. I continue to use the enamel house-paint that I started using in the mid-80s.
If you weren’t a visual artist, what would you be doing?
When I was a teenager I always wanted to be in a band, tour the world and make hit records. While I do still play music and perform, I see it as part of my expanded art practice. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I'd only concentrated on music.
Can you tell us a little about your current projects?
I've recently finished a book – it’s a world full of cover versions – based on painted text cards I've used in previous performances. It was designed and printed in Christchurch, New Zealand, by artist and musician Aaron Beehre. I'll be travelling to Christchurch later this month to launch the book at the Ilam Campus Gallery, where I'll also be putting on an exhibition.
Otherwise I am busy in the studio planning and making work for a solo presentation with Darren Knight Gallery in Sydney, a mural for the drawing wall at Shepparton Gallery and a solo presentation at the MCA, Sydney, in December. These are exciting and busy times.
Main image: Melbourne band Terry perform at the launch of ART150. Photo: Drew Echberg.
Win a double pass to the opening night of L'Orfeo on Thursday 7 September. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Orpheus Giveaway" for your chance to win.
In September, a cast of singers and musicians will perform Monteverdi's groundbreaking opera, L'Orfeo, in a landmark production by the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in association with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. In this interview, Artistic Director Professor Jane Davidson explains her reasons for staging the work.
By Frederic Kiernan
Jane, why did you choose to stage this opera?
Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 opera L’Orfeo (sometimes called La Favola d’Orfeo, or The Tale of Orpheus) is a remarkably beautiful work, and is technically quite challenging, so I wanted to explore this work’s creative possibilities in a modern production. This year is also the 450th anniversary of the birth of the composer, so we also wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate this Italian master’s wonderful musical legacy. Even though there have been a number of operas based upon the Orpheus myth written over the centuries, Monteverdi’s setting is a standout masterpiece.
What makes Monteverdi’s opera so special?
Monteverdi was very much a musical innovator. He composed music at a time when great shifts were happening in the way people thought about music, and what people wanted music to do – this was all happening towards the end of the 16th century, and during the first decades of the 17th century, in Italy. Italian composers at that time, and especially Monteverdi, were exploring music’s power to express the emotional meaning of texts, whereas previously, more strict rules were in operation about how melodies and harmonies were supposed to behave. Those rules didn’t relate much to the text being sung. When the text became an expressive priority, opera was born. Monteverdi’s work is probably the first “true” opera (although scholars continue to debate this, of course).
Why is The Tale of Orpheus the first “true” opera?
Some scholars argue that the first “true” operas didn’t emerge until the first public opera houses opened up in Venice in the 1630s, and there is merit in this argument. But discussions about opera’s origins still invariably return to Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Other composers had written theatrical productions that were sung through from beginning to end before Monteverdi. Jacopo Peri had written Dafne in 1598, which is now lost, and he also composed an opera based on the Orpheus myth, Euridice, in 1600, which also included music by Giulio Caccini. These were, in a way, early “experiments” in operatic writing.
While they did use new musical styles such as stile rappresentativo, or the “representational style”, where the melody was geared towards expressing the emotional content of the text, these early operas never really achieved the stylistic synthesis that Monteverdi achieved with L’Orfeo. In this opera, we see a vast array of musical styles at work – both old and new, side by side – and they all somehow come together in a remarkably cohesive way. That was a historical turning-point in music history and, in many ways, marked the beginning of what is often called the “baroque” period.
What is your vision for the current production?
In this production, I want to bring historical ideas into the present in a creative way. I’m an opera director, but I’m also a music psychologist, as well as leader of the Performance Program at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, so I want to focus especially on emotions, and how these have been expressed in music historically. The current production explores the significance of historical ideas about music’s relationship to the planets and mood regulation through innovative staging, direction, and other design elements. By doing this, I hope the audience comes away with a greater appreciation not only for Monteverdi’s wonderful opera, but also how it represents an important shift in the way people thought and felt in the past.
The Tale of Orpheus by Claudio Monteverdi will be performed at The Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne, on 7 and 8 September, 7.30pm–9pm. Visit Eventbrite for ticketing and show information.
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Main image: The Tale of Orpheus by Claudio Monteverdi. By Sarah Walker.
Joy Heng moved to Australia after some googling led her to the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s Interactive Composition course. Following the release of her first single on iTunes, she shares some insights into what it’s like to be an international student, composer, collaborator and budding singer-songwriter.
I have loved playing the piano since I was 12 years old. In 2012, I decided to study music at Singapore Polytechnic, which allowed me to develop a wide variety of music skills. I began producing my own songs and fell in love with composing music. Finishing a song gave me a great sense of achievement and satisfaction. I was set on pursuing music and found the Interactive Composition course on the MCM website – and it seemed perfect for me.
Joy Heng, Dreams. Filmed and edited by Aldin Ortinez.
When I moved to Melbourne, I wanted to broaden my mind by experiencing a new culture and connecting with more musicians. I remember looking at a video on YouTube which showed [Head of Interactive Composition] Mark Pollard talking about how to audition for the course. I was a bit intimidated but so determined to create a great portfolio for the audition.
Recently, I was able fulfil my dreams to release my very first single on iTunes and Spotify. With the help of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, I was also able to release a professionally-filmed music video. I worked with some students from the Jazz & Improvisation stream who played my track and made it sound really amazing. I used the Grant Street Theatre on campus to film a video and, with the help of some staﬀ and lecturers, I was able to set up all the lights and instruments very smoothly. I really enjoyed this process, especially the collaboration with my fellow students.
I’ve made amazing friends while studying at the MCM, and they’ve made the challenges of university life so much easier. I’m miles away from my family, but the people I’ve met here have made me feel like I am at home. Also, the collaborations between different artistic areas is something that I really enjoy – I feel that it exposes me to greater opportunities. Everyone who studies here is so talented. They’re the future of the music industry, and I hope to be able to work with them as my career progresses.
I have the constant support and help of my lecturers. They guide me in the right direction and are always pushing me to achieve my full potential.
In the next few years, I hope to be able to grow as a singer-songwriter. When I graduate at the end of this year, I would also love to be able to work in the media sector, composing music for animations, films or commercials, or anything else interactive.
If you want to pursue a career in the music industry, you just have to keep working on it, keep practising, and never lose sight of your dreams. In time you’ll get there. I’m not there yet but I’ll keep pressing on. Don’t forget to take the time to explore as many opportunities as you can, and make sure you chill out too. Hang out with your friends, go to gigs, travel. There's so much out there.
As told to Sophie Duran
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Main image: Final year Bachelor of Music (Interactive Composition) student Joy Heng. By Sav Schulman.
Fifty years of La Mama theatre is documented in the University of Melbourne Archives, offering an insight into the emergence of Melbourne’s avant-garde theatre scene in the late 1960s.
By Jane Beattie, University of Melbourne Archives, University of Melbourne.
Inspired by New York’s La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, founder Betty Burstall was confident that Melbourne performers and audiences wanted and needed a place for progressive music, poetry and film too.
La Mama nurtured local talent and rode the international wave of social and cultural change in the late 1960s to provide a platform for alternative voices in the arts. In a company newsletter from October 1969 this vision was expanded: La Mama would be a theatre to make possible “a new audience-actor relationship. It was informal, direct, immediate. It was also a playwrights’ theatre…where you could hear what people now were thinking and feeling.”
Early archival material, such as correspondence and newsletters, reveals the co-operative nature that Burstall was committed to; her policy of developing solely Australian work was financially risky in an arts scene dominated by the mainstream canon of mainly American and English work.
Censorship and controversy
“Revolutionary things are happening in theatre today and I want them here.” Burstall’s ambitions for La Mama were grand, and the revolution began almost immediately, with plays pushing the legal boundaries of decency of the time.
The earliest offender was the 1968 production of Alex Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed. The final line of dialogue “fucking boongs” is delivered by Norm to Ahmed, a Pakistani student. Actor Lindsey Smith was arrested for using obscene language, and the play’s producer Graeme Blundell was charged with aiding and abetting Smith. In 1969, John Romeril’s Whatever Happened to Realism resulted in the arrest of nine actors for using obscene language in a public place.
Boxes of news-cuttings from this era tell the story of La Mama’s ongoing battle against censorship and the restrictions imposed by Australian social and cultural values of the time.
The archives also feature production posters, including lino-cuts crafted by Tim Burstall, Betty’s husband. The few styles repeated in different colours with handwritten production dates and times illustrate trends in grassroots art and design, as well as the collaborative nature of La Mama.
Other established artists such as photographer Peter Lyssiotis created production posters and art work – in Lyssiotis’ case posters and artwork for his playwright daughter Tes. A wild variety of style and quality is demonstrated in some of the earlier posters by anonymous artists whose work is marked with holes left by the staples used to distribute them on street corners.
Supporting other art forms
La Mama encompassed many more facets of the Melbourne avant-garde arts scene. Neo Kyma refers to a movement in Greek music that found popularity in the 1960s and 70s, extending well into the 1980s in Australian Greek communities. For around five years, Christos and Tasos Ioannidis played Greek and ployethnic music at La Mama.
“The 1970s and ‘80s were the golden era of Melbourne’s Greek community. Everything, including the arts, was blooming. Especially La Mama - it was not only for Greeks, it was a place of meeting, getting together, it became a culture” explains Christos. Burstall and Liz Jones, who followed her as artistic director in 1977, had created a space where artists from all backgrounds could practice, improvise and collaborate with their peers
Poetry and spoken word were also promoted from La Mama’s inception in 1967, led by Glen Tomesetti and Kris Hemmensley, and continues today as a regular in La Mama’s program. Each La Mama Poetica event featured multiple acts and showcased work from both emerging and established poets.
Mainstays included Jennifer Strauss, Wendy Poussard and Jennifer Harrison. University of Melbourne academic Kevin Brophy was a regular and a reading by Chris Wallace-Crabbe would have been rousing. Left field inclusions were the works of Indonesian poets performed by Geoff Fox, radical experimental poet and a founding member of Australia’s Poet’s Union. And there was Thalia, a night dedicated to the Perseverance Poets collective, featuring Louise Craig and Whitefeather Light.
Despite earlier confrontations with the law, La Mama continued supporting Australian writers, actors and directors, providing a place where collaboration and experimentation were centre-stage. Stalwarts of the Australian theatre scene like Jack Hibberd, David Williamson and Graeme Blundell were given the chance to practice and develop their craft, as were other performance artists, such as filmmakers Corinne and Arthur Cantrill.
In the decades following the ‘obscenity trials’, La Mama continued pushing audiences, exploring concepts of identity, and elevating voices of the silenced. Playwrights such as Mammad Aidani and Tes Lyssiotis used this platform to chronicle the variety of the migrant experience, whilst plays like Pundulumura: Two Trees Together (1990) by Aboriginal actor comedian Gnarnayarrahe Immurry Waitairie and prolific Melbourne writer and director Ray Mooney explored relationships between black and white Australian cultures.
From the first donation of records in 1977, the University of Melbourne Archive has seen its relationship with La Mama as a valuable one, not only for volunteer projects and exhibitions but in maintaining a comprehensive record of Melbourne’s theatre history. The La Mama Collection complements that of the Union Theatre Repertory Company which evolved into the Melbourne Theatre Company, as well as smaller collections of ephemera from the late 19th century to the 1960s.
The La Mama collection is open access to all researchers and its finding aids can be located on the UMA online catalogue by using the search term “La Mama”. A selection of records and production posters from the La Mama archive are on display in the Arts West building at the University of Melbourne.
Banner Image: Wikimedia
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Steve Mackey is a world-renowned guitarist and composer who has written for orchestra, chamber ensembles, soloists, dance and opera. Ahead of two highly-anticipated concerts in Melbourne he talks with the Melbourne Conservatorium's Dr Ken Murray about his music and the role of the electric guitar in his compositional style.
By Dr Ken Murray, Senior Lecturer and Head of Guitar, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
In addition to being a leading American composer, Steve Mackey is a virtuoso electric guitar player who forged a new path for electric guitar in new music in the 1980s and 90s. As an electric guitarist, he performs his own pieces, including two concerti, pieces for electric guitar and string quartet and other chamber and solo pieces. In 2011 he won a Grammy for his piece Lonely Motel, written for the Eighth Blackbird ensemble. This month, Mackey will visit the Melbourne Conservatorium for two concerts, performing with the New Music Studio and MCM Guitar Ensemble to present a program of Australian premieres for massed guitars and mixed ensemble, and a new electric guitar opera, Orpheus Unsung. While at the MCM, Mackey will also be working with staff and students in the composition and performance areas. It's a privilege to be able to welcome Mackey to the MCM, and I very much enjoyed being able to interview him ahead of his arrival.
Steve, you are known as one of America’s leading composers and you manage to keep up a regular schedule of performing – how do you balance those two things?
It can be tricky. If I'm deep into the composition of a piece it's hard for me to switch gears. When I start to practise I often get an idea for the piece I'm working on and drop my guitar to jot it down. For that reason I try to bunch my guitar-playing engagements into certain times of the year so that I will be in tip-top shape only half of the year.
In another way, though, they help each other – when I'm practising I often drift off into free improvisation and sometimes stumble onto something interesting which I record and save for the next time I'm staring at a blank page. Also, sometimes I use the guitar to compose, even during a period when I'm not practising regularly. In such cases I think of the guitar the way most composers think of the piano – as a connection to sound, not a guitar per se. Doing so not only keeps my hands in shape, it expands my sense of the guitar and, over time, has brought me to my current orchestral conception of the guitar.
As a pioneer of the use of the electric guitar in new music, how has your approach to writing for electric guitar changed over the past 20 years?
The biggest difference between then and now is how I approach playing the guitar. Twenty years ago I was a rock guitar-player playing on top of a beat/groove put out by the rhythm section. I’ve had to learn to play inside the beat instead of on top of it. It was quite an eye-opener to rehearse my early works for string quartet and electric guitar. Members of a good string quartet listen to each other, comment on how a phrase is played and tell each other what they need in terms of rhythm, meter, articulation and phrasing. In chamber music everyone makes up the fabric of the rhythm, tying the threads together in an interdependent web.
Also, bowed strings have such a dynamic and timbral range and I had to learn to better control my sound with effects. I compose for, and therefore have to practise, pin-point footwork where effects shift at a precise time. I use a volume pedal to increase the dynamic range of the guitar, which is otherwise very limited. One can’t go overboard with effects, though, when playing with acoustic instruments. What may sound good to me while I'm practising can end up making acoustic instruments sound pale, small and dry, and that ultimately damages the music.
What is an electric guitar opera?
I’m not sure! But it's a concept that helped me to write music in which the guitar tells a dramatic story, sings arias, and spins out orchestral interludes. In the case of Orpheus Unsung [2 September, Melbourne Recital Centre] the story is the Orpheus Myth. The guitar does everything – it sings arias, plays orchestral interludes, etcetera. I could easily supply words and orchestrate Orpheus Unsung and turn it into a chamber opera. But even without words, I think the narrative arc and details are quite palpable as long as the audience knows the Orpheus Myth.
The idea came from a funny piece I did 20 years ago for solo guitarist/narrator called Myrtle and Mint. The premise was that I wanted to write a grand opera but the budget kept getting cut and all that I was left with was a single guitar. There was comedy in how preposterous the premise was, how feeble the substitution was of solo guitar for an orchestra and singers. Orpheus Unsung does the same thing but in a serious way, not highlighting what was missing but making an earnest effort to be an orchestra of sorts.
How has the use of harmonics on the guitar influenced your compositional style?
Harmonics, particularly off-node harmonics, that produce gong-like multi-phonics are something I'm very interested in. The notes produced can be syntactical – part of a functional harmony – or, because they are so colourful, they can be valuable just as a sound, almost like an exotic percussion instrument. I began to incorporate both functions – harmonics that stood both inside and outside the harmony in my guitar music.
That spread to my other music, particularly orchestral music where I would orchestrate the sound of distorted guitar harmonics to use as pure sound objects that contributed to an atmosphere rather than harmony. It's my personal version of spectralism in that the spectra of an electric guitar is often lurking behind orchestral textures that have no guitar.
Banner image: Steve Mackey. Supplied.
Speeches, spades, brass and bonhomie herald the construction of a world-class home for musicians.
By Sophie Duran
On 2 August, the Faculty of VCA & MCM hosted a Turning of the Sod Ceremony for the new, $104.5 million Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Conceived by award-winning John Wardle Architects, and funded by the University of Melbourne, the Victorian Government, the Ian Potter Foundation and generous philanthropic support, the building will offer state-of-the-art teaching facilities on the University of Melbourne's Southbank campus, placing Melbourne Conservatorium students in the heart of the Melbourne Arts Precinct and giving them unprecedented access to a wealth of artistic and creative endeavours.
Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM Professor Barry Conyngham was joined on the day by University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley and Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle for an event that included speeches, a brass ensemble fanfare and a symbolic breaking of the earth.
Professor Conyngham said: "Not only was it a very proud moment for the few of us permitted on site, but for the Faculty and the University as a whole, the culmination of a terrific amount of work and determination by a great many people. It was also a moment to reflect on the fact that this project, which will deliver a world-class conservatorium experience for our students and staff, has been made possible with the help of significant, and much-appreciated, philanthropic, University and government support.
"But this is just the beginning," Professor Conyngham added. "If we stay on schedule, the Ian Potter Southbank Centre will be open for business in time for the 2019 academic year, providing a state-of-the-art base for our main business: training and educating the music and arts professionals of the future."
Minister Foley said the Victorian Government was proud to partner with the University – and with its philanthropic supporters – to make the project happen.
“The new Melbourne Conservatorium will be a transformative link in our arts precinct that will boost our cultural and educational offering and attract the best and brightest talent to our creative state," he said. "It will further help build Southbank's Sturt street as the cultural hub of Melbourne."
The Ian Potter Southbank Centre forms part of the ongoing revitalisation of the Faculty of VCA & MCM's Southbank campus, including the $42 million redevelopment of the Dodds Street Stables into a visual arts wing, and the introduction of the Buxton Contemporary Museum.
Banner image: Turning of the Sod Ceremony, l–r, Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM Professor Barry Conyngham, University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley. By Sav Schulman
Graduating from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music to become captain of the Geelong Women's Football Team isn't an obvious career progression, but Bec Goring is kicking goals on several fronts.
By Sarah Hall
Given the gender disparities in jazz and Australian Rules Football, to name just a couple of areas, women and gender-nonconforming people are used to playing with at least one hand tied behind their backs. Naturally, this can be frustrating.
But according to Bec Goring, who graduated from the Melbourne Conservatorium last year, the situation can change – and she should know.
She was one of only two woman guitar players in her year studying Jazz and Improvisation, and has since become skipper of Geelong in the Victorian Women's Football League.
“We have the opportunity to change the culture for women in footy and music for the better,” she says.
I'm meeting her today at the student cafeteria at the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, after stumbling across an article about her in the Geelong Advertiser. I'm keen to find out more about her journey from graduating from the MCM to becoming captain of the Cats.
When I walk in, I see her sitting on a couch. She springs up to greet me, and then insists on buying my coffee. She says hi to a few people she recognises in the cafe, talking briefly with them about upcoming gigs.
We take a seat away from the speakers, and I ask her what the atmosphere is like in women’s footy since the introduction of the Professional Women’s AFL, earlier this year.
“We have a really short window to sculpt football culture in a really interesting, inclusive and different way, free from all the baggage of the men’s league,” she says, clearly enthused.
By baggage, I assume Goring's referring to the sexism, racism and macho-ism prevalent in the AFL Men’s culture, but the fact that she doesn't spell that out suggests she's more interested in focusing on the opportunities of the women’s league than the problems in the men’s.
“The two cultures [women’s and men’s football] are very different,” she says.
I assume Goring has encountered similar "baggage" in her career as a musician, and she admits to having been made to feel “good at playing guitar ... for a girl”.
“The teachers try really hard to encourage more women to apply for the [Jazz and Improvisation] course,” she says, but whether for cultural factors or other reasons, it remains an uphill battle – and not just in the classroom.
“There have definitely been occasions when I have questioned my involvement in certain musical projects," she says. “Have I just been included so there’s a woman on stage?”
She thinks quotas may be a good way to begin achieving a more even balance of genders enrolling in music courses. “We may need to manufacture that sort of involvement for a while, in my opinion. That way we have role models for younger women, and gradually over time we’ll be able to solidify pathways for women into the music industry."
For Goring, this is more than lip service. She's the director of a Geelong-based girls music group called the Sweethearts Junior Academy (sister band to the 30-piece all female soul music group The Sweethearts, with whom she used to play), in which she leads girls aged from nine to 15 in musical rehearsal and performance.
“You know these kids are going to be shredding at gigs by the time they’re 18,” she says. “Usually it takes until you’re in your mid-twenties to get to that stage.”
While life sees Goring juggling her time between the Geelong Cats and, em, jazz cats, there are some handy cross-overs.
“Sometimes I’ll arrive at footy training after writing music at home, and I’ll spend the warm-up running in complete silence trying to think up some more lyrics," she says.
And then there are those times when she trains in Geelong on the weekend and “fangs it down the highway to play a gig at the Old Bar or the Tote, to get on stage still smelling like grass and sweat.”
"It's lucky those gigs are with a garage band and not an intimate jazz band – otherwise people might start to notice the smell."
She joined the University of Melbourne Football team, without being too noisy about it, while she was studying at the MCM. “At the time I was pretty quiet about it because the music teachers pretty much all discourage contact sports, because of the risk of injury to your hands, which affects your playing," she says.
“I did get a couple of jarred fingers but that was fine, I just pulled sickies after those and no-one noticed.”
With Goring at its helm, the Geelong Women’s VFL has just finished its bid for an AFL team in 2019. The announcement will be made later this month, and Goring is confident about their prospects. She's excited by the prospect of a professional career in football and doesn't see it as an impediment to her career as a musician. As with much in her life, it’s all about balance.
“I think part of the reason why I am captain is because I can see the bigger picture of football,” she said, “It’s not all about wins and losses, it’s about the community.”
“Irrespective of your gender, sexuality or ethnicity, we want to send the message out there that you can play footy at any level,” she said, “and there’s no reason why someone who doesn’t fit the black and white of gender binary can’t play the game at the same level.”
We begin packing up our things. "You know, I really didn’t expect we’d spend so much time talking about gender,” she says.
Though the focus of her leadership of the Cats, as for the Sweethearts Junior Academy, may not and should not be gender, there does seem to be a certain inevitability to this being a part of the role, while music and sporting cultures, as with society at large, have not yet reached a point of gender, or genderless, equality.
“I suppose I have started to think more broadly about what it means to be a female footballer,” she says.
The importance of tearing down roadblocks for musicians and sportsplayers alike means that people like Bec Goring, who are talented, zealous and gender-conscious, are invaluable spokespeople.
“I’ve got an awesome family and support network,” she says. “I’ve had a very privileged life so I may as well make the most of it.”
Banner image: Bec Goring at the MCG. Image by Sav Schulman.
Professor Felicity Baker is co-director the National Music Therapy Research Unit at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. This week she received word that her world-first study into the use of music therapy for people with dementia has been awarded a substantial government grant. Here, she explains what she hopes to achieve.
By Paul Dalgarno
Congratulations, Felicity. You’ve just secured what looks like a massive amount of money for a research project – $1,014,430.20 to be precise. What's the project?
The grant is from the National Health and Medical Research Council, or the NHMRC, and it was part of a special call for dementia-specific projects. The government has identified this as being an important area for our future. Music therapy has been practised in aged-care in Australia for a very long time – since I was a student, in fact. But there hasn’t been this kind of large-scale, systematic study of its use in dementia care anywhere in the world.
It's a three-year project – what will it cover?
It'll be a really major randomised control trial involving 500 participants from across the country. We'll get people living with dementia to participate in small group musical experiences, singing songs, talking about what they mean, that kind of thing. And then we'll compare it with participants taking part in choral singing, because that's something a community musician, as opposed to a therapist, could lead. We want to see if there's really any difference between those two approaches.
The people we’ll be working with will no longer be able to be look after themselves – they’ll be in aged-care facilities 24-hours a day, either because they're too unwell to stay home and look after themselves or their family carers are unable to look after them properly because the level of care they require is too great for the resources they have at hand. It'll be one of the biggest music therapy studies in history – and certainly in dementia. It'll be a game-changer, not just for us in Australia but globally.
What’s your gut-feeling on choir-singing versus music therapy in that context?
We have a bit of a hypothesis, because we’re looking at mid- to later-staged dementia. We suspect the choir approach will suit those who are higher-functioning and less progressed in their disease. They'll be able to independently have a conversation with the person sitting next to them about the song they’re singing. Whereas those who are more progressed in their disease will require much more focused, skilled support from a music therapist who knows how to connect with them, because that’s what they’re trained to do.
So, three years down the line, when you’ve done all the work for this, what value will it have?
From a political perspective it’ll be really important for us to show that having an intervention delivered by a trained music therapist is more effective in addressing the wellbeing of people with dementia. We’re also examining changes in the level of burden experienced by caregivers. Nurses can get very stressed when there are lots of people with dementia calling out, getting agitated, etcetera. It's a very stressful context. We're expecting that our intervention will help to calm those people with dementia down a bit and that this in turn will lead to reduced stress in staff. We'll be looking at the carers' wellbeing, number of days of sick-leave, the degree of work stress experienced, and more.
As a general approach, how does the relationship normally start up between a music therapist and someone with dementia?
Usually we start with music. One thing we know from previous research is that older people tend to remember, and have the most connection with, music from their late teens and early 20s, usually when they're dating and going out dancing, or in other important life events where music was present. We try to work out what their musical preferences were at that time and use those as a starting point. Often these are people who are losing their language abilities and may be struggling to communicate but, after hearing those pieces of music, they might start talking, saying, "Oh, I remember when I played that to my son," or whatever. The music stimulates those memories and with those memories comes language. If they’re in early-stage dementia, and more cognitively able, we might start with dialogue around their life and connection with music.
Do they then make their own music?
Yeah, they can. And in fact my special interest area is in using songwriting as a tool. One project I've been working on in a dementia daycare centre involves people with early-stage dementia creating songs. It was fascinating to hear the centre staff saying they'd never seen those people so animated. Groups of people would be having little arguments about whether someone was using the right word, or which words rhymed, in a way that was collaborative and clearly stimulating them intellectually. The other interesting thing is that these are people who are supposedly unable to learn and who are losing their memory would remember the lyrics of newly-created music from week to week. That was something new – we didn't expect that. It demonstrates that people living with dementia can learn. And that's because music has a unique ability to facilitate learning, even in people with declining cognitive function.
You’ve come through a career in which music therapy has gone from being a pioneering area ... I mean, it still is now, but it's developing pretty quickly into something more mainstream.
Yeah, and I would hope that one of the reasons we got the NHMRC grant is that someone is looking at music therapy and thinking there’s something there. It’s already got an emerging evidence base, and so I’m hoping it will become mainstream rather than kind of fringe. That would be ideal.
This new grant comes on the back of some other good news for you. Last month you won a World Federation of Music Therapy Award. What was that for?
It's awarded to a person who has made a significant contribution to the development of the discipline, and, in my case I think, that I've really brought songwriting to the forefront of music therapy practice and explored it in ways that haven't been tried before. I was chuffed to get it. They only started giving out these awards three years ago and they only happen every three years. I’m the second recipient, so I feel pretty special to have been nominated and then awarded it.
Take a punt. Five or ten years down the line, where would you put your own research and music therapy?
That’s a hard question. When I finished my training and became a music therapist back in 1992, I thought we’d be a lot further ahead than we actually are currently. But I think at the moment, at least with our team here, we have a lot of momentum. I really think research is going to be the key to our future expansion. The government wants to save money, not spend it, so we have to show we’re worth spending money on. In our discipline there's also debate over whether we should be going for the sort of medical model, evidence-based research or developing theory and focusing on individuals’ unique responses. In my view, we need both. Hopefully at some point those two sides will come together and then we can really move ahead. When I arrived at the MCM from Queensland four and a half years ago, we had just five people in our department, and now it's 11. The more people we have on our team the more work we can do to be better understand the role and impact music therapy can have on people's lives.
Professor Felicity Baker will be joined on her project team by Professor Christian Gold (Norway), Professor Hanne Mette Ridder (Denmark), Dr Jeanette Tamplin and Dr Imogen Clark, both from the MCM.
Main image: Hartwig HKD/Flickr
See also: Clearing the fog of dementia with song
Fresh from celebrating its 20th consecutive year in Fort Worth, Texas, the Mimir Chamber Music Festival returns to its second home at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music from 28 August. The festival's founder and executive director, violinist Curt Thompson, reflects on Mimir's success and a life lived in music.
By Paul Dalgarno
Curt, Mimir is 20 years old this year. What were your ambitions for the festival when it started?
I had just turned 27 when we began preparations for the first Mimir. A classmate, pianist Johan Fröst, and I originally planned to start it in Sweden. But when I was offered a position at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas, we decided to launch it there.
I don’t think the concept of 20 years of anything was comprehensible to me back then. We knew early on that Mimir was special, and the concerts were always first-rate, but knowing how to actually run a festival took many years. I had always hoped it would have an international footing, but I never imagined it would span two hemispheres.
How has it evolved?
For the first two years, Mimir Texas lasted only one week, but it expanded to two during its third season. We’ve tried to maintain our core personnel over the years, which has been a huge advantage for us when it comes to putting repertoire together quickly while maintaining a very high standard.
From the professional musicians’ perspective, it’s probably the most challenging, and rewarding, two weeks of their year. With rapid-fire concerts – five different programs in 12 days – and intense coaching responsibilities, the Mimir crew has developed an extremely efficient rehearsal schedule. It’s exhilarating to be in the thick of that.
The festival's educational component has probably seen the most notable changes. Until five years ago, we selected 18 individual students for participation from across the US, Europe and Asia. Each was placed in two groups that received daily coaching.
Now we invite three pre-formed groups and present them in ticketed concerts. Each group is up and running the moment they land at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. So far, four Melbourne Conservatorium groups have gone to Texas, and each has had a wonderful and formative experience.
How does the Melbourne iteration of Mimir differ from the Texas version?
Mimir Texas takes place in the hot summertime, when most other music organisations are on holiday, so one noticeable difference in Melbourne, in addition to the winter temperature, is the amazing amount of activity going on in the city while the festival is running.
Melbourne has such a wonderful audience for chamber music, and we really love presenting performances for them. We have enjoyed an incredible reception from the Melbourne public and look forward to growing our audience each year.
The fact Mimir takes place during Melbourne's academic year also enables us to reach many more students there than we do in Texas. Six student quartets enrolled in the MCM's String Ensemble subject receive a number of intensive coaching sessions with guest artists.
The entire string cohort, the Chamber Music and Honours Performance Class subjects, and several secondary-school students from across Melbourne, also take part in the performances, masterclasses and demonstrations we present during the week.
Is some knowledge of chamber music necessary to enjoy the festival?
To be honest, some of our most enthusiastic supporters include those who had no prior familiarity with chamber music, and it's a rare privilege to expose them to this art form. Over the years, they have learned to trust us to present standards by Beethoven and Brahms alongside cutting-edge new works by vibrant young composers.
I like to say that chamber music is "Classical" music’s equivalent to jazz. While the notes are prescribed in the score, the inflection, nuance, pace and swells can be quite improvised. If one player curves a line in a particular way, for example, the next player has to immediately react, carrying on the conversation, so to speak, as we go. It’s one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, experiences one can have in music.
I think the theatrical aspect of chamber music, as if it were an on-stage musical discussion at the dinner table, translates to our audience.
Which performers and performances are you excited about in this year’s program?
Each concert offers a unique musical experience, so it’s difficult to pick out my favourite. I suppose highlights for me would be the Beethoven Op. 59, No. 1 string quartet in Concert One, the Vaughan Williams quintet featuring double bass in Concert Two, and Credo, a new work by Kevin Puts, in Concert Three. Each of the programs is carefully balanced to have a huge impact on audiences.
As for the performers, I love them all. I think one would be hard-pressed to find a better collection of performing artists in all of Melbourne during that week.
Mentorship is part of the Mimir program. Can you tell us a little about that?
From the outset in 1998, mentorship has been a central focus of Mimir. The process of training to become a professional musician includes hours upon hours of work with teachers, in the practice room and in ensembles. Mimir offers a unique experience in which, in a quartet setting, MCM students and others from around the city are engaged in intensive instruction that opens their ears and minds to the possibilities in this genre.
The equal emphasis on our public performances and the training of young musicians really sets Mimir apart from other festivals. The guest artists understand what mentors have done to help them achieve some of the most coveted positions in the world, and I think Mimir offers a means of paying that back for future generations.
Can you describe how you feel playing a great piece of music, and how you feel watching someone else performing at an elite level?
In general, I approach great music with a true sense of humility. The fact that some of these works were written so long ago and can still elicit strong responses in an audience is amazing to me. To engage with other performers in such an intimate and exciting way is really indescribable.
In the case of Mimir, some of my favourite moments are the rare opportunities to sit in the audience when I’m not playing in a particular piece, and to hear what this incredible group of musicians can create. Knowing I had a small part in putting them together to share this experience with a hall full of people is truly a privilege.
What advice would you give someone just starting out on their journey towards a life in music or music research?
A life in music is an incredibly enriching, challenging and endless pursuit. One must have dedication, devotion, discipline, determination and, perhaps most of all, humility. Equipped with these qualities, a life in music can be the most enriching experience.
What advice has held you in good stead throughout your career?
I learned early on that no matter how jagged or incongruent my life in music seemed to be at a given moment, with time and perspective I was able to look back on what then seemed to be a (nearly) perfectly straight line. My advice to anyone would be to listen to your instincts, take chances, never accept complacency in yourself, and just when you think it’s time to give up, commit to working harder.
How do you keep your passion for performance and teaching alive?
The chance to share this incredible art form and the traditions that were passed down to us over so many centuries and generations is something I hold to dearly. The fact that I can travel anywhere in the world to recreate masterpieces by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven is a treasure that drives me every day of my life, and is something I owe to the nearly 500 years of violinists, luthiers, and composers who have gone before me.
What’s to gain from living a musical life?
Those who choose a life in music – and pathways can be as varied as one’s imagination will allow – must be prepared for both unparalleled challenges and rewards. Plato, Aristotle and countless other great minds from antiquity realised the importance of music to individual development and to civilisation. We who dedicate our lives to music inherit the wealth of our forebears while carrying the torch for future generations.
Dr Curt Thompson is Associate Professor of Music (Violin) and Head of Strings at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Banner image: Curt Thompson. By Albert Comper.
The Mimir Chamber Music Festival is at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music from 28 August–3 September 2017. Full details.
Construction of the $104.5 million Ian Potter Southbank Centre will begin with an official “breaking ground” event on Wednesday 2 August.
Attended by University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Barry Conyngham, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley, and Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, the event will include speeches, a brass ensemble fanfare and photo opportunities for media.
Professor Glyn Davis said the new building was one of the largest enhancements in the Faculty’s history and would confirm the Faculty internationally as a pre-eminent school of art and music.
“The realisation of this project is the culmination of years of collaboration with our project partners, and the exceeding generosity of our donors,” Professor Davis said.
Professor Barry Conyngham said the project was a once-in-a century event that would produce Australia’s next generation of musicians and bring together the VCA and MCM.
“The University of Melbourne was one of the first Australian universities to offer formal studies in music, and the new headquarters for the Conservatorium will see that legacy continued and amplified alongside all arts disciplines on our Southbank campus,” Professor Conyngham said.
Minister Foley said the Victorian Government was proud to partner with the University – and with its philanthropic supporters – to make the project happen.
“The new Melbourne Conservatorium will be a transformative link in our arts precinct that will boost our cultural and educational offering and attract the best and brightest talent to our creative state. It will further help build Southbank's Sturt street as the cultural hub of Melbourne.”
Cr Doyle said Melbourne’s vibrant arts community had been a drawcard for the world’s most-liveable city.
“The introduction of the new Conservatorium further confirms Melbourne’s reputation as a hub for the arts,” Cr Doyle said.
The Ian Potter Southbank Centre joins the current $42 million redevelopment of the Dodds Street Stables into a visual arts wing, and the introduction of the Buxton Contemporary Museum.
Banner image: Artist’s impression of the new Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Image courtesy of John Wardle Architects.
Born from marginalised communities as a force of self-expression, hip-hop gets an unfairly bad rap for its confronting lyrics, but its power to promote mental and social health is going mainstream.
Last year New York’s then police commissioner Willam Bratton was quick to blame rap music and the culture around it for a fatal backstage shooting at a hip-hop concert. Ignoring wider issues of simple gun control, Commisioner Bratton instead pointed at “the crazy world of these so-called rap artists (that) basically celebrates the violence.”
Hip-hop culture and rap (a method of vocal delivery popularised through hip-hop music) has for more than four decades been bundled with a range of negative connotations, leading many like Commissioner Bratton to equate hip-hop culture only with profanity, misogyny, violence and crime. Prosecutors in the US have labelled rap lyrics a criminal threat, and numerous studies have been undertaken on the harmful influence of hip-hop on kids. The impacts of this perception remain palpable.
Melbourne-based hip-hop artist Mantra (above) works extensively in schools and the community to empower youth. Picture: courtesy of Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
There’s no denying that the lyrical content of hip-hop music is confronting, and in many instances includes the glorification of violence, substance use, and gender discrimination. But while many people struggle to look past the profanity, materialism and high-risk messages often celebrated within mainstream rap music, hip-hop culture at its core, is built on values of social justice, peace, respect, self-worth, community, and having fun. And it is because of these core values that hip-hop is increasingly being used as a therapeutic tool when working with young people.
The perfect music therapy
School counsellors, psychologists, and social workers have helped to normalise the option of integrating hip-hop within mental health strategies. In fact, it has become central to the work of one group of psychiatrists at Cambridge University, who under the banner of “Hip-hop Pysch”, use hip-hop as a tool in promoting mental health. Some have even called rap “the perfect form for music therapy.” So what is going on?
Hip-hop culture, while born in New York City, is now a worldwide phenomenon. You would be hard-pressed to find any country that doesn’t have some kind of hip-hop scene. This new reality is driven by two factors. One is the commercialisation of the culture as a commodity, which has made it one of the most influential industries in the world with its own Forbes list, and pushed it to any place within the reach of record labels or the Internet.
US hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill. Picture: David Gallard/Flickr
But, the second factor is that hip-hop remains accessible and grassroots. At its simplest, you can make a beat with your mouth – beatboxing – or on a school desk, and create or recite lyrics about anything without singing. The proliferation of cost-friendly music creating software and hardware puts more involved participation in reach, and allows flexibility in creativity and even pathways to entrepreneurship.
Marginalised communities the world over resonate with the ethos of resisting exclusion or discrimination and fighting for equity and justice. Others just love the beats and lyrical flow. Beyond beats and rhymes, there’s also something for everyone, B-Girls and B-Boys dance, DJ’s scratch and mix, and Graffiti artists draw and write. Combined with emceeing, or rapping, these are the four basic elements of hip-hop, with the fifth element being Knowledge of Self: the drive for self-awareness and social-consciousness.
It is this accessibility and inclusivity that makes hip-hop such an effective therapeutic tool for working with young people. It’s a style most young people feel comfortable with and it provides a way to build rapport and initiate a client-therapist relationship. The reflective nature of the lyrical content is a vehicle for building self reflection, learning, and growth. Whether analysing existing songs, or creating new content, the vast array of themes found in hip-hop lyrics provide therapists access to many topics that are otherwise hard to talk about.
Finally, the repetitive and predictable nature of hip-hop beats are said to provide a sense of safety, particularly during song writing, and lyrical and musical improvisation. Therapists suggest this provides a sense of dependability for those with little regularity or safety in their everyday lives; something supported by research linking music engagement and self-regulation.
US hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar (above) is an active advocate for social justice, with lyrics that tackle racism, violence and police brutality. Picture: courtesy of Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
In his US-based research, Dr Travis has shown that, despite publicised negative associations, many who listen to hip-hop find it a strong source of both self and community empowerment. More specifically, the important benefits to individual mental health in areas of coping, emotions, identity and personal growth, can help promote resilience in communities.
In Australian school settings, Dr Crooke has found hip-hop a positive way for students of diverse backgrounds to engage with their wider community, learning tasks, and schools more generally. In a recent (yet to be published) study, Dr Crooke also explored the benefits of a short-term intensive hip-hop and beat making program for young people labelled oppositional, seriously disengaged or at-risk of exclusion. Results showed students were not only highly engaged in learning through the program, but exhibited positive self-expression, built significant rapport with facilitators, and strengthened social connection amongst each other.
Hip-hop as a force for social justice
Hip-hop culture emerged as a reaction to the gang culture and violence of the South Bronx in the 1970s, and daily experiences of poverty, racism, exclusion, crime, violence, and neglect. It necessarily embodies and values resilience, understanding, community and social justice. Without these, hip-hop culture would never have been, and it is because these values remain at its core that hip-hop is such a powerful agent of positive social change around the world.
Australian hip-hop artist L-FRESH The LION. Picture: courtesy Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
Yet, the hip-hop project is not yet free from these difficult circumstances. Many communities around the world still battle the deleterious effects of discrimination, segregation, and injustice. Hip-hop is often a potent voice to these lived experiences. This remains one reason why the lyrical content still contains these themes. One of the primary strengths of hip-hop when it first emerged was that it allowed young, creative Black and Latino youth to create art which reflected the reality of their lives, of the neighbourhoods around them, and of the wider social circumstances in which they found themselves. In the words of US hip-hop Group N.W.A. they were making the most out their basic human right to “Express Yourself.”
We may be several decades on, but there are plenty of young people that still need to do the same.
Hip-hop is neither a panacea nor a cure all. It is not perfect, but its promise is undeniable. It is a culture with complicated social and historical roots. And it should not be appropriated without acknowledging, respecting and addressing these, because it is precisely these origins that make is such an important element in our society.
Hip-hop dancers at the RMIT Link Bust A Groove Dance Competition. Picture: courtesy Michelle Grace Hunder www.michellegracehunder.com
It is because of these roots that contemporary culture is infused with so many new young voices emboldened to promote resilience, positivity, tolerance, and justice. And, it is its complicated history that enables us to critically reflect on our society, and force us to face issues of race, privilege, class, and cultural appropriation.
Given the urgency of our need for equity, justice, tolerance and critical civic engagement in today’s society, we need to challenge our preconceptions about hip-hop culture, and what is perhaps one of the most important and generous movements in our world today.
Dr Crooke is part of a team running a short course at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music on how to use hip-hop in music therapy.
Main image: Rzom_/ Flickr
Faculty staff and alumni were well-represented among the winners at the 2017 Helpmann Awards.
By Sarah Hall
Seven staff and alumni from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music won Helpmann Awards on Monday evening, in the fields of theatre, dance, music and production.
The VCA’s recently-announced 2017 Keith & Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellow Leticia Cáceres won the Helpmann for Best Direction of a Play for Belvoir Theatre’s The Drover's Wife, for which alumnus Mark Coles Smith also won in the category of Best Male Actor. The Drover’s Wife additionally took the awards for Best Play and Best New Work (Leah Purcell).
“I’m really so happy this has happened, it’s amazing,” said Ms Cáceres on her win for The Drover's Wife, a reimagining of Henry Lawson's story of the same name. She described the Helpmanns, which recognise distinguished artistic achievement and excellence in the arts in the live performance sector, as Australia’s equivalent to the Tony or Olivier awards.
“We never lost sight of why we wanted to tell this story the way we wanted to tell it,” she said. “To have had this recognition means not only that were we able to talk critically about the issues that were important to us, but that we did so in a way that was satisfying for audiences and critics alike. For me that is a massive achievement.”
Alumnus Barrie Kosky's Opera Saul scooped several awards, one of which went to Kosky for Best Direction of an Opera, and another of which went to the MCM’s Senior Lecturer in Early Music Dr Erin Helyard for Best Music Direction. Saul was financed by the South Australian government as the centrepiece to this year’s Adelaide Festival, following rave reviews from the UK’s Glyndebourne festival.
Alumna and Lecturer in Design at the VCA Anna Cordingley won Best Scenic Design for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Jasper Jones; alumna Anna O’Byrne won Best Female Actor in a Musical for My Fair Lady, produced by Opera Australia and John Frost; and alumna Lilian Steiner took home the award for Best Female Dancer in a Ballet, Dance or Physical Theatre Production for the Lucy Guerin Inc and Arts House’s production Split.
Head of VCA Theatre Associate Professor Matthew Delbridge said he was delighted with the continued success of staff and alumni from across the Faculty.
“Having representation from alumni across all areas of the performing arts is further proof of the ongoing legacy of our programs, the sustained excellence of our graduates, and our rightful position as the pre-eminent training institution in the country," he said.
Banner image: The Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Jasper Jones, for which VCA lecturer Anna Cordingley won a Helpmann Award for Best Scenic Design. Photo: Anisha Senaratne (LPA).
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The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowships, worth $75,000, were awarded last night to four University of Melbourne graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM).
Awarded biennially to theatre, music and visual arts graduates, the Fellowships were established in 1994 by the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch AC DBE to enable young artists to travel and study overseas in the early stages of their careers.
Dame Murdoch’s granddaughter, Julie Kantor, presented the awards last night at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery on behalf of her grandmother, saying the Fellowships were created to help students become “artists of the world”.
“It seems to me, and certainly to my grandmother, that an essential feature of the artist at any stage in their career, is to find compelling means of creating a bridge between the private world of feeling and insight, and a public world that has an enormous need for inspiration and understanding,” Ms Kantor said.
“To understand this need and to refine one’s feeling and insight, my grandmother and grandfather believed that young artists need to be able to experience the world beyond the place of their study and residence.”
Dean of the VCA & MCM, Professor Barry Conyngham, said providing young artists with international travel opportunities was of benefit to Australian culture more broadly.
“Travel can provide emerging artists, musicians and performers with inspiration and connections that last well beyond the initial moment, and indeed continue to inform their creative development throughout their careers. As consumers of culture, we all stand to benefit from that,” he said.
The main $25,000 Prize for Visual Art, judged on the day by a panel comprising Acting Head of VCA Art Dr Kate Daw, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Mangan and Director of Gertrude Contemporary Mark Feary, went to Trent Crawford, who graduated from the VCA in 2016, for his video installation work Liquidity.
Crawford’s work, along with the other shortlisted works for the visual art fellowship, will be on display at the 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship Exhibition in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery (40 Dodds St, Southbank) until 5 August 2017.
The 2017 Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Travelling Fellowship recipients are:
Trent Crawford, B. Fine Arts (Visual Art). Born 1995, Crawford lives and works in Melbourne. Interested in dissecting images and technology to explore them in a passive state, Crawford’s work focuses on entering the in-between moments in time where the subject or material exists in a state of lapse; often with its function usurped or absent. By disassembling, restructuring and repurposing new media, he calls to question how the framing devices of screens and filters are active in the construction, fragmentation and degeneration of the image. Award of $25,000.
Theatre (two recipients)
Leticia Cáceres, M.Dramatic Art (Direction). Cáceres has been lauded as one of the most exciting directing talents in the country. She was Associate Director at MTC from 2013 to 2015. She has also directed for Belvoir, La Mama, Queensland Theatre Company, Sydney Opera House, La Boîte Theatre/Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Arts Centre, and Brisbane Powerhouse. She is the co-founder of nationally-acclaimed RealTV. Award of $15,000
Eugyeene Teh, M. Production (Design). Teh has worked with mainstage companies, earning him Green Room Award nominations for both his debut works; Endgame at MTC and Meme Girls at Malthouse. Last year, he worked on Straight White Men (MTC), In Between Two (Sydney Festival with William Yang and Annette Shun Wah), Lady Eats Apple (Back to Back Theatre) and Blaque Showgirls (Malthouse). Award of $15,000.
Troy Rogan, B. Fine Arts (Contemporary Music) (Hons). Rogan is a Melbourne-based composer, orchestrator and cellist, who brings his passion for making meaningful, engaging music to each project. He draws his inspiration from the art of storytelling, with a fascination of the parallel that various musical languages can impart. Award of $20,000.
Banner image: Trent Crawford with his video installation work Liquidity. Photo: Sav Schulman.
NOTE: This event has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled at a later date to be announced.
Next week, the Melbourne Conservatorium’s Dr Erin Helyard will give a public presentation, and short recital, on extreme emotional responses to music, with a focus on the 18th-century composer FD Philidor’s opera Tom Jones. Here, he explains why feeling hyper-sensitive to novels and music was, at that time, the order of the day.
“In the 18th century there was a phenomenon known as sensibilité, which basically described a very heightened emotional response to novels or music. At the opera, people would weep aloud or shout enthusiastically, and this sort of behaviour was enculturated and encouraged; it was seen to be a mark of an emotionally-superior human being.
“More recent equivalents might be something like Beatlemania, when crowds went absolutely nuts for The Beatles, or Lisztomania when people went crazy for the Hungarian composer Liszt in the 1840s.
"But sensibilité, as it was called in French, was somewhat different in that it was inextricably linked with the quality of a person’s character.
“To a large extent, we’ve lost this arguably refined level of emotional connection with the things we read and watch these days. We don’t respond in such an openly empathetic way, both because we are somewhat desensitised, and encouraged not to.
“The novel was a new invention in the early 18th century. English novelists in particular were understood to be master manipulators of the emotions.
"There are accounts of people weeping and throwing books in the corner, so moved were they by intricately-rendered accounts of human behaviour. Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel Tom Jones was hugely popular and lead to composer F.D Philidor using it as the setting for an opera.
“Of course, people do have extreme emotional responses to many types of music these days, but not so much at the opera. Rave culture might be the closest contemporary equivalent to 18th-century audience behaviour.
“For my talk, I’ll be discussing these cultural ideas of sensibilité as well as discussing Philidor’s achievement in the operatic sphere, and I’ll be joined by our very talented BMus student Dorcas Lim, who’ll be singing one of the arias from Philidor’s opera.”
-- As told to Sarah Hall
A presentation/recital by Dr Erin Helyard: “Philidor, sensibilité and Fielding’s Tom Jones” takes place on 12 July 2017 at the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne. Booking and event details.
Main image: Ralph Arvesen/Flickr.
The electric guitar symbolises rebellion, freedom, excess and youth, and we need those qualities now as much as ever.
By Dr Ken Murray, Senior Lecturer in Guitar, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne.
The electric guitar symbolises rebellion, freedom, excess and youth. But with the classic rock period well behind us, is it in danger of becoming a faded relic? The Washington Post recently reported on declining sales in the American electric guitar industry, with some manufacturers expressing concerns about its future. One reason for this was said to be a lack of current guitar heroes.
Is this true? I’d argue we still have plenty, with artists such as Jack White and St Vincent leading the pack. At the same time, the electric guitar is evolving as an instrument. Increasingly, it features in contemporary art music ensembles. But what makes a guitar hero? Let’s consider some of the maestros first.
The guitar legends
One of the first and most enduring of these was the late Chuck Berry, with his unique fusion of rhythm and blues and country music. The Beatles and Rolling Stones covered his songs. Many artists emulated his showmanship and attitude.
The rock guitar solo further developed in the 1960s and 70s as players such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck pioneered a blues-based style of virtuosic soloing. The electric guitar played a key role in the panoply of rock guitar styles that developed in the 1970s. However, it has been many decades since the airwaves were ruled by the sounds of guitar gods like Jimmy Page, Angus Young or Eddie Van Halen.
1980s pop music embraced synthesizers, keyboards and new technology such as the Fairlight computer. Rather than limiting the use of the electric guitar, this shift led to a broadening of the sonic palette with innovative guitarists adding textural depth and a new range of colours. Influential exponents of this playing style include Johnny Marr of the Smiths, U2s The Edge and Andy Summers of The Police. Their subtle musicianship ushered in a new type of guitar hero.
In the 1990s, the dominant sound of grunge bands such as Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam was an electric guitar, often distorted. Grunge musicians valued the instrument more for texture, volume, energy and tonal roughness than virtuosic solos.
Meanwhile, the English band Radiohead was releasing guitar dominated albums such as Pablo Honey (1993), The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997). Guitarists Johnny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien supplied muscular riffs, ambient textures, and blistering solos to these three albums, at times reminiscent of progressive musicians such as Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, while also drawing on the textural style of the 1980s.
On later Radiohead songs, such as Optimistic, the guitar work is characterized by a rhythmic yet rough and relatively “unschooled” style of strumming. Greenwood and O’Brien’s role in the band expanded to include additional instruments, composition and arrangement.
The new electric virtuosos
The early 2000s was characterised by a return to the roots of popular music forms, whether the blues, country music, rock and roll, funk or Motown. There are many wonderful exponents of blues-based electric guitar playing active now - a short list would include Gary Clark Junior, Joe Bonamassa and Derek Trucks. Still, 21st century pop, in general, is not bursting with shredding electric guitar virtuosi, but rather songwriters and mavericks who use the instrument to create a personal style.
Jack White, who sums up this approach, might be our century’s most prominent electric guitar hero. White combines a love of blues and country music with a return to simplicity in both recording and live performance, He also wrote one of the most famous guitar riffs of the 2000s, Seven Nation Army.
Another strong contender for the role is Annie Clark, aka St Vincent. A phenomenally gifted singer, lyricist, electric guitarist and performer, St Vincent is an adventurous and trailblazing musician, embracing electronic music, alternative sounds and elements of progressive rock.
Like White, St Vincent embraces imperfections, energy and spontaneity in her playing, which is a highlight of live performances. Like many pioneering progressive rock artists (the Moody Blues, King Crimson, Frank Zappa), she draws on aspects of contemporary classical music and has written chamber music for the American ensemble yMusic.
While sales of the electric guitar may have stagnated, in the past 20 years, the instrument has become increasingly influential in contemporary art music. One pioneer here is the American guitarist and composer Steven Mackey. Prominent new music ensembles such as Bang on a Can, the International Contemporary Ensemble and Australia’s Elision Ensemble have embraced the electric guitar. In fact, it has changed aspects of how these groups operate, due partly to amplification and balance issues and the opportunity to use electronic effects across all the instruments in an ensemble.
There are many wonderful works for the electric guitar, including music by Australian composers George Lenz and Andrew Ford, which were first performed by the Sydney-based new music specialist Zane Banks. And in early June, two electric guitar symphonies written by New York composer Glenn Branca had their Australian premiere. His use of drones, alternative tunings and mass electric guitars has influenced both classical and rock musicians. In my own work with the MCM ensemble Three (trumpet, trombone and guitar) I have found the electric guitar a perfect foil to the brass instruments.
Guitar women and shredders
There have been some great female electric guitar soloists, from the pioneering gospel blues of Sister Rosetta Tharpe to performers Nancy Wilson (Heart), Joan Jett (The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney). On the local front, Adalita Srsen (Magic Dirt) has been a leading guitarist for years and Courtney Barnett has achieved international fame with her understated electric guitar accompaniment style.
A more soloistic rock style is represented in the work of Danielle Haim (Haim) and Donna Grantis from Prince’s band 3rdeye Girl. These are all guitar heroes to inspire a new generation of performers.
Compared to the music of the 70s, guitar solos are on the wane in mainstream rock and pop. But in the genres of heavy metal and progressive rock, shredding (rapid, high energy, virtuosic playing) is still a valued form of expression. Many of these “progressive” guitarists work with guitar makers and effects designers to come up with new products (such as the seven-string electric - now used by many metal guitarists - designed for playing low, heavy riffs).
Virtuoso guitarists Dave Mustaine (Megadeath), Kirt Hammet (Metallica) and John Petrucci (Dream Theatre) have been influencing young shredders for decades. Psychedelic rock, meanwhile, is undergoing something of a renaissance in Australia with Melbourne band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard leading the way.
In short, the electric guitar is evolving. A new breed of guitarists are plucking, strumming, shredding, riffing, experimenting and amplifying their way into the future.
Steve Mackey will be visiting the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in late August/early September this year. He will perform at the Melbourne Recital Centre on September 2.
Main image: Claus Rebler/Flickr
Melbourne Conservatorium of Music staff members Joel Brennan, Don Immel and Ken Murray, who perform as the ensemble Three, were this week presented with the 2017 Melbourne Recital Centre’s Contemporary Masters Award for their world premiere performance of James Ledger's Voodoo Sonnets in February. The award, which is open to all artists who perform at Melbourne Recital Centre throughout the year, recognises the "finest performances of repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries”.
Three, a performance-led-research team featuring Brennan on trumpet/flugelhorn, Immel on trombone and Murray on guitar, strives to establish new, cutting-edge chamber music with a special focus on presenting performances that resonate with current-day audiences.
Melbourne Recital Centre’s Director of Artistic Planning Marshall McGuire said Three's February performance at the MRC’s Salon "captured the imagination and attention of the audience in a most original and compelling way," and that the ensemble performed with "confidence, authority, virtuosity and a great sense of ensemble”.
Don Immel said it was great to receive recognition for the work the ensemble has been doing commissioning composers and bringing new works to life. "These collaborations have been immensely satisfying for us and it’s been wonderful to introduce them to a wider audience." he added. "This award is great encouragement for us to continue our work developing an exciting repertoire for our unique ensemble."
Voodoo Sonnets will be included on Three's forthcoming album, due out later this year. The ensemble's debut album, Midnight Songs (2016), received numerous favourable reviews and was described as an "inspiring example of forward-thinking classical music culture in Australia" by the independently-run classical and new music magazine CutCommon.
Image: Three, from left to right, Don Immel, Joel Brennan, Ken Murray.
Visit Three's website.
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What does it take to concentrate several seemingly-competing careers into one? Best ask concert pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar.
On 8 May 2017, as part of the University of Melbourne's Dean's Lecture Series, Dean of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Barry Conyngham appeared in conversation with pianist, theatre-maker and VCA Senior Lecturer Dr Zachary Dunbar, to discuss Dr Dunbar's journey from concert pianist to theatre practitioner and academic.
Dr Dunbar reflected on the pros and cons of an interdisciplinary career, and particularly how music provides unique insights into actors, training, and the challenges of rehearsing and performing. The conversation was interspersed with a piano performance of works by the 19th-century romantic composer Franz Liszt, music that dramatises love’s conflicted interests – or possibly the realities of an interdisciplinary career.
Image: Paul Hoi/Flickr
Such is the ubiquity of the guitar that its popularity can be taken for granted, its history overlooked. The period between the 1890s and 1940s was crucial to the instrument's evolution.
By Dr Ken Murray, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
The guitar may be the most widely-played instrument in the world, an active component in musical styles from all corners of the globe. It's well known that the guitar played a key role in the music of the post-second-world-war era but what is less well documented is the trajectory of the guitar during the period from the 1890s to the 1940s.
The current Instrument of Change exhibition (until 31 August) at the Grainger Museum in Melbourne takes a fascinating approach to those overlooked years of the guitar and illustrates how the instrument was played and enjoyed by both amateur and professional musicians during that period.
It also includes photographs, musical scores and artworks by iconic Australian artists such as Tom Roberts and Russell Drysdale.
In the 19th century the guitar played an important role in instrumental groups such as the Spanish Estudiantina, where it accompanied steel strung bandurrias and lauds. These Spanish groups had great success touring the world in the 1880s and 1890s, helping to disseminate the Spanish guitar internationally. The exhibition features a beautiful early flamenco instrument, notable for dimensions similar to a 19th-century parlor guitar.
The formation of banjo, mandolin and guitar clubs and societies (known as the BMG movement) saw the guitar competing with a new range of instruments that were mass-produced and promoted through magazines and mail-order catalogues. In this context, the guitar was prized for its historical associations and sophisticated repertoire.
Instrument of Change also focuses on Percy Grainger’s intersections with the guitar.
Grainger, linked mainly in the public imagination to his piano performances and compositions, engaged with the guitar as both performer and composer over many decades, from his first works in the early 1900s, to experiments with the instrument in London in the 1910s, to performances with the American experimental composer Henry Cowell in the 1940s. Grainger appreciated and embraced amateur guitar and mandolin ensembles and included guitars in numerous pieces and arrangements.
Through the use of open tunings and plectrum-style strumming, Grainger was an early advocate of massed guitars in the concert hall. The Instrument of Change exhibition features scores, instruments and photos from the Grainger Museum archives.
The guitar surpassed the popularity of other instruments in this period through ingenious evolutionary changes of shape, design and function. With the arrival of new instruments, such as the Gibson harp guitar and early arch-top instruments, design features derived from both the mandolin and banjo were successfully adapted in a quest for greater volume and relevance.
A range of other related instruments are featured in the exhibition, such as ukuleles and the Hawaiian steel guitar, which added new waves of interest to this scene in the 1920s.
While many of the trends influencing the guitar were global, Australian performers and makers were involved in these developments and their contribution is recognised in the exhibition.
Italian makers the Cera brothers emigrated to Australia in the 1920s and continued making their amazing harp guitars and mandolins into the 1970s. The burgeoning classical guitar scene of the 1930s and 40s found an advocate in Len Williams (father of classical guitarist John Williams) who helped to build a classical guitar community in Melbourne.
The exhibition ends with the Maton guitar company, one of the most recognisable and enduring Australian musical brands, established in 1946. The founder, Bill May, played double bass and guitar in dance bands and Hawaiian groups and made his first guitar as a teenager in 1932. He began with flat-top acoustic guitars and later diversified with archtop instruments and an extensive range of electric guitars.
May was keenly aware of the diversity of guitar activities. In an advertisement from the early 1950s he stated that there were Maton models to cover a range of styles including “radio, orchestra, solo, hillbilly and Hawaiian”.
While American instruments were his examples, May was committed to making an Australian product that could compete with the best in the world. His vision of an Australian guitar with international impact was formed during the seminal period of 1920–1946 when the guitar became a truly global instrument.
Instrument of Change: Visions of the Guitar in the Early 20th Century is at the Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne, until 31 August 2017. The exhibition was curated by Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Associate Professor Michael Christoforidis and Dr Ken Murray.
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The Music Therapy team at the University of Melbourne was invited to collaborate with the National Gallery of Victoria to provide an experiential music activity for high-school students in response to the NGV’s Van Gogh exhibition. Here's what happened.
By Dr Lucy Bolger and Dr Grace Thompson, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
It's a Friday lunchtime. The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, is filled with visitors coming to see the spectacular works of Van Gogh. The exhibition Van Gogh and the Seasons: The Art of Emotions has been extraordinarily successful and people have travelled and queued for the chance to see the collection. In the Grand Hall, two beautiful, contrasting pieces of Van Gogh’s artwork are projected onto the walls. One is a sparse, muted winter scene, with a dark figure and his dog walking a solitary path through the snow. The second is a lush, vibrant painting of a woodland grove in the spring, dotted with flowers.
Recently, the Music Therapy team at the University of Melbourne was invited to collaborate with the NGV to provide an experiential music activity in response to the NGV’s winter masterpiece exhibition of the work of Van Gogh. The program was intended to support high-school students engage creatively with the exhibition. As music therapists, we recognise that music is a powerful tool for exploring emotions, particularly in adolescence, and we leapt at this opportunity to explore the theme of the exhibition – “the art of emotion” – through music.
Scattered around the Great Hall are small groups of students, buzzing quietly with conversation, surrounded by paper, pens and musical instruments. From around the room we hear sporadic clangs and chimes; an occasional burst of laughter; brief musical phrases that swell and subside. Every now and then, the groups look up at the artwork with a new flurry of activity or a questioning eye.
Two or three music therapy masters students sit among each small group of high-school students, asking questions and giving suggestions, gently drawing out ideas and sounds from the young people. As a group, they draw together a musical response to the artwork they see on the walls.
This project was also an engagement opportunity for our Melbourne University Masters students, a chance for them to apply their developing skills in facilitation, songwriting and improvisation. In pairs, each student facilitated one of three different activities designed to explore Van Gogh’s work through music and narrative.
Two groups used song-writing, allowing the structure of familiar songs to scaffold an exploratory process of lyric writing. Two groups developed a radio-play based on the work, using music and sound to give voice to the emotions of their story based on the artwork. And two groups created a soundscape, allowing freely improvised music and a visual score to directly represent their responses to the art.
The high-school students responded impressively to the tasks at hand, offering creative ideas and exploring various ways to represent emotion through music. Their teachers expressed amazement at their students’ engagement and enthusiasm in response to such "new" tasks, and commented on how much was achieved in such a short period of time.
Suddenly there is an increase in intensity and activity. Groups start to arrange themselves and the sounds become more organised. The students are practising. After only an hour, the groups come together and form an audience for each other, sharing their music and creative responses to the cheers and applause of their teachers and peers.
They have produced diverse music – creative, thoughtful, funny, reserved – exploring Van Gogh from many angles, placing themselves inside of the paintings and using music and sound to express the emotions of the art.
See also: Van Gogh’s ear for music: a playlist.
Find out more about Music Therapy at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
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Main image: The Music Therapy team assembles at the NGV. Photo: Sav Schulman
On Sunday, Ariana Grande played to a packed house of 60,000 fans at Manchester’s Old Trafford Cricket Ground, in tribute to the 22 people killed at Grande’s Dangerous Woman concert in the same city two weeks ago. She was joined on stage by pop stars including Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Pharrell Williams.
One Love Manchester aimed to counter the effects of terrorism by spreading messages of unity and love through music, harnessing pop as a personal and collective coping mechanism in the face of tragedy. But in troubled times, can music really heal?
The Manchester bombing is the latest in a line of assaults on entertainment venues, including the attack on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Paris’s Bataclan Theatre in 2015, and at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last year. These are seemingly inspired by a desire to curtail Western liberal freedoms, and specifically the freedom of women, the gay community and the young people who are celebrated in pop music.
Given the sentiment of the event, Grande drew some backlash on Twitter for performing her risqué song Side to Side. But as she revealed during the concert, she had changed her set list after talking with the mother of 15-year-old Olivia, who was killed in the bombing. During their emotional meeting, Olivia’s mum said that she “would’ve wanted to hear the hits”.
Evidence shows that bereaved families increasingly choose to commemorate loved ones with contemporary songs with which they, or the deceased, personally identify.
An Australian funeral services provider reported Queen’s The Show Must Go On or Another One Bites the Dust were increasingly popular funeral songs. In the same way, pop concerts are built on a known repertoire of songs, which the audience predicts. This assists in the ritual communication of emotion.
It was music’s capacity to arouse different emotions that allowed One Love Manchester to achieve Grande’s aim for her concerts to be, “a place for them to escape, to celebrate, to heal, to feel safe and to be themselves.” It is now well established that mechanisms such as rhythm, shared emotions and the memory of specific events make music a powerful tool for connecting with other people.
Pharrell Williams’ upbeat Happy embodied the concert’s defiant stance on terrorism, suggesting that fear can be triumphantly overcome through the enactment of happiness and joy. Coldplay’s touching performance of Fix You allowed for the expression of mourning and collective grief.
Robbie Williams led the audience in a version of his song Strong, changing the lyrics to, “Manchester we’re strong, we’re strong”. Cultural studies theorist Graeme Turner has argued that this sort of sharing brings with it a temporary experience of equality and comradeship between many people.
Black Eyed Peas’ Where is the Love?, inspired by the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, has become an anthem for countering terrorism and related anti-Islamic sentiment. It provided the Manchester audience with an emotional bridge to the larger, global community of those affected by terrorism.
We need to do more research to understand how these shared emotions and experiences can be galvanised to create longer-term resilience and solidarity. But for this night, One Love Manchester demonstrated the power of music to heal an urban community and bring people together.
Samantha Dieckmann, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Music, ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne and Jane Davidson, Deputy Director ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne
Banner image: Ariana Grande by lindsaydaniella/Flickr.
How would you put together a playlist that captured something of Vincent Van Gogh for a major Australian exhibition? With great care, of course.
By Dr Rachel Orzech, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Van Gogh and the Seasons is the current Winter Masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (until 9 July). Since 2015, I have been commissioned to create playlists for these annual exhibitions, each one focused around a major collection of significant artworks that would not normally be exhibited in Australia.
For a musicologist specialising in 19th- and 20th-century Western classical music, these assignments are a dream. Each year, I study the list of artworks to be exhibited, talk to the curators at the NGV, and undertake some research into the lives and work of the featured artists.
I then make a shortlist of related musical works and try to figure out how they might best work together as a soundtrack for the exhibition. In the process, I’ve discovered many wonderful (and sometimes obscure) pieces of music that I hadn’t previously been familiar with.
Visual artists are frequently part of much broader cultural networks that encompass music, theatre and dance, so it's usually easy to find clear connections between artworks in a gallery and musical works. Sometimes those connections are made because the artist knew the composer, or was inspired by the music, or because the artist and composer shared similar ideologies or philosophies.
In 2016, the NGV's Winter Masterpieces exhibition centred on the work of Edgar Degas, who painted a number of works featuring ballet and opera scenes in Paris; the link between music and painting in that instance was clear.
In 2015, the NGV exhibited items from the collection of Catherine the Great, and I created a playlist using music composed at Catherine’s court, and pieces that complemented artworks in her impressive and diverse collection.
But Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890) presented a unique challenge. Relatively isolated during his brief career as a painter, he did not form important connections with any musicians or composers, as far as we know. Nor did he show a great interest in any particular musical genres.
I began by trawling through his letters, which have all been digitised and translated into English. I found very few references to music; the exceptions were some mentions of Richard Wagner, and a reference to Charles Gounod’s 1864 opera Mireille.
As a Wagner scholar, I could not resist the temptation to include a few excerpts from his operas, particularly those which were performed frequently in concerts in Paris at the time. The playlist opens with the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Lohengrin, first performed in 1850 – a perfect beginning:
The second item on the list is an aria from Mireille – a work I had never heard before undertaking this research:
In reading Van Gogh’s letters, I also came across a mention of the World Exhibition which was to be held in Paris in 1889; we don’t know whether Van Gogh attended, but he was certainly aware that it would be taking place.
These exhibitions were an opportunity for nations around the world to exhibit their national culture and for France to promote its own national culture to visiting nations. Musicologist Annegret Fauser’s fascinating 2005 book Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World's Fair revealed the musical life that flourished at the Exhibition, and gave me some ideas for items to add to the playlist.
Camille Saint-Saëns’ opera Ascanio (1890) was to be the centrepiece of the Paris Opéra’s contribution to the Exhibition, and although things didn’t quite work out that way (it wasn’t premiered until the following year), I included one of its "Airs de ballet" in the playlist.
More successful at the Exhibition (this time from the Opéra-Comique) was Massenet’s Esclarmonde (1889). Australia’s Joan Sutherland sang the title role in one of the work’s few revivals in the 1970s, so it seemed fitting to include it on the playlist.
The aria I chose, however, is sung by the character Roland, a knight who loves Esclarmonde, the Empress of Byzantium:
The final playlist betrays a heavy bias towards French opera and Wagner, which of course does not encompass or reflect all aspects of Van Gogh’s life and work. Yet the lack of direct connections between Van Gogh and music provided me with the opportunity to expose listeners to the music that interests me and informs my work, as well as the chance for me to discover works such as Esclarmonde that I had never heard.
See also: Van Gogh gets some music therapy.
Van Gogh and The Seasons is at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, until 9 July 2017. More information.
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Image: Sophie Duran.
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With a role in Gertrude Opera’s current production of The Consul, MCM Master of Music (Music Performance) student Joshua Erdelyi-Gotz talks about juggling the demands of performance with full-time studies.
As told to Sarah Hall
The current production of Gertrude Opera’s The Consul (29 May–2 June) is about a bunch of people in a waiting room in a consulate. Some of them have been waiting for days or weeks, to get a visa or get out of the country. There are so many papers to fill out and none of them are being properly looked after. Always waiting, never being able to leave; it’s hell.
There’s a woman in the waiting room called Magda Sorel whose husband is being pursued by the secret police, because he’s a freedom fighter. She’s always being watched. She’s trying to help her husband but can’t, because she can’t get out of the country. So the opera is about her struggle and everyone’s frustration at being stuck in a consulate, and never getting to speak to the person in charge. It’s a very depressing piece of music.
If you know what it’s like sitting in Centrelink waiting for your turn to go up to the counter, it’s like that – but worse.
I first got involved with Gertrude Opera after being involved in a concert opera with a man called David Kram. About two or three weeks after that finished, I was emailed by Linda Thompson who runs Gertrude Opera. She said David had recommended me, and asked if I would be interested in being involved. I said yes, despite the fact that I was going into my Honours year at University. Usually there is an audition process, but I just got lucky.
The Gertrude Opera program runs for an entire year, and every place is completely sponsored, kind of like the Melba Opera Trust, which runs on a mentor program. It’s a big commitment, and can be tough if you’re juggling things. I did struggle a bit last year doing both Honours in Music Performance at the MCM and the Gertrude Opera, and now this year doing my Master of Performance. I wouldn’t have said that “throwing yourself” in the deep end’ and overloading on commitments was my preferred method of learning, but it has really forced me to become better at time management.
Also, this kind of juggling is what you have to expect if you want to work in the field. You’ll often have multiple engagements and need to learn multiple pieces of music at any one time. So it's helping me to prepare for that lifestyle.
Normally in operas, all the major ones such as Don Giovanni, the performers are given a chord to help them find their starting note. But in this case the musical score does not give us that chord and we sort of have to look through the music to find our starting notes. From then have a whole page of chromatics that you need to sing, based on that initial note. You can really mess up the other performers who have to bounce off each other, if you don’t get that right. So in that way, it’s very difficult and the performers need to be fairly good aurally. It’s an opera that’s hardly ever done.
My character is a man called Assan, the go-between of the main character Magda and her freedom-fighting husband, John. Mine is not the biggest role but it’s certainly one of the most difficult. There’s another MCM grad in the opera, Darcy Carroll, and a lot of the rest of the cast are from interstate and overseas.
When I first joined the Gertrude Opera I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I am hesitant to recommend it to students who already have a full-time load. But it has really helped me, and not just musically. One of the most important aspects of being a musician is knowing people and I have just had the opportunity to work with so many talented musicians through this program.
Visit the Gertrude Opera website for more information about their upcoming performance of The Consul.
Find out more about studying opera at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
Banner image: Supplied.
As part of Reconciliation Week, the Faculty of the VCA & MCM is supporting a benefit concert in order to raise money and increase awareness about the suicide rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As part of the event, Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development Richard J Frankland will perform a one-hour set with his band, the Wandering Minstrels. Here's why.
Interview by Paul Dalgarno.
Richard, an incredibly high percentage of Indigenous Australians are affected by suicide. Why do you think that’s the case?
As the late scholar Patrick Wolfe once put it, invasion is a structure not an event. Trauma exists at a very high rate for Aboriginal and Islander people, and the trauma that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people face comes from discrimination, dispossession and from the destruction of a social order that is more than 2,000 generations old.
We now live with an extremely high suicide rate, mortality rate, chronic illness, unemployment, incarceration rate ... the list goes on. These are extremely difficult things to live with on a daily basis. Many of our young people are in despair and live with a poverty of spirit. There is hope, though. We have many warriors standing up, we have many strong organisations and we have many leaders. We will defeat the poverty of spirit.
Has suicide had a direct effect on you? How so?
I have lost family to suicide. I have lost friends to suicide. I have seen it and the grief it leaves behind. I have written the outline of a program that I have passed on to the ATSI support organisation Culture is Life and I am hoping that further develop and implement the program.
Can you tell us a bit about Richard J Frankland and the Wandering Minstrels?
Richard J Frankland and the Wandering Minstrels are deadly (grouse). You can expect a few laughs, a few yarns and a few tears ... LOL. The Wandering Minstrels are Biddy Connor, John Wayne Parsons, Tiriki Onus, Michael Julian, Rob Finch and Angus Grey. All are or were involved in VCA & MCM. The music will be a bit folky, a little bit of blues, some rock – no doof-doof, sorry.
What does Reconciliation Week (27 May–3 June) mean to you?
Reconciliation Week is basically about trying to find the pathway that will help us all get it right. The other day, I heard my son and his non-Aboriginal mate Ally Mitchell do a Welcome to Country in language: my language. Wow, what a feeling – to me, that's a rung on the ladder toward a vision for victory. Those kinds of actions make me believe that we will defeat discrimination; that we are already changing a nation.
Why should people come along to the benefit concert on 2 June?
People want to contribute to making Australia a better place, a stronger place, but sometimes they don’t know how to contribute. Attending the benefit concert is a way to do that. People should come and learn the stories, hear the yarns, hear the songs, and network. And, of course, if they can afford it, they should throw a quid into the bucket.
The Reconciliation Week Preventative Suicide Program & Benefit Concert is on 2 June 2017, 6pm–8pm, at Magnet Galleries, Melbourne. Free admission (but bookings essential). See the VCA & MCM events listing for more information.
The not-for-profit organisation Culture is Life supports and promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions to affirm and strengthen culture and to prevent youth suicide. Visit Culture is Life for more information.
Beyondblue offers a range of services around suicide and suicide prevention. Visit beyondblue or call 1300 22 4636 (24 hours/seven days a week).
Find out more about the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development at the Faculty of VCA & MCM.
Banner image: yaruman5/Flickr.
When many schools have cupboards full of musical instruments, why are so few students learning to play?
By Dr Alexander Crooke, Postdoctoral Fellow in Music Therapy
Musical participation in schools has been increasingly linked to a range of benefits deemed critical for today’s students. This includes fostering creativity, offering unique ways of understanding and interpreting the world, and promoting numerous forms of school engagement.
It is also linked to a number of wellbeing and social justice benefits, such as increased inclusion and connectedness at school and classroom levels, as well as cultivating peacebuilding, diversity and intercultural understanding.
So why do so many schools have cupboards full of musical instruments gathering dust? Our ongoing research has identified several important trends.
One major barrier to sustained music programs relates to who actually delivers them. Some argue it should be the generalist classroom teacher, but as over 15 years of research and government reports have pointed out, most have neither the time nor the training to do so.
This speaks to two issues: the first being that space for the arts in generalist teacher-training has been on the decline since the 1990s, with more recent reports claiming it comprises an average of 1.51 per cent of time spent in Victorian preservice courses. This has left teachers who aren’t already musicians under-equipped in terms of both skill and confidence to provide music to their students.
And then teachers must deal with an increasingly crowded curriculum. Few would disagree the emphasis in our current education model on standardised testing, and mandated performance in core subjects like literacy and numeracy, has significantly reduced teachers’ abilities to focus on provision in other areas.
If you then add in all of the other “extras” teachers and schools are expected to provide their students – think Bike Ed, dental vans, science excursions, swimming lessons and more – suddenly teachers are up against the wall. This is not to deny the fantastic work many do to build music into their daily lessons, but in our research, it has been clear these are the exception, not the norm.
Unfortunately, we found that that, even when teachers who were incredibly supportive of the arts were given intensive support by skilled practitioners to integrate it into their daily teaching, most simply can’t find the time to do it. Others stated that, while in-class mentoring was valuable, this value lay in the fact that sessions provided students access to experiences they couldn’t, and didn’t intend to, provide themselves in their normal classes.
Some may argue the introduction of specialist teachers has addressed this issue.
Specialist teachers are employed, often part time, to deliver a specific subject that has been deemed too hard to deliver in the mainstream curriculum. In Victoria, this includes things like Languages Other Than English, Physical Education, and education in all art forms.
While this may be a useful model for the schools that can afford them, in the majority of the schools we’ve spoken to over the last six years, it is not a sustainable solution. Faced with the reality of being able to afford only one or two specialists, school leadership has told us they are left to pick and choose which of these specialist subjects they will provide.
Often this comes down to who is available, and what they are willing to do. Furthermore, because of the instability (and what many specialist music teachers report as a significant lack of support, or isolation, from the rest of the school community), these specialists regularly move on, taking the school music program with them.
These factors lay the groundwork for what we call “the exposure model”, whereby schools tend to expose their students to as many diverse arts experience as possible. This is linked to an understanding that, not only is ongoing provision in one art form unrealistic, but will inevitably reduce students’ access to experiences in other areas.
Clearly, this undermines the stability of music provision, which requires extended, deep engagement to achieve the benefits noted above.
The value of the arts
The most common factor which underpins all of this at a systemic and cultural level is what participants in our studies have repeatedly referred to as a lack of value for music, and the arts more generally, in our schools and in our society.
Participants have told us this is lack of value exists among teaching staff, school leadership, parents, education departments, the federal government, and in some rare cases, even students. Schools have consistently reported to us that this is one of the biggest hurdles they face in supporting musical provision.
We, and many others, have argued strongly that governments need to go beyond rhetorical support for school music, and start providing schools tangible support to provide it. That is why I welcome the Victorian Government’s pledge, to provide $2 million over four years so that every Victorian student has access music by 2018.
This is a significant step, and signals a value shift in the right direction. For this, people like Victorian Labor MP James Merlino should be commended for pushing this funding scheme through, and maintaining it one year on.
Yet, we are far from celebration. There is a lot of work to be done in our schools, and in our society, before all Victorian schools are really in a position to provide music to students.
The changes required are both structural, and cultural.
We first need to attribute value to music that is comparable to curriculum leviathans like maths and English. Secondly, this needs to demonstrated through education policy structures that place music within the core of the educational experience, rather than an added extra.
Once we do this, then we can expect musical instruments to be used with the same surety as calculators and dictionaries.
Banner image: Phil Roeder/Flickr
On 23 May 2017, RN's Books and Arts aired a one-hour broadcast from the Victorian College of the Arts on what it's like to go to art school, to coincide with this year's ongoing ART150 celebrations.
Guests included: graduates Dannika Horvat, Linton Wilkinson, Nicholas Pearce and Louisa Wall, classical guitar student Louis Virgil Smith, Director of the VCA Professor Su Baker, Head of Music Theatre Margot Fenley, Music Theatre students Sian Crowe, Olivia Morison and Chloe Honig, and VCA Enterprise Professor and internationally-acclaimed visual artist Patricia Piccinini.
You can listen to the full broadcast here:
Read more ART150 stories.
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Image: RN Books and Arts presenter Michael Cathcart with, left to right, Sian Crowe, Chloe Honig, Olivia Morison, and Chris Nolan on keys. Picture: Sue Thornton.
Geoff Hughes, of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, is one of Australia’s leading improvising guitarists and music educators. With his fellow musicians in the Michelle Nicolle Quartet, he won the Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album at the Bells Australian Jazz Awards on 16 May. Here, he discusses the win, its significance, and his current and future projects.
Interview by Paul Dalgarno
The album features some well-known and not-so-well-known compositions by legendary composer/bandleader Duke Ellington and his hugely talented co-composer Billy Strayhorn.
It was recorded back in 2015 by the ABC at Southbank, Melbourne, for ABC Jazz but wasn’t released until last year on ABC records.
The quartet comprises Michelle Nicolle on vocals, myself on guitar, Tom Lee on bass, and Ronny Ferella on drums. Michelle, Ronny and Tom are all sessional teachers in the MCM Jazz & Improvisation department.
What does it mean to win an award of this kind? Beyond the immediate kudos, what do you hope the award might lead to?
Awards in music can be difficult territory, although the Bells themselves are ostensibly chosen by a wide community of jazz and improvising musicians and industry people before reaching the final stages. We were nominated in 2013 for the previous album, too. That’s important affirmation for this band and what we are doing.
In the present day it is incredibly difficult to secure gigs in festivals in Australia, and even more so in Asia, and Europe. The US is practically out of reach. Australian acts are competing with a huge number of overseas artists; they usually have to travel further, and the support mechanisms for that are few. This award contributes to a track record of recognition, which, along with concert reviews and other recordings, will help us to that end.
Awards are like the icing on the cake, or a boost to the band's CV when one is looking for an edge. There is also money involved – which helps to alleviate the expenses from previous projects!
Can you tell us a little about the dynamic in the quartet: what you bring to the party, what the others bring? How does it work in theory and how it all comes together in practice?
Michelle is the band leader, as the vocalist, but she, her partner Ronny Ferella and I, have been working in this format now for nearly 20 years. Tom Lee joined us in 2005 – not long out of University – and launched straight into a new album and tour with us in Singapore, Indonesia and Holland (at the Northsea Jazz festival ). He did a great job then and has been with us ever since.
The dynamic of this group is ostensibly a vocal-led interactive ensemble as opposed to a singer with backing musicians. That's a really important part of the sound of this band, which treats even standard repertoire in an eclectic way.
The pressure on Michelle to become SINGER writ large is constant. But the quartet has sustained an interactive approach to every project nonetheless.
Some of the tunes on this album are around 80 years old, but we endeavour to create a sensibility more contingent with the things that have influenced us all as musicians in the 21st century – as well as expressing what we really love about classical jazz music (which is misunderstood by most people).
Michelle is the main driver as far as material and arrangements go – although a lot of work happens in rehearsal where ideas are tested, added or withdrawn. It's also fair to say that, after 20 years of playing, much of our music has developed in performance. These days, our rehearsals are examples of economy in terms of time and frequency.
I have always loved the way that I am accepted as a texturalist in this band, rather than just an accompanist or soloist. It's interesting to me to use the guitar as a way of arranging interesting textures and ambiences.
Do you get more pleasure out of playing alone or in ensembles? What are the pros and cons of each?
I do enjoy both, but playing solo is nerve-wracking. I’m currently working on a recording in my home studio – a solo project from which I hope to generate some live solo playing. I enjoy that in ensembles one has more material to work with straight away by virtue of the other players, as opposed to the sonic "tabula rasa" of solo playing.
The hardest thing about playing solo is dealing with your own silence. My view, though, is that investigating both solo and group playing to a deeper level can really benefit both. It's really all about balancing constructive listening and musical independence.
What projects are you currently excited about? And what’s next for the quartet?
I have been lucky to have been part of two regularly working and touring groups over the last 15 or so years, and countless other freelance and one-off things. Those two groups are the Michelle Nicolle Quartet and also the late Allan Browne’s Quintet, which actually won theBells' Best Small Australian Jazz Group last year for its recording Ithaca Bound.
I'm looking forward to the next step with the remaining four members of Allan Browne’s Quintet. I'm also looking forward to getting my solo project finished – it's been going for a while.The Michelle Nicolle Quartet has been around the world and recorded seven albums together – but we still enjoy touring and the process of getting new album material together.
In 2014 we performed a whole concert of adaptations of music by Bach at Elder Hall in Adelaide, which was a fusion of a whole lot of interesting elements, including free improvisational and groove-based elements along with some more Bach-like contrapuntal conventions. I’m hoping we can get that project into the studio soon.
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Image: From left to right, Ronny Ferella, Tom Lee, Michelle and Geoff Hughes at "Live at the Village" Springfield in the Blue Mountains.
Acclaimed Australian composer and recipient of the 2014 Albert Maggs Award Tim Dargaville will be featured in a portrait concert Speaking in Tongues at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 28 April. The programme includes the world premiere of the Maggs Award composition “Between Breath and Word”, and also a major new solo piano cycle “Kolam”, amongst other works from the past decade of his longstanding career.
Interview by Sarah Hall.
How did the event Speaking in Tongues come to be?
This concert was initially conceived as a result of the 2014 Albert H. Maggs award. This significant award provides resources for the commissioning and performance of a new work, and has done so for many Australian composers over the past 50 years. So for me the planning of the performance event influenced the writing of the new work, and the writing of the work influenced the nature of the program for the concert.
In a sense, this award created the opportunity to bring separate strands of my creative life into a celebration, to frame the new commission as part of a retrospective programme, and also invite significant collaborators to perform in the event. It’s been an exciting 18 months, connecting these aspects of the award together.
Can you tell us about the work that will feature in the concert, including Kolam?
Some of the music in this concert brings together my long term interest and research in the south Indian vocal percussion tradition of Konnakol and the mandala ritual art practice Kolam with my traditional Western classical training.
The Kolam project, which I’ve been working on for more than ten years now, is inspired by the beautiful ritual of daily mandala-making that occurs in Southern Indian Tamil villages, and explores rendering this in a sonic form.
Ten years ago, my partner Rosalie Hastwell and I were Asialink artists in residence, working with Adishakti Theatre in Pondicherry in Southern India. As part of a daily routine we’d see these beautiful rice flower mandala designs on front doorsteps every morning. Our then 12-year-old daughter Ruby was fascinated by these patterns and learned how to make kolam from two Tamil village women who worked for the company.
Ruby’s engagement in this activity also got me interested! As I result, I developed the idea of making kolams in sound by tapping into the Carnatic rhythmic practice of Konnakol that I’d been learning at the Karnataka College of Percussion in Bangalore previously. Since that time I’ve created a body of work for different groups, including for percussion, a saxophone quartet, and orchestra. They’ve all been called Kolam as they are interconnected through using similar musical patterns, and the project is expanding in scale – a bit like the mandala getting bigger and bigger as it draws geometrically outward.
One of the world-premiere works in the Speaking in Tongues program is the 25-minute solo piano cycle Kolam for renowned Sydney pianist Bernadette Harvey. It is comprised of five movements, and is the largest one I’ve done. Bernadette and I have been working on this particular composition together for the past three years. It was a Kolam work that won me the 2014 Albert Maggs Prize initially, so there’s also a nice connection there.
Could you tell us a bit about the world premiere of Albert Maggs Commission work Between Breath and Word?
This new work references some of the other works on the programme in subtle ways, and in that sense is designed to be a summation to the whole concert. I hope the audience experiences a sense of connection to the earlier music on the programme, and also a fresh and surprising reframing, which includes a diverse array of individual sound colours, mixed in surprising and unexpected ways.
I like the idea that a piece of music can take someone’s breath away. In some respects, to me, music is about what we can’t say in words. The title Between Breath and Word reflects that space in which music can make us speechless. That’s the kind of music I strive to make.
Which other musicians who will perform with you for Speaking in Tongues?
Pianist Bernadette Harvey and harpist Marshall McGuire are well known nationally and internationally for being dazzling performers of contemporary Australian music. Both these musicians have regularly commissioned works from many Australian composers including myself, so its wonderful to me that they are both involved in this event.
Also, excitingly, a number of work on the programme will be performed by musicians from the New Music studio at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, conducted by composer Elliott Gyger.
Why the name Speaking in Tongues?
To me composing is actually about making sense of the world that you’re in and the experiences that you have. The experiences I’ve had in South India have been very powerful and in some respects life-changing, and the education that I’ve had in the western classical music world has been equally influential. I’m interested in making music for people that draws on the authenticity of life experience, and is true to who I am. I think that a creative practice in general, and the Speaking in Tongues concept in particular, is about reconciling these very different experiences.
Speaking in Tongues is at the Melbourne Recital Centre on 28 April. Visit the VCA & MCM What’s On page for more information.
The MCM brought 13 cello students and 2 piano students to Hong Kong for 'Academy Cello Week', from 20-24 February 2017 under the sponsorship of the New Colombo Plan Mobility Grant, awarded by the Australian Government.
Hosted by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (APA), the students participated in masterclasses, workshops and orchestras. They also presented two evening concerts, jointly with the APA students.
The trip ended with a final concert of cello extravaganza, featuring cello ensembles and orchestras made up of students and professionals from Melbourne and Hong Kong.
Watch the video below.
The University of Melbourne has been ranked as number one in Australia for Performing Arts in the recently-released QS World University Rankings.
From a placement in the unspecified 51-100 range in last year’s rankings, the University’s Performing Arts has climbed to number 26 globally.
The QS rankings, produced annually by Quacquarelli Symonds, are designed to offer prospective students effective comparisons of leading universities.
The rankings boost comes as the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music – as the main home of performing arts at the University of Melbourne – continues with an ambitious development program to better serve its students and staff.
Capital development approaching $200 million is currently underway at the Faculty’s Southbank campus, including construction of the new Ian Potter Southbank Centre, a world-class conservatorium due for completion in 2018, the refurbishment of the former Police Stables complex on Dodds Street as a new visual arts wing, also due for completion in 2018, and the Buxton Contemporary gallery, which will open in late 2017.
A number of high-profile national and international staff have recently joined the Faculty, which has also seen a growth in international student numbers, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region.
Greater arts industry links have been forged through initiatives such as the recently-announced, two-year Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) in collaboration with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which will offer the first qualification of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region.
Dean of the Faculty of VCA & MCM Professor Barry Conyngham said the results were testament to the high levels of commitment, ambition and focus at the Faculty.
“Naturally, as the primary home to the performing arts at the University of Melbourne, we’re delighted with the new QS figures. For some time now, we have been driven by a collective effort to build upon what was already a world-class offering across a wide range of performing arts to students and staff. That effort continues, and will lead, we hope, to ever greater recognition for the quality of programs we offer and a richer performing arts landscape in Australia and overseas.”
Artistic director and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Professor Jane Davidson is gearing up for a powerful Baroque music enactment of the Passion of Christ, at Melbourne’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral.
By Sarah Hall
Passion, Lament, Glory, a staging originally devised 15 years ago by Professor Jane Davidson of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, will be brought to life for the first time in Victoria at one of Melbourne’s most iconic cathedrals for two performances at the end of March and start of April.
The work, an enactment of the Passion of Christ that includes aerial artistry, is the second full-scale project to be staged by staff and students of the MCM’s Voice and Early Music Departments, following last year’s hugely successful performance of Marc-Antoine Carpentier’s opera La descente d'Orphée aux enfers (1686).
Now, as then, the artistic team features Professor Davidson as artistic director, and the MCM’s Dr Erin Helyard and Stephen Grant as musical director and choral director respectively. Designer and Victorian College of the Arts alumnus Matthew Adey brings a suitably spectacular dose of visual flair to the proceedings.
The musical centerpiece of the performance will be Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – an 18th-century meditation on Mary’s suffering during Christ’s crucifixion.
The work’s soprano and alto roles are split between 12 talented female performers – a number that, of course, has a certain Biblical resonance.
“I imagine these twelve women as a close community, like twelve female disciples, supporting Mary and her loss,” says Professor Davidson. “And that’s not accidental. Essentially, I’m trying to attention to the fact that the whole story of Christianity has a very powerful female narrative – even though that’s not something we immediately think about today.”
The project’s themes – love, endurance, suffering, community, and particularly how humans share in grief and sorrow – are universal rather than exclusively religious, says Davidson. “I wanted the work to have that kind of resonance for everyone, whatever their culture or religion.”
Celebrated soprano Jacqueline Porter, an MCM graduate in Music (Performance), will be accompanied by an ensemble of top class Baroque music specialists in Handel’s Salve Regina; while 100 MCM singers will perform excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. It’s probably safe to say the 126-year-old St Paul’s will provide a fitting backdrop for an enactment of this scale.
“Obviously, there’s the historical significance of St Paul’s as a place of worship,” says Professor Davidson. “I think it’s going to be very powerful for everyone in the audience – and for the performers too.”
The performance includes a lot of movement, so not a traditional oratorio-style presentation, says Professor Davidson – an ambition made easier by the fact many of the singers are also trained dancers.
But the most unusual movement spectacle in the piece will be performed by an aerial artist who, thanks to some vigorous rigging now being erected, will take to the gods in the Cathedral towards the end of the work. Award-winning artist Tim Rutty will draw the evening to an appropriate musical and visual high point.
A strong female narrative, breathtaking aerial artistry, beautiful music and massed choral voices reverberating through a spectacular cathedral in the heart of Melbourne – if that seems worthy of your faith, be sure to come along.
Passion, Lament, Glory will be performed at St Paul’s Cathedral, corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street, Melbourne, on 31 March and 1 April at 7.30pm. Admission: $30 Full / $15 Concession, bookings essential. Please book tickets via EventBrite.
Banner image: Sarah Walker
A two-year Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) will launch today at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) when University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis and Chair of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) Board Michael Ullmer sign an official Memorandum of Understanding.
The very first qualification of its kind in the Asia Pacific region, the two-year degree has been developed to provide future generations of performing musicians greater employment opportunities both nationally and internationally.
Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Professor Gary McPherson, said the program is expected to attract the finest Australian and international musicians, providing them with the vital skills required to develop their careers.
“In addition to developing elite-level performance skills, we want young musicians to be able to manage their professional lives and understand what it takes physically and mentally to sustain a career across decades of performing music.”
“During the course they’ll learn how to identify, manage and prevent the types of health risks associated with performing music and have practical experiences working alongside MSO staff in a host of areas, such as artistic program development, philanthropy, the music library, education outreach programs, and marketing and advertising.”
MSO Managing Director, Sophie Galaise said students will have the opportunity to perform alongside MSO musicians and be mentored by them as they progress through a course that is unique on the world stage.
“We are delighted to be part of such a unique program nurturing young musicians, facilitating collaborations and giving them the opportunity to work with the MSO in state of the art rehearsal facilities and a major international performance venue.
“The graduates of the Orchestral Performance master’s degree will be fully prepared to use their skills, knowledge and understandings within any world-class orchestra, anywhere in the world.”
The course will run out of MCM’s new Ian Potter Southbank Centre next door to the Melbourne Recital Centre and MSO’s Iwaki auditorium and management facilities.
The Master of Music (Orchestral Performance) program will commence in 2018 with enrolments set to open in April this year.
Banner image: The University of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Hamer Hall in 2017. Photo: Sav Schulman
In recognition of the remarkable generosity of The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of Melbourne today announced it will name the new Melbourne Conservatorium of Music building, The Ian Potter Southbank Centre.
This comes as the Foundation announces a donation of $4M to support the building of a new home for MCM students and staff on the University’s Southbank campus. The gift joins a series of donations from the Foundation totalling $14 million towards the revitalisation of the University’s Southbank campus, including their support for the current redevelopment of the former Police Stables in Dodds Street.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis said this latest philanthropic contribution will ensure world-class facilities for students at the MCM into the future and help showcase the talent of Australia’s next generation of artists and performers at the VCA and MCM.
“The importance of philanthropy in supporting the arts cannot be overstated. This is why we are delighted to name the new conservatorium building The Ian Potter Southbank Centre.”
“It is a mark of the Foundation’s vital role in revitalising our Southbank campus, so the work of future artists and musicians, ground breaking art collections and extraordinary architecture can be shared with the people of Melbourne,” Professor Davis said.
Chairman of The Ian Potter Foundation, Mr Charles Goode AC said the Foundation was pleased to support the relocation of the renowned Melbourne Conservatorium of Music to the University’s Art Campus at Southbank.
“It is a significant project in the heart of Melbourne’s Art Precinct and will allow the University to provide expanded music education of the highest quality for future generations,” Mr Goode said.
The Ian Potter Southbank Centre is expected to open its doors in late 2018 for the 2019 academic year.
The gift forms part of Believe - the Campaign for the University of Melbourne, the University’s largest philanthropic undertaking. Aiming to change the lives of future generations, Melbourne is seeking to raise $1 billion in philanthropic funding by 2021, along with engaging 100,000 alumni in the life of the University.
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Banner image: Architect's render of the Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Courtesy of John Wardle Architects.
Originally published on the University of Melbourne Newsroom. Read the original article.
By Will Temple
Watch a group of musicians perform — whether a chamber quartet or stadium rockers — and you can see a key part of playing together successfully is the subtle interaction and communication involved.
For Dr Grace Thompson, a music therapist, lecturer and researcher at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, it is these interactions that drive her work with children newly diagnosed with autism who find it difficult to connect.
“The child might happily play for hours in their own kind of play but if someone tries to join them they are not so interested in that,” Dr Thompson says.
“This is where, for me, music becomes a really powerful tool, because the children are actually motivated by the music and, almost before they realise it, they are interacting with someone at the same time.”
Dr Thompson, a multi-instrumentalist who has been active musically since childhood, first heard about music therapy after getting into the Melbourne Conservatorium as a singer.
She is now the president of the Australian Music Therapy Association and has spent two decades working in the field in special education and early intervention — usually with children aged between three and four.
The weekly sessions typically involve making music in collaboration with the child and their family in whatever style, and using whatever instruments — from guitar to percussion — they respond to best.
“It’s a really tough time for families and for children,” she says.
“Their children are often quite challenging to engage at that early time after diagnosis so the music is important on a whole range of levels. Some parents will say that music is the only thing that calms their child down.
“Some will say their child interacts more, and some will say that it’s the only thing they can do together with their child and enjoy it and so it’s valuable on that level.
“We know a lot of our earliest interactions as human beings are musical — we don’t come into the world talking, but yet we seek to have connections with people. The ways we do that are often through these non-verbal musical interactions.”
Dr Thompson says the way music works to foster these connections is not fully understood but some of the theories being explored are based on early non-verbal musical communication, where “to be musical is deeply human”.
Others revolve around neuroscience, with music working as a particularly active stimulus to our brains, as shown through MRI experiments.
The types of music we enjoy may also be ones we are exposed to early on — even inside the womb. We also associate different pieces with emotional memories, such as a wedding song that a dementia patient may recognise and respond to at a time when they may not even know their spouse anymore.
Dr Thompson says she returned to research at the University of Melbourne because she found herself committed to providing evidence for what music therapists do. She is currently the Australian site manager for the largest psychosocial trial for autism intervention of any kind.
The global trial involves making music with more than 300 children with autism and their families in nine countries across US, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
“It’s a truly multicultural perspective we are getting in this study and we are super-excited to see what the results show,” she says. “What we hope to find is what we feel as music therapists — that there is an impact on the social interaction with the children afterwards.
“We don’t expect to cure autism, that’s not our intention, but we are wanting to make a difference in their skills and their development so they can participate in their communities better.
“If they don’t want to interact with you then it is incredibly difficult to do anything else in terms of development and teaching.”
Furthering this “collision of ideas” from the arts and sciences is something Dr Thompson is deeply committed to in her practice.
She has just had a proposal collaborating with the Melbourne Neuroscience Institute’s researchers approved which aims to look into ways to improve a child’s visual attention using music over other kinds of play.
“We have the ‘Music, Minds and Wellbeing’ initiative which is a partnership between the Conservatorium and Neuroscience,” she says. “That connection between art and science is something that is trying to be fostered.
That’s the agenda — to keep working collaboratively.
As an artist and a therapist I have a certain perspective and I need my colleagues in science to be able to pull those theories together.
“For me, the early childhood time is where I focus my research. I want to have the opportunity to make a difference in the trajectory of development. That’s what really inspires me in my work — the potential for that to have a long-ranging impact on the person.”
The planets have aligned for one of Australia’s best-known composers, but time and tide stop for no-one.
By Paul Dalgarno
Stuart Greenbaum, one of Australia’s most widely-performed composers and Head of Composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, is 50. Or, he will be soon. He’s not there yet, despite the imminent Stuart Greenbaum at 50 concert at Melba Hall.
“It was my colleague Dr Elliott Gyger’s idea,” he says. “I’ll be 49 when it happens, but I turn 50 on the 25th of December so, by dint of that technicality, yes, it’s my 50th-birthday year.”
800 Million Heartbeats. Stuart Greenbaum.
When we meet the rehearsals are yet to begin, and Professor Greenbaum is uncertain when, and to what degree, he’ll be involved. “Composers can be overbearingly present when people just need a bit of room,” he says. “Quite possibly I won’t turn up to the first rehearsal. Elliott knows my music and has a good handle on where it’s coming from.”
He views his works, more than 190 for the concert stage, as “living, breathing objects” – which has its pros and cons.
“Regrettably, I’m a revisionist, so every time I listen to my music I’m asking if it’s still what I want. That helps you grow as an artist, but it also means you’re far less likely to be a satisfied human being. Having so many works is like having a beautiful tree in your garden. It gets bigger and more beautiful every year, but sheds more and more leaves that have to be cleared up.”
90 Minutes Circling the Earth. Stuart Greenbaum.
His mother, Betty Scarlett, studied piano at the MCM in the 1950s. His father, Geoffrey, though not a musician, had an influence too. “I have a distinct memory as a seven-year-old of wandering into his study to play him a few bars on the guitar and saying it was my own piece,” he says. “He gave me five cents and said, ‘Can you come up with another one?’”
Professor Greenbaum’s wife, Marianne Rothschild, is a violinist. Their children – Aksel, 12, and Hanna, eight – play the guitar, and cello and piano, respectively. “They’re a handful,” he says. “They’re amazing.”
As a young man, Professor Greenbaum played electric guitars – and rock and pop still inform his compositions. Ross Baglin, his bandmate at 18, remains one of his closest collaborators. Together, with Baglin as librettist, they have created two successful operas (Nelson, 2005, and The Parrot Factory, 2010), 11 choral works, numerous art songs.
“We don’t rubbish each other’s work but we also don’t tiptoe around issues,” says Professor Greenbaum. “There’s a lot of humour and goodwill between us.”
Symphony No.2 “Double Planet”. Stuart Greenbaum.
Following his Masters degree in the early 90s, he found work as a composer with Melbourne’s Playbox Theatre, writing music for scenes that may, or may not, make the cut. “It drove me to distraction,” he says. “But in retrospect I’m so immensely grateful to all those people because they radically influenced how I think about time and drama in music.”
In the years since, his music has become more sophisticated and complex but its DNA remains the same. “I’ve always written music that’s harmonically and rhythmically overt and direct. My musical language now is not radically different from when I was 25, half a lifetime ago.”
On the most basic level, it is steered by what sounds good. “But more deeply it’s actually about existentialism. You get to a point in your career where there’s no point in writing another piece unless there’s something new in it.”
Fragments of Gratification. Stuart Greenbaum.
Up to 90% of his composition process now takes place at a screen. “But if I sit down and try to write a melody straight into the computer, it’s doomed,” he says. “A certain amount of musical impetus needs to be coming from your inner ear or a real musical instrument.”
It can come when he’s out walking, riding his bike, doing the groceries. “I could be lying in bed at four in the morning thinking I don’t want to get up, but if I don’t I might not remember what’s buzzing around in my head. Once something feels alive and is in the basket, I can do all manner of things with it.”
One need only look at titles such as 800 Million Heartbeat, Double Planet, and 90 Minutes Circling the Earth, for clues to Professor Greenbaum’s thematic concerns: the universe, and our place within it, looms large. “I love that metaphor for what it says about individuals, what our lives mean, our connectivity, our borders, our wars ...”
In space, of course, no-one can hear you clap – and that’s fine. “I think most artists seek an audience,” he says. “But applause, I’m not so sure. Compositionally, what I secretly desire is lots of silence either side of my work. I’d feel guilty for the performers but if I had my way no-one would clap at the end – the audience would just walk out.”
The Flinders Quartet play Stuart Greenbaum String Quartet No.6 The Lonely Planet.
He is currently ten pieces into a suite of 20 for his Sonata Project, which will involve a major recital work for all the major orchestral instruments, and a couple of others besides. “Most of them are accompanied by piano, so they’re really duos,” he says. “It means they’re very achievable in performance terms.” The portability of that model, its replicability compared to an orchestra piece, appeals.
“Contemporary music’s single biggest problem is too many one-night stands,” he says. “It’s like saying to a rock group, ‘Change your personnel every three weeks’ – you probably won’t end up sounding like the Rolling Stones that way.”
controlling the roller-coaster
Not surprisingly, combining a full-time senior academic position and two young children with writing music presents its challenges – a big one being time. “I’ve asked myself whether I’d be happier if I just stopped writing completely,” he says. “My music is one of the most exciting things in my life, but it’s also one of the most depressing, and I’m not in full control of that roller-coaster.
“But I think I’m probably hard-wired to be wandering around wondering about this stuff. I just have to try and do as best I can and try not to torture the people around me.”
Professor Stuart Greenbaum ... at 49. Photo: Sarah Fisher.
Time is playing on his mind in other ways , as the big 5-0 approaches. “I’ve read articles that say 51, 52 and 53 can be fabulous,” he says. “But I’m an atheist. I think the time we have on the planet is all we get. The thought of mortality sits uncomfortably with me and I think a lot of my music ultimately is about that. Some of my pieces are melancholic and sad but I deeply hope they also have an element of consolation about them.”
Isn’t that what music does, I wonder. Isn’t that the whole point?
“There’s a quote by the late American author Kurt Vonnegut that says, ‘We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is’. I think that pretty much sums up how I feel.”
New Music Studio: Stuart Greenbaum at 50, takes place on 12 December 2016, 6.00pm–7.00pm at Melba Hall, Parkville, Melbourne. Full details here.
Banner image: Stuart Greenbaum. Photo: Sarah Fisher
This article was first published on Pursuit. Read the original article.
Composer Peter Knight has been awarded the 2016 Albert H Maggs Composition Award for his work Diomira.
Administered annually by the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, the Albert H Maggs Composition Award provides an Australian composer funding to create a new musical work of a substantial nature.
The judging panel for 2016 included Professor Stuart Greenbaum, Dr Katy Abbott Kvasnica and Dr Miriama Young (University of Melbourne), and Professor Matthew Hindson (University of Sydney). Speaking about the winning entry, the panel noted:
"Peter Knight's work is inherently emotive and sonically arresting. It creates a rich and intricate post-minimalist sound world, gradually slowing in tempo, to reveal a soundscape of electronic glitches, vocalisations and real-world sounds. The effect over time is compelling and thought-provoking. We look forward to hearing the new work that the Award commissions.”
Peter Knight is an award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist, and is the Artistic Director of the Australian Art Orchestra. He holds a doctorate from Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.
The Albert H Maggs Composition Award offers a $7,000 commission to write a new work with a performance subsidy of $3,000 and is open to all Australian composers. Visit the scholarship page for information about how to apply.
Banner image: Composer Peter Maggs. Photo: peterknightmusic.com
The singer/songwriter, radio personality and University of Melbourne alumna talks music and life ahead of the Big Blowout Festival
For the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s Big Blowout Festival, I’m going to play original music from my two solo piano albums, Senses and Sun Signs. Mostly when I play gigs these days I’m singing, but it’s a lovely situation, this new University of Melbourne festival, because there’s a very broad brief. Depending on the audience and what it feels like in the room, I might sing some songs, but I’m mostly planning to play because it’s going to be a lovely piano in a really sonic space.
I always sang but I never sang on stages. As an introvert I felt more comfortable just playing piano, but I needed to sing my own songs after a while. When you write songs you hear exactly how you want them to go, and singing seemed to be the most efficient way to make that happen. I sort of came kicking and screaming to the role but now, after three albums of singing, I’ve created a beast.
To me, playing jazz piano was always some kind of unshakeable ideal, but initially, as a classical pianist, it seemed completely unattainable. I would listen to jazz pianists and not believe what I was hearing, that it was possible to play like that. I held it as such an apex of artistic and life achievement. When I was studying law, which I was really interested in and enjoying, it bugged me that I couldn’t improvise on piano. So I thought, I’ll take a year off law and do one year at the Victorian College of the Arts if I can get in. When I auditioned there, in 1992, I couldn’t improvise my way out of a paper bag. I’m amazed they let me in.
Dig a Hole (2013). Monique diMattina.
Being awarded the Fulbright scholarship in 2000 allowed me to go to New York in support of my masters degree, which was on one of Miles Davis’s pianists, Wynton Kelly. I waited tables at the Village Vanguard and that was fantastic because I got to hear everybody I’d idolised for years, and figure out what direction I wanted to go in. I moved away from the more experimental contemporary jazz I’d been interested in and towards the more singer/songwriter-focused stuff.
I did a project orchestrating Björk’s Dancer in the Dark. That was fantastic. I think she’s a brilliant artist and I was thrilled to be working with her team on that.
Say My Name (2011). Monique diMattina.
When my first daughter was born in Harlem in 2008 I thought we’d stay in New York, but when she was still a baby I started to think I wanted to give her all the things I had growing up in Australia – a bit more peace and quiet in her days. I decided to move back, and I’ve never regretted it. Melbourne’s a fantastic place to bring up kids.
I do a 3RRR segment on Saturdays called The Dao of Dylan. I play a Dylan song, or maybe an original that’s been inspired by Dylan, and have a chat about my observations, making some tenuous connection with Daoism or Buddhism or life … philosophy around the ideas the song throws up. I’m working up some of that material for a show called The Dao of Dylan at the Melbourne Recital Centre next year.
I speak Italian at home with my two girls. I’m half Italian on my father’s side. I didn’t speak Italian in the home I grew up in but have enjoyed doing that with my girls – they speak it really well. It’s just a way of keeping my heritage alive and passing it on to them. It’s a lovely thing we can share.
I ran the New York marathon in 2001. I was there during 9/11, which was obviously a pretty shocking event for the city. On the day it happened I went out to Central Park and spent the afternoon just running around the park and looking at the smoke – that was how I processed it, and I did a lot of running in the stressful weeks afterwards. I was amazed to complete the marathon because I’d never run that far before – I probably never will again.
When I was starting out I practised demonically, usually for six hours a day. I wanted to be the best jazz piano player ever. And when I look now, 20 years later, that’s so far from what I’m about. Every day I play with my girls, I sing, I write … In my twenties, my music had a kind of worried, competitive feeling to it. These days, it’s something I enjoy and love to do – what a relief!
– As told to Paul Dalgarno
Banner image: Monique diMattina
For information on studying Jazz & Improvisation, visit the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music discipline page.
Dr Erin Helyard has been praised as a virtuosic soloist as well as an inspired and versatile conductor, but his passion for performance goes way beyond the self
My conducting style has been described as “full-bodied” – a bit like a good shiraz. I do occasionally conduct from the pit, but the bulk of what I do is conducting from the harpsichord as they did in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which means I’m playing often with my left hand and beating with my right if needed. My violinist colleagues help too. Nowadays we tend to outsource all that direction to one person who beats and doesn’t make any sound with his or her hands or voice. I find that approach doesn’t work so well for opera from before 1800, which is what I’m fascinated by.
I’m deeply interested in how people can best live examined lives as musicians, and what we’re trying to teach our students. If you study piano, it’s good to learn harpsichord and electric piano and improvisation – not only eighteenth-century music but modern and many other styles besides. Rather than specialising we should be giving people a multiplicity of different skills.
Currently, we’re rehearsing for a student opera, Marc-Antione Charpentier’s La Descente D’orphée Aux Enfers, to be performed in late September. It’s a baroque work that involves many vocalists, which is great because we’ve so many here at the University. The student opera is hopefully going to be an annual event from now on, which is really exciting.
At one stage I thought that, if I didn’t get into academia, I would join the diplomatic corps. A lot of institutions and branches of government look for musicians to employ, because we’re trained to be receptive to other people, we work well in groups and intuit how to subsume ourselves or alternatively make ourselves heard.
Even as a teenager I was fascinated by music of the past and how people played it. I’ve also always loved literature, so it made sense for me to fall in love with opera.
The verb for playing an instrument is also “play” in German and French. If playing ever became odious to me I’d do something else, but I don’t think that would ever happen. Playing music was a great solace to me as a kid because I didn’t have an enormous amount of friends – music was a constant companion.
Haydn – Keyboard Concerto in D major – Australian Haydn Ensemble / Erin Helyard.
Pinchgut Opera was started up by me and another colleague in 2002, after we realised there was no baroque opera in Australia. A lot of Australians leave our shores and don’t come back. But at that point some were returning and we had a critical mass. We’re presenting stuff that’s new in that it’s rarely performed, but it’s also old – it’s a lovely postmodern mix.
I recently restored a vintage bike, an Apollo II, from the early 1980s. I wanted to be able to take care of an object that wasn’t a harpsichord. I took a course and found a vintage bell: I’m hoping my hipster cred is good.
French music of the eighteenth century is really beautiful and very precise. [Jean-Philippe] Rameau (1683-1764) is one of my go-to composers. The music is colourful, with interesting orchestration. You’ll have very bright, distinctive, unusual colours from the two piccolos and the bassoon – a really odd ensemble – and then something much more full-voiced, like a five-part string accompaniment. And with Rameau there’s lots of beautiful dance music as well.
Opera is not a cheap art form, and nowadays we invest the big money in cinema. I’m really excited to be conducting next year’s Adelaide Festival production of Handel’s Saul – it’s a $2 million production, which is an extraordinary investment.
I think the arts funding model will increasingly turn away from government towards private donorship, like the patronage system of old, and there’ll be big winners and big losers when that happens. I try to donate a portion of my salary to “good works”, as it were, and I think the more people who can afford to do that the better.
It’s intensely moving to watch a whole bunch of other human beings trying to enact human drama, to do human “stuff”. I love computer-generated imagery and all that because it’s been created by human beings, but there’s something to be said about a whole bunch of people performing live, warts and all. It’s a great symbol of community, of art. It ennobles us somehow, and I think that’s what gives me hope in dark times.
These days we expect our performances to sound like recordings. But I actually love when people take risks. A perfect performance that doesn’t move me is worse than a less-than-perfect performance that does move me by virtue of the performer’s absolute commitment to the role or to their instrument.
– As told to Paul Dalgarno
Banner image: A Private Performance, by Pio Ricci (1850–1919)/Wikimedia Commons
La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers by Marc-Antoine Charpentier will be presented in a fully-staged version by students and staff of the Early Music Studio and Vocal Area of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music on 28 and 29 September. Details here.
Emeritus Professor Denise Grocke initiated Music Therapy as a discipline in Australia in the face of stern opposition. Now she’s been honoured with an Order of Australia.
I’m in awe at being awarded the Order of Australia (AO). I looked it up and they’re usually for brain surgeons and politicians, not people like me. I believe, at the ceremony later this year, I’ll be given a medal to wear on official occasions, but I think there’s also a lapel badge you can wear at any time.
My two older sisters and I learnt the piano, my mother was a singer, my father was a pianist and an organist. We’d joke that we didn’t have a lot of family conversation because there was always music playing. I grew up knowing all the symphonies, piano and violin concertos. I came to the University of Melbourne in 1964 to do a Bachelor of Music, and thought I would end up being a school teacher.
I grew up in a fairly staunch Methodist family, with values of being concerned for other people.
In my third year at Melbourne I read a journal article about using music with children who were deaf. I thought: “That’s ridiculous, they can’t hear.” But that idea just took my imagination. Funnily, it’s about the only area of music therapy I didn’t end up practising.
The only place I could train as a music therapist was in America. I went to Michigan State University in 1968 to do a second Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in music therapy. I completed a six-month internship at Detroit’s Northville Psychiatric Hospital, a facility for 1,500 people, the majority of whom were black Americans. That was a huge culture shock – the only songs I knew were the English folk songs from my upbringing.
I came back to Melbourne armed with all this knowledge, but few people had heard of music therapy. One of the University professors, Dr Percy Jones, put me in touch with Dr Kahans, who had been trialling psychoaesthetics at Larundel psychiatric hospital in Bundoora, using various creative arts.
I worked at Larundel for ten years. Initially, I tried practising on all of the wards and coined the term “conveyor belt music therapy”. But then I started to work more specifically with adolescents with drug and alcohol addictions. I had a strong connection with people with schizophrenia. They were often in some other world. Through music, I tried to offer something that would draw them out, just for a bit.
I initiated Australia’s first music therapy course at the University of Melbourne in 1978, again with the encouragement of Dr Percy Jones. There was quite a bit of antagonism – some argued it shouldn’t be at a university because there wasn’t much research. Now, in 2016, the music therapy team brings in millions of dollars a year in research funding.
I narrowed my focus, taught my students, got jobs for them, set up a professional association. In a funny way the derogatory comments kept me going. It was a mother-hen kind of thing. I had to keep my chicks together, protect them.
Master of Music Therapy graduate (2011) Priscilla Pek discusses how Music Therapy helps sick children through creativity to make choices, have control of their environment again and socialise with other children.
My main area of practice is Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), a form of music psychotherapy. Periodically, throughout our lives, we ask ourselves: what is my identity now? Who am I? GIM provides a way for people to determine the coherence of what their values are and how they’re living, and what, if anything, needs to change.
In 1990 I introduced a graduate diploma in music therapy at the University of Melbourne, and then, in 2006, we converted the training to a course-work Masters degree. Last year they took in 33 students, which is the largest group to date.
Some music therapists have written about working in palliative care wards, playing music as a person lies there, their family surrounding them, taking their last breaths. That’s extraordinary, spine-tingling, privileged work – the person drifts away as the music is playing.
I derive more pleasure from music now, and it’s certainly my closest friend. Since retiring in 2012 I’ve been a lot more involved in the community, playing for community choirs. For years, the only keyboard I touched was the computer keyboard, so it’s been nice to get back to that.
Other than music, my great loves are my children and grandchildren. My daughter and her husband have twin boys, my son and his wife have two girls. I’m coming up to a very significant birthday and am taking everyone to Hawaii.
When people are admitted to hospital these days they can tick a box to say they’d like to receive music therapy. I have a sense now that the field is rock-solid, whereas in the 1980s it was more a question of: “My god, will this survive?” It’s really gratifying to see how things have developed.
– As told to Paul Dalgarno
Banner image: Sascha Kohlmann/Flickr
John Wayne Parsons knows a thing or two about the challenges facing Indigenous artists – and also the opportunities
By Paul Dalgarno
John Wayne Parsons, a Yugerra and Ugarem Le Baritone, has been singing since he was a child in Queensland. “I spent quite a bit of time in the church, singing traditional songs,” he says, laughing. “All that cultural stuff.”
“Cultural stuff” and community engagement are very much part of Parsons’ life. A teaching graduate from Victoria’s Deakin University through the Institute of Koorie Education, he worked in child protection at the Victorian Aboriginal Childcare Agency. Before that he was in Sydney, at the Aboriginal Services Branch within the Department of Community Services, The Redfern Waterloo Street Team, South Sydney Youth Services and World Vision Indigenous Programs. Among his many credits as a singer, he performed backing vocals on Uncle Archie Roach’s 2012 album Into the Bloodstream.
Parsons’ role at the University of Melbourne is School and Community Liaison Officer for the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA and MCM). That job sees him splitting his time between travelling around Victoria and the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development, on the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus.
Established more than a decade ago, the Centre is a hub for teaching and research staff and aims to connect Indigenous artists with ways into visual and performing arts, design, film, television and production. It’s also a nice place to hang out.
“The majority of people come in here to the Centre because they want to connect,” says Parsons. “It’s also an important place for Indigenous students who miss their families and communities – we’re sort of a surrogate family, in that sense, offering a bit of cultural support and a place where they can meet.
The majority of people come in here to the Centre because they want to connect.
When Parsons hits the road, it’s primarily to promote the courses on offer at the VCA and MCM to Indigenous students, and also to advocate on their behalf. “My job is about letting people know there are those wonderful opportunities, but also to be clear about the fact that, to get in to study at the VCA and MCM isn’t easy, that there’s an interview and audition process.
“So it’s about helping people prepare for that, giving them advice on putting their portfolios together, getting their confidence up to be able to come and perform to the best of their abilities.”
Pathways and Opportunities
Two words that come up frequently when talking with Parsons are “pathways” and “opportunities”. On different lips, those might sound like buzzwords of the kind university marketing departments specialise in. But on Parsons’ they have a particular resonance. His own experiences at school inform much of his thinking around the challenges that need to be met head-on.
“On the sports field at school it was easy for me,” he says. “I felt supported, as if people thought, ‘Oh, he’s an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, he’ll be a good runner.’ And that was true – I actually was a good runner, and I played a lot of sports. But in the classroom, my experience was quite different. I’d put my hand up and be ignored. The teachers might have had the impression I’d be a good labourer, that they should give me just enough education to get me through, to be civilised and all that sort of stuff.”
Parsons finally advanced his dream of formally studying music when he enrolled as a mature-age student at the VCA, completing a foundation course in music performance in 2010. In the process he gained valuable insight that serves him still.
“I was actually terrified,” he says. “Because it was a foundation course, the students were all 18 or in their early 20s, and I was hitting 40. For me it was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing? This big black man, an old man, what am I doing here?’ But then I thought, ‘No, no, I deserve to be here, to have a go.’
“That’s one of the reasons my current role suits me well – I know how it feels. It can be intimidating. There are a lot of mature-age students that want to come here who have been artists for many years. They might not have an undergraduate degree but the wealth of knowledge and experience they have in their arts practice is pretty amazing. With those individuals we’re trying to overcome a sense of caution or anxiety – common enough feelings for any student, white or black, but more-so for Indigenous mob whose experiences haven’t been encouraged or properly valued.”
Currently there are 27 Indigenous students enrolled at the VCA and MCM at both undergraduate and postgraduate level – a number that, while not huge, is growing slowly and steadily.
Giving Something Back
Though Parsons says he has always given back to the community, the imperative for him to make a difference has become more pressing as a father of two young children. Again he mentions the word “pathways”, and again it’s in the least abstract way possible. Opportunities for Indigenous Australians are better than they were in the past and, with work, can continue to improve, he thinks. And the stakes are high.
“I go out to speak in Mildura, Shepparton, Gippsland, Portland, and there’s a high rate of suicides in those places, within our communities. I see it as important to give them that opportunity to think, ‘I could do that – I could be a screenwriter, work behind the camera, or in front of it, whatever’. That realisation might save one life, and that one individual could go back to the community and encourage another person, or a whole community.
“It’s urgent because we have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of all ages committing suicide at a very high rate. An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person could easily go to between eight and 15 funerals a year because of the dynamics in our communities.”
Parsons encourages anyone with an interest in the Centre and its activities to get along to Wilin Week, which begins on April 4. This year, the week includes Possum Skin Cloak Workshops, the Lighting the Wilin ceremony and the Lin Onus Oration, to be delivered by the writer Bruce Pascoe. Oh, and laughter – there’s always plenty of that.
“It’s not about blaming anyone for what’s happened in the past,” he says. “But, at the end of the day, we’ve all been left with this legacy.
“The question now, and something we’re always thinking about at the Wilin Centre, is how we are going to work together and move forward. It’s only by coming together in places like this that change begins to happen.”
“Wilin Week is an opportunity to celebrate what our students are doing currently, in dance, in music, across the board. And yeah, celebrating our culture, that it’s still alive, that we’re still here.”
Wilin Week takes place from 4–8 April at the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus. Details here.
Banner image: Lighting the Wilin, 2014. Picture: Jorge de Araujo.
Shauntai Batzke, gospel and opera singer and songwriter, is a Wiradjuri woman who grew up in Sydney.
By Gabrielle Murphy
The daughter of one of Australia’s best, but unheralded boxing champions Wally Carr, Ms Batzke is one of the first Indigenous Australians to gain a Bachelor’s degree majoring in classical voice at the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.
So like her mentors, renowned Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham AO and bass baritone and Yorta Yorta man Tiriki Onus, Ms Batzke is a trailblazer following in the footsteps of the very first Australian Indigenous opera singer Harold Blair.
“I was just seven when I first saw Whitney Houston on TV,” says Ms Batzke. “It was at that moment I realised there was a possibility of hope. To be what I feel I was born to be. To sing.”
In August, Ms Batzke travelled to New York City to attend summer school at the Belle Arti Center for the Arts as part of the Canto de las Americas – a workshop for aspiring artists in their vocal arts program.
The world is now her stage and this is her story.
By Katherine Smith
Here’s a challenge: take a book with very little dialogue, a book that has birds and war as its two dominant themes, that begins in Queensland and ends on the Western Front, and is much beloved by readers. Then turn it into a one-hour opera.
Composer and University of Melbourne academic Elliott Gyger has done just that with Fly Away Peter, an adaptation of David Malouf’s classic Australian novella of the same name.
The opera was completed earlier this year and after a successful May run in Sydney, will be on stage in the Fairfax Studio as part of the 2015 Melbourne Festival.
Dr Gyger, who teaches in the Composition section at the Melbourne Conservatorium, says he’s not sure exactly why, but in opera, there are rarely any “new” stories.
“For some reason contemporary operas, and in fact even the really well known older operas, are almost all adaptations. There are very few operas that are a completely original script.”
He says libretti (the words that accompany the music in opera and convey the narrative) are strange beasts.
“The text tells a story with characters but it’s certainly not a play script. And it has to have poetry in it, but it can’t be self-contained poetry. It has to leave space for music.
“Malouf’s writing is very musical, very poetic. He’s interested in opera himself, and has even written libretti, although this is the first opera based on one of his own books. And he’s a patron of Sydney Chamber Opera, who debuted this piece, so there were some nice synergies there.”
Dr Gyger says audiences for new operas are small, as they are for new (classical) music in general, but that people respond very directly to it.
“Opera is a very immediate medium, or it can be.”
Fly Away Peter is Dr Gyger’s first opera, although he explains he grew up getting to know all the classic operas, influenced by his parents who were great opera buffs.
“At some point I found the historical nature of opera off-putting, even absurd. It just doesn’t make sense to people: people don’t sing to each other.”
“But what opera’s really great at is voicing internal states of mind and emotion. What brings traditional operas to life is not so much the dramatic exchange of what is actually happening, it’s the arias where the characters are pouring out their souls that are the real heart of opera.
“Musicals make this even clearer than opera, where most of the dialogue takes place with the spoken word, and is quasi realistic, and then suddenly the character launches into song, and you’re taken to another space: it’s their imagination, or the inside of their head and they’re conveying emotions which are too impassioned for mere words.”
The biggest challenge the Fly Away Peter story presented to the creative team was putting World War 1 on stage, something Dr Gyger says was “clearly impossible”.
“We had to find a way to portray the soldiers that Jim, the main character, interacts with. So the tenor needed to play several characters, one by one. It relies on a really good actor, because there’s no time for costume changes and the like, it’s all done with body language and expression.”
For a show like Fly Away Peter, Dr Gyger says voice and acting skills are equally important.
“With such a small cast there’s nowhere to hide. You have none of the spectacle of an opera with a cast of thousands, big expensive sets, and elephants on stage.
“You’ve got three people who have to carry the whole show for over an hour just with the power of their acting and their voices.”
By Alix Bromley
The former Victoria Police Hospital, opened in 1914 on the corner of St Kilda Road and Southbank Boulevard, was officially re-opened by Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis this month after a year-long refurbishment of the heritage-listed building.
The “Old Police Hospital”, as it is now called, provides accommodation for the Dean’s office and administrative units of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (VCA & MCM) who are lucky to have it as a Faculty Hub.
The building is light and open. In fact there isn’t a space which doesn’t have access to natural light – atypical of a University workspace as is the building’s history, which now has meeting rooms with such names as The Dispensary and The Operating Theatre.
History of the Site
The former Victoria Police Hospital operated as a hospital for some 65 years from 1914 and was not only the first police hospital in Victoria, but is claimed to be the first in the world.
During the First World War it was used as a military hospital and then for the public during the Spanish influenza outbreak, with the police resuming control of the site in 1920.
Its design was based on the pavilion principle, which expressed the late 19th and early 20th century attitudes to hospital design. Intended to provide ample sunlight and ventilation for the convalescing patients, it also included a two-levelled verandah on the north and south elevations.
The police transferred their hospital to a new building nearby in 1980 and the site was taken over by the VCA, which had commenced occupation of the former Police Depot from 1973.
The building was subsequently converted to a print-making school and employed as such until 1992. Since then it has been used for offices and storage and allowed to fall into a dilapidated state.
The Balancing Act of Heritage Refurbishment
Luke Flanagan has been the project manager for the site since the beginning of 2013. He has been working on the design and build alongside lead architect Louise Goodman and senior architect Fleur Downey from Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT) and heritage specialists RBA Architects and Conservation Consultants.
For Flanagan, the greatest challenge of any heritage project is getting the balance right between retaining the original fabric, working within the heritage restraints set by Heritage Victoria, and achieving an acceptable standard with the functional and aesthetic requirements of the space.
“There’s always conflict and tension there. Every heritage building has its own characteristics and qualities and the trick is to exploit, amplify and take advantage of them – while at the same time ensuring any interventions or additions are made sensitively,” Flanagan says.
Architect Louise Goodman believes the success of the project has been in stripping back the building to its original plan.
“This allows the elegance of the new forms and materials of the building additions, which have a beauty in their own right, to complement the existing brickwork and proportions of the original hospital,” she says.
“Don’t overwhelm the original but compliment it. That’s the real challenge,” says Flanagan, “The end result justifies the pain and anguish because what you end up with is a building which is very unique.”
The Old Police Hospital brings together many of the new and existing elements, in a shared space, to be enjoyed by all of the staff.
One of the key design features of the site is the addition of a two-storey glass curtain wall extension, with terracotta louvres, to the Southbank Boulevard frontage.
The original verandah was replaced in the 1950s with a balcony and small extension on the ground floor. In removing these additions, the building resembled its original form. The new addition was designed to act as an enclosed verandah, referencing the symmetry of the vertical columns on the southern verandah.
The differing angled louvres filter the sun and provide privacy as well as breaking up the horizontal elements. The terracotta used for the louvres is a natural complement to the deep red of the existing brickwork.
The spiral staircase has been beautifully restored. The balustrade was originally built using rare red pine, which unfortunately didn’t meet the structural requirements. So the new timber is ironbark, a mix of two types to achieve the variance required, with a French polished finish.
The staircase didn’t meet current balustrade height requirements, so the balusters were replaced with longer lengths and the newel posts extended with new timber additions. The additions are designed to show a visible line between old and new.
There are tile features left over from another age tell their own story, and the new wall openings are defined by the use of a blackbutt timber portal to clearly distinguish new from existing building elements.
Outside, new steel and glass entry canopies to the north and south of the central entry tie in the language of the new building elements, and an eye-catching copper lift has made it to completion after initially being out of budget (before the price of copper plunged). The interpretative garden adjacent to the lift, designed by Oculus landscape architects, is intended to resemble the outbuilding which was located in the same place.
Southbank Boulevard connection
The new glass extension creates a significant impact on Southbank Boulevard and adds a touch of contemporary flair to the streetscape – “it has a bit of drama to it”, says Flanagan.
Given the plans for Southbank Boulevard, the building is situated in an important location. The City of Melbourne is looking at running a kilometre-long park from St Kilda Road down to Queen’s Bridge. Tram alignment will remain the same but the existing four lanes of traffic will be reduced to two with aim of increasing pedestrian traffic instead.
“The real driver there is to create a meaningful connection from the city into the art’s precinct,” says Flanagan.
All of this fits within the broader development of the VCA & MCM’s Southbank campus, a venture funded jointly by The Myer Foundation, The Ian Potter Foundation, the University of Melbourne and the State Government through Creative Victoria.
Last year, the Grant Street Theatre was reopened with Lionel’s cafe and bar, named after major supporter Lionel Gell. This year, the Brian Brown Recording Studio underwent a substantial renovation, and the old industrial Teaching Workshop has also been re-opened as a cutting edge research facility.
In 2016, the stables that were once occupied by police horses will be transformed into visual art studios. In 2017, a new purpose-built museum will be opened to showcase Michael Buxton’s contemporary Australian art collection, and plans for a new Conservatorium building are also slowly gaining momentum.
For staff and students at the VCA & MCM, it’s an exciting time. These new developments aim to set up the University’s Southbank campus with the best facilities to teach young artists for the next 50 years.
Banner Image: Ground floor of the two-storey glass curtain wall extension. Photographer: Ben Hosking.
By Hannes Lackman, Bachelor of Fine Arts (Contemporary Music)
On the 28th of April, five students from Contemporary Music embarked on a trip to the musically-marinated land of Cuba. I was lucky enough to be part of this, I could have never of anticipated what I gained from the experience, and for that I am truly grateful to Alex Pertout and the University of Melbourne.
After a plethora of bumps and hiccups – a lost luggage bag, a missed flight, a potential bomb threat, and a number of food-related digestion issues – we had finally arrived in Havana. I walked out of the airport instantly greeted by an overwhelming wet heat. The strangely delightful smell of cigar smoke and fried chips was intoxicating after the sterility of the Boeing 737.
After coming through L.A where the sound of smiley-faced-corporate advertisements, brand new SUV engines, and blockbuster voices dominated the airwaves, I became drunk with aural pleasure as new sounds cascaded into perception. The rumble of a ’50s Chevrolet engine, the thunder of an all-too-close incoming plane, the patter of bare feet on concrete mixed with the clop of wooden soles on old marble floors, and the glorious squabble of the Spanish tongue. Our tourist guide – Eleanor – had a particularly explosive laugh that garnished the sound-cocktail of Havana. That rolling, bouncy language would become our first music lesson.
As we pulled out of the terminal and into the city, Eleanor gave us a rundown of the different municipalities as we went past them. Havana is divided into areas of function, rather than suburbs. For example on our way to the Tourist Area, we passed through the Education Municipal which had a monstrous library and a refurbished 1700s Spanish era building for the high school, then through the Communication Municipal – where a mailing system, and the telephone and internet companies operated.
We arrived at the Hotel Plaza – our home for the next 12 days – late at night. We walked into the foyer and were welcomed by more marble-clopping, more cigar smoke, and Steven Wyld the filmmaker who would document our trip.
The next day, we began our tuition with Cuban-Conga Royalty, Roman Justo ‘Pella Apito’ Hernendez, who would be our Afro-Cuban percussion teacher for the next 10 days. Pella (Pay-Ya) specialises in a particular type of Afro-Cuban percussion, which is considered as ‘folkloric’ due to the geographic and historic aspects of the music. His father founded a highly respected rumba ensemble, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, and is a founding member of Conjunto Folkloric Nacional de Cuba – a large Cuban Folkloric organisation. We spent the first day with him in a function room on the roof top of our hotel in 33 degree heat, with no air conditioning, and no idea what we were doing. After six hours, we were dripping with sweat, our hands were tingling and swollen from the raw hide conga skins and we knew this trip wasn’t going to be a regular tourist holiday.
Our first obstacle was the language barrier. Generally, the Cubans we met could speak a little broken English and generally as a group we sucked at Spanish. However Pella spoke no English, and so in the lessons our only form of communication (when we didn’t have Alex or Steven translating) was through listening – very intensely – to the rhythms he would play, and we would attempt to replicate them.
Our next challenge was letting go of our western learning method. We were used to a musical education that relies on a piece of paper with symbols and notation, a metronomic pulse that dictates a strict and uncompromising time signature and old faithful beat one. This concept was non-existent in Pella’s teaching, or if it was, it seemed to hidden in a maze of syncopation, and he would NEVER begin a rhythm on beat one. Ever.
On the second day, we had another rhythmic boot camp with Pella, and after our lesson, he took us all to our first rumba, held at Patio de la Rumba.
A great lecturer of mine once told me that when we play music, we are simply manipulating energy. The energy generated by the 100+ people at this rumba would be able to power the Melbourne Cricket Gorund (MCG). For five grand finals. When I left the rumba, my perception of rhythm – and the effect it can have on people – had a whole new gravity. The dancers, singers and the drummers have a connection with each other that runs deep in the peoples’ history, and was extraordinary to witness and be a part of.
There is a harsh reality of a communist, third-world country showing some poverty amongst its citizens. Selene and Sean from our group had a pretty sobering experience with a local who was – to put politely – unhappy with the way things were. However it became evident for me that their strength and resilience comes from an unrelenting commitment to each other, to their music and their spirituality; the three elements seem to go hand in hand with food, water and oxygen for them. By the end of our trip we had seen some rumbas, we had danced a disturbing version of salsa, and could string together a sentence in Spanish, but I feel as though we had just scraped the surface of a world of music that we as westerners may never fully understand. As disappointing as that sounds, it only makes me more excited to do my best interpretation of what I experienced and to continue learning from this culture and its music.
Led by Alex Pertout, five contemporary music students were able to experience the music scene in Havana as part of the Faculty’s Global Atelier program. Global Atelier is made possible with the support of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.
This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.