Nothing New Under the Sun (at least not in tax and politics)

Your correspondent does not generally comment on the politics of the day. Wouldn’t want the trolls to get restless. But the current brouhaha over the States taking on some income tax responsibility jogged my memory: did not the inestimable Sir Robert Garran pen a stanza on this very subject? Well, yes.

Are Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison students of history when it comes to considering passing taxation rights to the States? They are, if history is any guide, proposing measures which will again not be accepted. In 1934 Prime Minister Lyons called a Constitutional Conference. Amongst the matters for consideration were financial items. According to “Prosper the Commonwealth” by said Sir Robert, a man who knew a bit about Federation, the Constitution and the early years of the Commonwealth: “All States were dissatisfied with their dependence on Commonwealth grants….. Some States suggested that the Commonwealth could vacate the field of income tax, but when the Commonwealth called their bluff and seriously offered this, there was a marked cooling off. The States have never been blind to the political convenience of letting the Commonwealth have the unpopular task of imposing taxation whilst the States enjoy the privilege of spending the money. Their complaints, therefore…..were seldom pressed home. In the end nothing came of the proposal.”

Except this stanza:

We thank you for the offer of the cow,

But we can’t milk, and so we answer now-

We answer with a loud resounding chorus:

Please keep the cow, and do the milking for us.

One R G Casey, whom alert readers may recall was another astute fellow,  Commonwealth Treasurer at the time, is understood to have retorted that the stanza was the only positive result from the Conference.

It seems there is still much to learn from history, and perhaps even doggerel.

Posted in Australian Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Emma Ayres in Afghanistan: Another Story of Passion and Generosity

Emma Ayres’ recent interview on ABC TV’s “The Weekly” with Charlie Pickering has been roundly admired and praised. Your correspondent was as delighted as anyone to see the interview and hear Emma’s stories. There is another wonderful story of Emma’s passion along with some collaborative philanthropy which deserves also to be told. The program for last August’s Sydney Musica Viva Coffee Concert reported this story:

“For Emma Ayres, life is music. Whether riding her bike to raise money for charity, presenting popular radio shows or playing cello, Emma’s passion for music is always present. And Emma is on a mission to share music with the world.

Music is life for John Strutt, too. A long-time commissioner of new works and a patron of the arts, John’s embrace of music is as passionate as Emma’s. It’s no surprise that – following their meeting at a music festival nine years ago – they became friends; united by a shared sense of humour, a love of people and a heartfelt commitment to a musical future.

These shared qualities and values have found their most powerful expression to date in a new project in Afghanistan, where Emma is now teaching students at Kabul’s National Institute of Music. In a city marred by daily violence and overshadowed by a constant sense of danger, music provides refuge, solace and inspiration to the children who arrive in Emma’s classroom every day.

Excited by this commitment, Emma began her classes but soon recognised that the children’s eagerness to learn was hampered by instruments that were either inadequate, or simply unavailable.

So Emma wrote to John, telling him about the children whose love for music would, with help, blossom. And, with a verve and speed familiar to anyone who knows him, John set about raising money for the children in Kabul. Three months of emails and calls later, and with the help of Doug Glanville at Sydney Strings, a collection of 20 new string instruments (and one glockenspiel from Optimum Percussion) was on its way to Afghanistan.

Emma describes Kabul as a city where – despite everything – music always wins. And today, thanks to the many friends who responded to Emma and John’s appeal, beautiful music is pouring from the windows of the National Institute in Kabul.”

(Quoted with permission from Musica Viva.)




Posted in Music Education, Musica Viva | 3 Comments

Saving the World, One Class at a Time: Thoughts prompted by Richard Gill at the Peggy Glanville Hicks Address

Back in 2007, your correspondent drafted a blog post about teaching music to primary students. The blog never saw the light of day. Or night for that matter. But the issue was placed in intense focus last Monday when Richard Gill gave the 2015 Peggy Glanville Hicks Address. It came as no surprise to the audience that his presentation was challenging. The term “iconoclast” came to mind. He covered a broad spectrum under the general concept of why contemporary music matters. But of course his theme naturally reverted to why all music matters and why it is essential primary school students be given proper music education from trained music teachers. The address will be repeated in Melbourne on Friday 30 October at Deakin Edge, Federation Square. If you have any interest in the future of music, go along:

There was discussion about how best to advocate proper primary music education, and how music is distinctly different from other art forms. Decrying the lack of well trained and inspiring primary school music teachers, Gill pointed to the importance of replication of these skills if worthwhile improvement is to be achieved. He pointed to the National Music Teacher Mentoring Program he had been able to introduce with a minimum funding model which is being delivered through the Australian Youth Orchestra, as well as the work of Musica Viva in Schools.

Not mentioned, but likewise effective in this arena is the work of the Australian Children’s Music Foundation. Your correspondent had some contact with their work back in 2007 through a particularly committed and skilled music teacher friend. As one of only a small band of AMCF teachers at that stage, there was a deal of discussion about how to replicate her work to facilitate on the ground teaching by less qualified teachers in disadvantaged schools. In its execution the ACMF’s efforts have been remarkable in terms of achievement. Schools such as Hillston Primary in western NSW and the Matraville Soldiers Settlement School can be justifiably said to have transformed their music programs with wonderful effect. The following, unedited, report extracts may provide some perspective:-

“There are about 120-140 children in the primary school. Most of these children come from farming families. Children regularly have days off to help on the farm – to put up fences, or to castrate lambs. Many children travel 80 – 100 kilometres to get to school. Music was pretty low on their list of important things. Most children listened to the radio, but had never seen a musical instrument, let alone played one, or learnt about music as a subject.”

“I remember my first visit – no child would really sing. A few girls, but kids told me they hated singing. It was boring. One boy said that he would even do maths, rather than sing.”

But then the ongoing mentoring had its effect: “We gave a little concert to the whole primary school – we played Bach, Copeland, a little Tarantella for cello and piano and a song written by Martin Wesley-Smith. Every question we asked, children knew.

“What’s the name of the highest female voice?”


“What’s the name of a pattern that goes over and over again?”


“What are the cello strings made of?”

“Metal – but they used to be catgut!”

These children know their stuff. And they listened – some with open mouths, some with huge grins – but they all listened. Transfixed. No-one wanted to go at the end – so we taught them a two part song in ten minutes. They loved it. All the teachers joined in, all the children sang and sang – big country boys in year six loving it as much as the ‘good girls’ in year three.”

“Year 5, I was told, was the naughtiest class. It has far more boys in it than girls, and a handful of children are really struggling with very elementary reading. ALL of these children were fantastic – they read rhythm, they sang, they played chimes, they played kazoos, they waited patiently when others were struggling, and they were really careful with the cello. One teacher said afterwards ‘I have known some of these children since kindergarten. I have never seen some of those boys so engaged.’

And then perhaps the most telling comment of all: “The staff are teaching music. [One] music teacher (who also teaches maths) was telling me that the staff morale has really improved – because they can see the happiness that this programme is bringing these children.”

This all begs the question why teaching young children to sing together, hit cans with sticks together, or create new music together actually changes anything. The answer surely lies in the emotionally collaborative nature of music. Children who may struggle with reading or mathematical concepts find, in a collective, that they can indeed sing in tune, beat out a rhythm, understand simple notation and creative processes. What this does for them is build their self-esteem, focus their efforts on collaborating with others and the natural disciplines this encourages. And bring that elusive reward: happiness. These are wonderful building blocks for a community and of course wider society reaps the benefits. The primary school age mind is receptive and flexible, responding to musical influences in a way that cannot be precisely defined. As Richard Gill pointed out, the need for music education has nothing to do with incidental benefits such as improving performance in maths. It is necessary and sufficient all by itself.

Future generations may be thankful as primary music education becomes mainstream. It is not too great a leap of faith to claim potential to fundamentally change the society in which we live.

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Letter to a Young Singer

Your correspondent has jut spent a busy week in Melbourne enjoying the intense experience that is the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition. The experience has again focussed the mind on the challenges of musical competition and the subjective influences which invariably guide the outcomes.

Another competition looms this month in which your correspondent and Mrs Oz have a great interest. This is the 2015 Joan Carden Award, the finals of which will take place on Sunday 16 August in the Great Hall at the University of Sydney. Three finalists will strut their stuff alongside the wonderful Sydney University Graduate Choir, with full orchestra, all under the direction of Christopher Bowen OAM. As the competition looms, your correspondent was prompted to write a letter to a young singer:

“As the date approaches I have been thinking about the challenge of competition. Even if I knew much about the technical aspects of singing I would not dare explore this realm. You have excellent coaches to do this work. If I look at the other finalists, however, there is an interesting complexity: the three of you are very different in style. How then does one shine against a showy soprano and a characterful baritone?

The answer lies, I believe, in singing with intelligence. Your voice has a natural beauty: the task is to use this to communicate with the audience by interpreting the poet’s and the composer’s emotions based on a strong understanding of them both, their backgrounds and their personal emotional involvement in the creative process. “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” has been called one of Mahler’s finest songs. Clearly it must be delivered with great beauty, yet tempered with an understanding of why Mahler may have been attracted to Rueckert’s verse. One writer pointed out that Mahler may well have been reflecting on his early creative years when he was yet to be appreciated for the talent he undoubtedly had. This did not make him sad or angry, and indeed this is not a sad or angry song. Rather, it is a reflective song about the creative process and its challenges. If I be not understood, then surely it is best to stand back from the turmoil, cut off the influences of external irrelevancies and focus on that wonderful spirit of creativity. Alone? Only in one sense: that sense of aloneness one cherishes when in love, to be alone with the beloved. In this case the beloved is impersonal, but none the less real: the artist is in a metaphorical heaven, together with art he loves. Mahler said of Rueckert’s poetry:”this is lyric poetry from the source”. And a powerful source it was, Friedrich Rueckert being a true man of letters, an expert in Oriental literature and a keen observer of the human condition. Mahler was clearly greatly impressed by Rueckert’s poetry, and wrote the music at his summer villa in Carinthia built, it is said, as a refuge from the hurly burly of Viennese life. Where better to be than with one’s lover, even an inanimate one, by a lake in summer.

So the song is only in part one of solitude. Reflective yes, but in the end a love song, an intimate, emotional song to the creative process. So, “Ich bin gestorber….” is in fact a happy statement, as in “dead to the world” in glorious sleep. But in this case the glory is not sleep, but of being in heaven; in love with song. You, dear young singer, would not be doing what you do were you not in love with art song. All you have to do is convey this love to your audience.

As an aside from all this, who would have known the Australian Research Council has a Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Does Australia need such a research centre? Maybe it’s a little indulgent. But it is possible a young singer could learn something from such a centre. Last night there was a performance in Sydney by the wonderful vocal ensemble I Fagiolini who combine expertise in a cappella Renaissance and contemporary singing. In a pre-concert talk one Alan Maddox from the above mentioned Centre suggested an interesting link between musical performance and oratory. A singer is as much an orator as a lawyer or politician, having to sway the audience as much by communicating appropriate emotional content along with inspiring words and music. In Renaissance times orators were taught a special language of the body (stance, hands, feet) along with the tonal qualities and facial expressions necessary to deliver great emotional impact. Of course we have modulated these aspects to some degree nowadays, except perhaps for full-blown opera performances. This notwithstanding, the point is clear that a singer should not be afraid of using all their faculties available to deliver emotional impact.

As you hone your performance, may these thoughts be of some benefit. Otherwise there is little to say except perhaps a heartfelt toi, toi, toi.”

Posted in Music | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From the Chook Shed: Senator Brandis Supports Dead White Roosters


Oh, my goodness! The sky is falling. Yes, really. Your correspondent has been talking to Chicken Little.

Chicken Little, as you will all be aware is a creation of the Creative Industries: a visual artist and writer was involved in her development. (Well, many visual artists and writers in fact, in book and film). So Chicken Little should know what she is clucking about.

It’s just that she seems to be so disturbed by so much: misogynists don’t like the new Mad Max movie; Cate Blanchett has had relationships with other women; accountants have ruined music education in Canberra and are now about to destroy the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide; Johnny Depp’s dogs can’t stay in Australia; Melba Records has a personal siphon directly into the government trough; a ballet school got money for new premises without peer review; Opera Australia doesn’t program works by Australians or even women (although, horror of horrors, their funding seems to be secure like all the other Major Performing Arts Groups); the current government thinks Bjorn Lomborg is an OK guy; facility management companies running asylum seeker camps are sponsoring the arts; News Corp has taken a lead from Facebook and banned the nipple; and Chicken Little can’t get her projects funded. Oy vey, oy vey!

The loudest squawks coming from social media right now are budget related. Chicken Little and her mates are in high dudgeon because the recent Australian Federal Budget cut funding to the Australia Council, and (wait for it) transferred some funds to the Ministry for the Arts (for which read “transferred into the Minister’s Personal Slush Fund”), as well as shifting money to another organisation called Creative Partnerships Australia which many in the hen house have never heard of. Chicken Little’s fellow travellers all hate Arts Minister Senator Brandis with a passion. It is not quite clear in this corner of the chicken coop whether Brandis is more hated than Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Clearly they both rate as mad Ridgebacks in the chook-yard. Feathers are flying everywhere. It may be salutary to remember, however, that the bureau(c)rats in the Arts Ministry, who will be feeding advice to Brandis, live in Canberra. It is a sure thing they are all lefties who vote labour. Canberra is like that.

You don’t think this is serious? Here’s a selection from social media: “arts funding now to be linked to commercial success”; “a culture of private and corporate sponsorship. Do we want to move MORE in this direction?” It’s a “new age of patronage and artistic privilege”; “Australia’s era of artistic silencing begins”. In other signs the sky is falling: a well-known Newcastle native of Renew Newcastle fame proudly tweets he is travelling First Class! Saxophonist Amy Dickson has launched a Children’s Music Foundation project in the Billich Art Gallery. (Some in the chicken coop may feel “art” in this context is rather loose, but let not your correspondent be too disingenuous. Whatever, Mr Billich may have difficulties with News Corp. and Facebook unless he’s concentrating more now on his Sydney-scapes.) It’s all enough to bring on a bad case of First World depression.

Stagenoise, an on-line arts newssheet says this of Brandis: “George Brandis is not an ordinary Australian. He is not like the rest of us and he sees absolutely no reason why he should be and no reason why that might be seen as a bad thing.” Hm. Well that begs the question whether chickens that practice the arts are like the rest of us in the farmyard. But best remember, Brandis does at least support “dead white roosters” as is evidenced by his (ungenerous, according to Stagenoise) contribution to Brisbane Baroque. It could be argued here that this was also a grant to a plump, yet well connected, old boiler (aka Leo Schofield). But best we don’t go there in case we disturb the donkeys down in Hobart.

What to do? Support the Arts Party? Come off it! Start a Getup petition? Nah. The chooks would do better to keep working on their next pitch for a bag of grain.

As night falls over the chicken run and the chooks come back to roost, waiting for the farmer to toss a little grain their way, the mood is sombre. Will there be a ‘morrow? Will the stars, too, fall from the sky? Your correspondent can assure the coop, hens and roosters alike, that the sun will rise tomorrow. Best the chooks heed the early call of their roosters and get out into the farmyard to scratch for seeds. It’s a farmyard jungle out there. But if they fail to find a convenient trough of government grains, or the way into the grain store via the raft of foundations out there, perhaps they may consider this: if they don’t fear government too much, Creative Partnerships Australia can give an extra sack for every one raised from all those other beasts in the farmyard. Even the Australian Cultural Fund might help them on their way. Just remember, anything is Pozible………

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It’s Official: Age of Entitlement Over at Opera Australia

It’s early morning the Friday after New Year. Lyndon Terracotta, Artistic Director of Bopopera Australia, has come in early to his waterfront office to be greeted by a curt text from his PA: “Mr T! You’re on Slipped Disc again. That dreadful Norman DeFect still doesn’t like us!”

It’s been a tough year. Lyndon feels he needs to unburden to someone……..


Dear David,

Compliments of the Season. Came in early today to give some quiet thought to important matters such as my ideas for a new Comps. Policy and suddenly I find that nice Flack we have, you know the one with a pretty name, has had a fat finger incident. Hit the “reply world” button : ” Hi All, Comps are off Darlings. Happy New Year.” I mean, all I asked her to do was get a bit stroppy with that critic lady for the left wing press, Harry Cunningplan! Pommy Bastard I think. Did you see what she wrote on Crikey a few days back? No? Well I guess it’s no surprise you don’t read Crikey. Never known a board member who did, all those inner city white lefty journos who’ve never had to make a profit or meet a wages bill.

Did I mention the season? It’s all about the bloody season. I thought it was all done and dusted last August when we launched, but the media’s on it again. Bland they say; nothing by women composers, nothing Australian, nothing contemporary in the main stage program, anything goes. And “Anything Goes”. They’ll dredge up anything to prove a point, particularly regarding my artistic integrity. A couple of pars, years ago, in the NT News and the career’s on the skids the way the press sees it. Memories like elephants. And it’s a bit rough to have both sides against us. Did I mention that other bird (I think she’s a Pommy import too, with a touch of colonial arrogance) Cinders Rella. Calls me Eeyore! And just because I cast a guy named Jones. I reckoned anyone called Jones was a good bet? Gwynneth Jones. Aled Jones. Alan Belford Jones?

Trouble is, David (and I’m sorry if this a bit disorganised, but I did drown my sorrows yesterday in a couple of bottles of Dom Perignon I took home after New Years), it’s not only the critics who don’t love me. It’s the Opera Club.

I know, I know, we don’t have an Opera Club, but the people exist. And with enough factions to take on the Terrigals. You’ve just head the refrain. Play more Australian work, they say. Then they don’t bring their friends. Play more women composers! You can count the Australian women opera composers on one hand. The subscribers bitch too. Book the best seats year after year. And then they die. Certainly won’t return for Bliss reruns. Why can’t they just cancel their subscriptions to “Allerta” if they don’t like me.

It may be, David, that after two years with us you are learning some of the issues I have to deal with. Had Senator Branding Iron on the phone the other day. At least he’s a “bums on seats” man, so he doesn’t mind how many times we run Carmen. He told me times were tough and we’d have to tighten out belts. Said living standards are falling and the age of entitlement is over. I tell you, he’s never invited me to an $11,000 tête-à-tête dinner. I bet they drank Grange. But that’s it. You board guys seem to think it’s all about bums on seats too. Never got past Nessun Dorma, eh? (Sorry. Cheap shot.) And don’t seek too much advice from that gallerist, Porcini. They’re all crooks in that game, from Sotheby’s down. Or should that be up. It’s just not fair: everyone forgets I have to plan long term, four, five years out. Just as well I programmed a bums on seats schedule for 2015, just as the downturn strikes. At least they’ll come to Aida and Boheme. Elephants and a bit of tit always bring in the punters. (Had a go at me for bare breasts, too, did prissy Ms Harry. For god’s sake! They’re so far upstage you need field glasses to see anything.)

And everyone seems to have forgotten our triumph with The Ring. Am I a tall poppy to be slashed after delivering that gem? Well, I know, there were a few personnel issues. Houston have always been prickly with me, and running with an Australian conductor did seem like a good idea at the time we booked him. Filled the State Theatre, we did, including a great program to screw our regulars by offering “inducements” to get punters the best tix. Pity about all those subscribers who missed out on decent seats, but they were mostly from Melbourne and as you know we don’t really care much about our Melbourne audiences, never-ending mob of bitchers that they are.

I mentioned The Ring to Branding Iron. I think he knew what I was talking about. Wanted to get a message back to Tony Grabbit about red tape (and reputation). Red tape costs money. Did you know we had to cast an extra Valkyrie? I’d never seen so many ROFLMAOs in emails replying to our request for a soprano with Work Cover certification in the construction industry. And now we are a laughing stock with world wide Wagner Societies for our casting. Had to provide a second cherry picker too because you can’t have people on them unless driver trained or with someone to ensure they are hooked on. Does no one remember our heritage? Next they’ll be demanding nets every time anyone enters on a trapeze. Bloody OH&S. I said to Neil at the time the cherry pickers were a bit too much just for a dragon reference, but he did a great job on the whole, even getting in a Bondi Beach reference and bikini girls. That must be a first for The Ring and it kept the tourism people happy.

Did I mention singers? People seem to forget I spend my life working with one of the most difficult persuasions in the world: musicians of the vocal variety. And do I cop it! Am I so wrong not to want Cio-cio San two metres tall or Afro American? “Suspend belief all ye who enter here” can only go so far. I’m a sensitive guy who understands our anti-discrimination policies. I’d never call a singer “fat”. But it’s not just body image: I’m under the gun for not running ASIO and other political checks on our principals. I mean, we book talent, not opinion. I can’t see how I’m supposed to know four or five years out when a contracted singer will have a gin too many and blow her mouth off to the fourth estate about oil prices, gay rights or whatever. Then, before I know it, you’re on the phone, David, saying “something must be done”. The ensemble singers are pretty difficult, too. Suggest a few weeks off while we run the Lisa and Teddy show and there’s hell to pay. Singers say they can’t make ends meet and have to take jobs doing burlesque in Newtown. If they just drank Vickers like the average Australian instead of bloody Hendrick’s they could probably pay the phone and fag bills.

Haven’t mentioned orchestras yet have I? They’re all inveterate complainers too. Pit’s too small; brass is too loud; calls schedule too difficult. And those guys in Victoria and their union mates! The Australian Ballet is welcome to them.

So, David, you see, I’m feeling a bit unloved. But I have addressed some of the immediate issues by having Mesdames Harry and Cinders told they are persona non grata. The fact we can’t get a reputable critic along to the opening of Faust is irrelevant. As long as we stay popular we don’t need those arty farties. And Faust has enough JK Rowling to sell itself, not to mention The Jewel Song.

I feel a little better now that I have explained some of my problems. I was contemplating resignation, but have just had a great idea for 2017/18. We can do a Three Tenors Spectacular with The Best of Lehar as theme. And then we’ll book Andre Rieu for Opera on the Harbour. That’ll put the bums on seats!



Posted in Opera | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The @ASQuartet Announces a 2015 Program. Of a sort.

Today another chamber ensemble 2015 brochure hit your correspondent’s mailbox. Late, you say? Yes. But with reason. The letter and brochure came from the Australian String Quartet. Please ignore the sad past year and “irreconcilable artistic differences”. The ASQ board and management have been presented with one massive dilemma: how to create a string quartet program for their thirtieth year with a busted line up.

Management assures us they are doing everything possible to locate two new violinists. But in the interim, what have we got? The offering is Stephen King, Sharon Draper and Friends. Friends? Well, only “first violinist” friends. For the three tours proposed there is no mention whatsoever of the players who will take on the second violin role. Are they unimportant? Are they not yet contracted? Has management no idea? Has the board no idea? Oh, well, we all know: second violinists don’t exist. Or do they? Remember the wise words from the Julliard: the second violinist has to be able to play everything the first plays, and in a much more difficult register.

Not that your correspondent has any problem with the first violinists contracted by the ASQ to play in 2015. They are session instrumentalists of the first order: Wilma Smith, recently departed from the concertmaster chair at the Melbourne Symphony; Susie Park,, a soloist of growing stature; and then Sophie Rowell. Alert readers will recall that Sophie was, just a couple of years ago, first violinist of the, wait for it, Australian String Quartet. But, whatever your point of view, a string quartet consists of four players. They need time to build a mutual understanding and a musical soul. So the ASQ has a 2015 program of music to offer. But it is not a string quartet program.

This begs the question: what do you do if two members of your quartet resign? Your correspondent is of the view one player is replaceable, two probably not. The last time the ASQ board was placed in a similar position and came up with a sound plan, they determined to replace the busted line-up with an established quartet (The Tankstream). Brilliant. The next time they screwed up. Why have they not taken the sensible approach in 2015? Is there no one available? Then perhaps, rather than offering a festival lineup of session musicians, the board should have bitten the bullet and canned the whole program year. Find your quartet. Build it. Then introduce it to a waiting public. Your followers deserve better than the current debacle.

Posted in Australian String Quartet, Chamber Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment