Oboist Rachel Cashmore asks, what do Bob Dylan and Top End Indigenous music have in common?
My Dad’s a big Bob Dylan fan. When I lived at home I would often be dragged into the lounge room and made to listen to this or that song, while being regaled with anecdotes about this remarkable musician and storyteller.
On one of these occasions, the first thing I noticed was Dylan’s intonation: “But Dad, he’s not even singing in tune!” How could this man be such a wonderful musician when he didn’t even have the basics right? And on a recording, no less!
My Dad’s response: “Well, that’s not the way he makes music.”
Pondering this answer, I realised that, for Dylan, singing in tune is not paramount – his priorities lie elsewhere. I found this idea confronting. Could it be that musicians outside my performance tradition first have different priorities in making music, and second are nonetheless top-class musicians producing top-class music?
By contrast, a few weeks ago I had the privilege of travelling to South-East Arnhem Land to the remote community of Ngukurr. While staying there I was able to witness a local funeral, and the music involved in this. Although I was a world away from my Dad’s lounge room, the same kinds of questions crossed my mind in response to this new musical situation: Why don’t those clapsticks play in time with each other? Where’s the rhythmic integrity? And I’ve discovered that the answers are the same: the performers’ musical priorities lie elsewhere.
So what are these priorities?
Well, for Bob Dylan it’s about storytelling. This is where the intrigue and beauty of the music lies. He spins long and intricate tales with memorable characters in a catching and expressive way. He’s not just a musician, he’s also a poet and a wordsmith. The more I listen to his music from this perspective, the more issues of ‘intonation’ and ‘beauty of sound’ become laughably unimportant.
Although a world apart, the Ngukurr performers’ priorities are strangely similar to Dylan’s. What I saw in their singing and dancing was foremost the re-telling of stories. Theirs are ancient stories, being sung again, danced again, told again and lived again. In this context, a ‘polished’ performance (at least from my Western classical perspective) is not the priority. Children join in the dancing with the adults; no one is wearing ‘concert clothes’. Dogs are barking, people are talking, and life goes on around the music. In this musical context, it is the doing that’s important, and in the doing lies the significance.
As I continue to ponder different musical traditions and musical priorities, I smile as I think of what people outside of my tradition might think of what I do, and the kinds of questions that might jump to their minds. I’m reminded of a Fellowship experience earlier in the year when we were in a workshop with a group of people who had little exposure to classical music. Given the opportunity to ask questions, did they ask about the things we considered relevant? No, the first thing they wanted to know was, “What’s with all the black clothes?”
Before the 2012 Fellowship Program draws to an end, it’s time to find out a little bit more about this year’s musicians. Today, we took five minutes to quiz Violin Fellow Lucy Warren on her favourite things:
Who is your favourite composer and why?
Don’t make me narrow it down! At the moment, it’s Schumann. I find him so poetic.
And Schnittke – I’m dreaming about playing the Rondo from his Concerto Grosso – it’s so dramatic!
Your favourite non-classical musican/band?
Most recently, I’ve been listening to Radiohead, Albert King and Nick Cave – I don’t really have a favourite band… Well, I do but it’s all really daggy and old-fashioned like Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and The Beatles. My favourite song is Blackbird.
What do you do in your spare time (apart from practice!)
I love stories – so books and film are the two ways I like to spend my free time. Or looking at pretty things like art or nature. Or Roger Federer.
What’s your coffee order?
Double shot flat white
What’s your signature dish? Tell us (briefly!) how you make it.
I recently made these tempura stuffed zucchini flowers for some friends – they were delicious. Stuff the zucchini flowers with a mixture of ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg, chilli and mint. Dip in a batter of flour and soda water and fry. Mouth Utopia. Or anything with beetroot, I’m your lady.
As the modernist Debussy is celebrated 150 years after his birth, we also celebrate the hundredth anniversary of prolific traditionalist Jean Françaix. The Fellows will be commemorating this occasion with a concert this Sunday at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, Forestville.
The concert will begin with Mozart’s Horn quintet K407 and Prokofiev’s Quintet Op. 39, followed by Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 and concluding with Francaix’s Divertissement for bassoon and string quintet.
The Fellows will be joined on this occasion by two members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Fellowship Artistic Director, and Sydney Symphony Principal Violist, Roger Benedict will play in the Mozart Horn Quintet. Sydney Symphony 1st Violinist, Sophie Cole will perform with the Fellows in the Debussy and Françaix.
What: French Anniversaries
When: Sunday, 30th September, 2012 at 4pm
Where: Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, 9 Currie Rd, Forestville
Price: Full $22, Concession $17, Students $12, Children under 16 free. Cash/cheque only.
Enquiries: 9416 5234
Ever wondered what other people were listening to on their iPods? We asked the Fellows to share their top five most played…
Melissa Woodroffe – bassoon:
Sharn McIver – horn:
Neil Thompson – viola:
Rowena Watts – clarinet:
Eleanor Betts – cello:
Rachel Cashmore – oboe:
I have to admit that I don’t own an iPod, but if I did, currently all five songs would be by Bob Dylan!
Doug Rutherford – double bass:
I rarely use my iPod. But I have a soft spot for some old performances by the Australian Youth Orchestra and ACO2 (the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s training ensemble) – specifically, Beethoven symphonies 2, 6 and 8 and piano concertos 3 and 5, Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10, Mahler’s songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and the Arie di Corte from Respighi’s Third Suite of Ancient Airs and Dances. These are the things I gravitate to – otherwise I listen to a whole range of music at any given time.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comment section below!
Ever wondered what the Fellows watch during their downtime? Or just after a good DVD recommendation for the weekend? The Fellows share their favourite movies:
Sharn: Good Morning Vietnam – not sure why – just love old school Robin Williams
Neil: Howl’s Moving Castle. Such a brilliant work of animation mastery with incredible, imaginative story-telling that is affecting on many levels.
Rowena: It’s a tie between Love Actually and Notting Hill. I love the characters, they make me laugh and I can quote nearly every line of each.
Eleanor: Monsoon Wedding – it’s a beautiful window into a family and their complex relationships and something about it made me desperate to go to India.
Melissa: I definitely don’t have a favourite. I love Miyazaki films because of their whimsy and imagination. I love Tintin, James Bond and Indiana Jones for the adventure! I love La Rafle, The Lives of Others, and Grave of the Fireflies because they’re depressing, and I love Titanic, Love Actually and The Holiday because despite how annoying they are I still manage to watch them all at least once a year since their respective release dates!
Rachel: It would have to be The Castle. It’s just good.
Doug: It would be virtually impossible for me to think of a single favourite movie. I rate many (but not all) of the Cohen brothers’ films, I think some of their films are highly intelligent, well-crafted, multi-faceted, and subtle. There are probably a few other important adjectives I should include there.
Lucy: It’s impossible to narrow it down to one. The best movie I’ve seen in ages is Beasts of the Southern Wild, at this year’s film festival. Two of my all time favourites are Harold and Maude and Withnail & I – brilliant dark humour. And then the movie that eclipses all of them, but for obvious reasons cannot be listed as my all time favourite, is The Lion King.
Agree? Let us know in the comment section below!
Clarinet Fellow Rowena Watts reveals her off-duty playlist:
You may be surprised to read this, but as a classical musician, I don’t actually listen to that much classical music in my downtime. Don’t get me wrong, I love classical music and I’m devoting my life to it; it has the ability to draw me into a different world where I obsess over it. And that all-encompassing power it has over me is precisely why it’s off limits in my relaxation time.
On an average day, most classical musicians will spend a minimum of four to six hours immersed in the classical music sound world – orchestral rehearsals, chamber music, private practice. If you’re like me, you’ll find it hard to switch off – you’ll have snippets of the music you’re playing running through your head all day.
Then, if I’m preparing for a concert, I’ll study not only my part but also the full score while listening to recordings of the work. That way I’ll know how my part fits in with others and what to be aware of in rehearsals. The downside: I can’t listen to classical music without analysing it to the nth degree or singing my own part in my head.
The same thing happens when I get home from a concert or rehearsal: I’m on such a high and the parts of the music are running through my mind. Listening to non-classical music is the only way I can stop myself rehearsing in my head all night!
I reckon it’s the same with any other profession. I’ll bet accountants don’t enjoy crunching numbers when they’re having dinner and psychologists don’t go home and psychoanalyse the implications of choosing spaghetti bolognaise over a roast for dinner. Similarly, I don’t want to analyse a Beethoven symphony when I’m trying to switch off.
So my evenings are usually spent with the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, Van Morrison, The Beatles, Tracey Chapman, Elvis Costello and even John Mayer, Adele, the list goes on.
As long as it has a good tune and great lyrics, I’m not too fussed. Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart and all of those chaps will be waiting for me at work – and I can certainly think of worse company.
It’s been a long journey for the Fellows to get to this point in their musical careers. We asked them to nominate the best piece of advice they’ve been given (outside what they’ve learnt in the Fellowship – of course!)
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Musical or not, we’d love to hear your thoughts!
The Fellows had a masterclass with renowned English violist Paul Silverthorne in August. Viola Fellow Neil Thompson reports:
On 27 August, the Fellows and a small audience met on the stage of City Recital Hall Angel Place for an intimate-but-public masterclass with Paul Silverthorne. Paul is a renowned violist in his own right – and principal viola of London Symphony Orchestra – but he’s also known for his expertise in 20th-century and contemporary music. So we’d decided to play for him not only Mozart’s Oboe Quartet but also some of Prokofiev’s Quintet for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass.
As it turned out, he didn’t know the Prokofiev! For me, this just emphasised the depth of his musicianship: he was able to interpret Prokofiev’s work purely from what the composer left us in the score, and what manifested so clearly to Paul then in turn became vibrant and vivid to us.
We had the opportunity to take what we learned from that masterclass and transfer it to the stage when we gave a lunch hour concert at St James’ King Street just a few days later. I think the audience could tell we were enjoying ourselves that day – and with such incredible repertoire and great musicians to play it with, it’s hard not to!
As part of celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and China, the Sydney Symphony is embarking on a six-city tour of China in October 2012.
Under the direction of Sydney Symphony Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, the musicians will perform in the Chinese cities of Tianjin, Wuhan, Qingdao, Shanghai at the Oriental Arts Centre, Guangzhou at the city’s newly built opera house and in Beijing at the famous National Centre for the Performing Arts – commonly referred to as ‘the egg’.
Three very lucky Fellows – Eleanor Betts, Neil Thompson and Lucy Warren have been selected to play as part of the Sydney Symphony on this tour. We asked these three (very excited!) Fellows for their thoughts:
Eleanor Betts – Cello:
“I’m very excited to be going on the China Tour – I’m sure it will be an amazing experience both musically and culturally, and I’m really looking forward to getting to travel around and perform in a country I might not have gotten to on my own. I’m also really looking forward to performing with Jian Wang when he plays the wonderful Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Orchestra on tour.”
Neil Thompson – Viola:
“As you can imagine, I’m absolutely thrilled to have been invited to tour with the orchestra and honoured to help represent Australia on this important cultural exchange. As a fellow of the orchestra, I have already had such a wealth of invaluable, unequivocal experience – challenges included! But come October, I will have the chance to gather what I have learned so far and be the best possible contribution that I can for the tour. Excited? You could say I am!”
Lucy Warren – Violin:
“It’s seems quite obvious to state that I’m very excited to be going to China with the Sydney Symphony. Touring is such a unique experience – I think it will be marvellous to play some great music (Shosta 10!) to some different audiences in some very different cities and venues to which we are accustomed. I’ve been to China once before and I loved it. It is such an interesting place and quite something to see the incredible growth and ancient tradition standing side by side. I can’t wait to see more of it and I have no doubt we’ll have some great cultural and musical experiences.”
See the Sydney Symphony website for more information on the tour to China, and stay tuned to the Fellowship blog for regular trip updates from Eleanor, Neil and Lucy!
You don’t have to be a child of the 70s to know the ABBA look: jumpsuits, platform boots, mirror balls. Or the sound: disco beats and shiny vocal harmonies.
The Swedish pop quartet changed the dynamic of the pop music landscape in the 1970s with catchy hooks and dance moves to match. Their infectious songs have stood the test of time and are still played and loved worldwide.
In mid-September, the Sydney Symphony will be thanking ABBA for the music by performing the group’s biggest hits in a way you’ll never expect.
On Friday 14 and Saturday 15 September, the orchestra will take to the stage of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, giving a fascinating symphonic spin to your favourite ABBA tracks. Headlining the program will be six-piece Finnish a cappella pop sensation Rajaton, making their first ever appearance in Sydney. And these guys and girls can really sing!
Desperate for a ticket? You’re in the right place, as we have one double pass to give away for the performance on Friday 14 September!
To enter, let us know in the comment section below which ABBA hit you’d like to hear in a symphonic arrangement and how you imagine it would sound. We’ll choose the most creative entry and, in the immortal words of ABBA, the winner takes it all!
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