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When I was 7 years old, a lady called Judith Clingan visited my school and offered music lessons. At that time, I certainly did not know the impact she would have on my life.
In retrospect, I don't know if it was advertised as recorder lessons, or theory, singing or solfège, but it was a well-structured and engaging mixture of all of these things. She always used very sophisticated music - Josquin, Britten, Dowland and Rachmaninov were names we were familiar with - but all I remember from that time was that it was great fun. Her approach was very wholesome, from her musical choices down to the hand-stitched felt musical staves parents had to sew for us.
I attended her 'Young Music Society Summer Schools', where an instrument could be 'tried-out' for a fortnight and a complete musical was performed with participants making the costumes and sets. Later, I sang in Gaudeamus, an a cappella vocal ensemble that had an early music focus but also performed ambitious contemporary works such as David Fanshawe's African Sanctus. Fearlessly, Judy led us through that project with the composer present.
Her individual contribution to the music scene in Canberra was extraordinary. She founded (or helped to found) thirteen musical organisations, including the Australian National University Choral Society (SCUNA), Canberra Children's Choir, Canberra Recorder and Early Music Society and Wayfarers Australia.
Years later, as a professional musician, I am so grateful for the foundation, inspiration and offering of great music I had at such an early stage. I was unaware that what I had received was unique and consider myself extremely lucky.
It turns out I was not alone. At the end of 2013, Judy wanted to celebrate 50 years of her making music in Canberra. Former students (of which there are more than a thousand) were alerted to this three-day-festival. The number of people who took leave from work, travelled from afar and rehearsed and performed as volunteers was a testament to the impact Judy has had on all of our lives.
Out came the crumhorns, medieval drums, gemshorns and other weird and wonderful things. I grabbed a recorder. 'No Sally, you know how to play that. Choose something you don't know how to play.' I had a flashback to 'Quick, can you sing second tenor.' Judy had great faith in our ability to sight-sing and undertake challenges without fuss. She had a wonderful way of knowing the inherent potential of each child and to give a nudge to do a little more.
The three days in December at the Albert Hall featured non-stop concerts, workshops, interviews and an exhibition of Judy's past events was on display. A feat of 97 Australian works, including some premieres, were performed.
Though vivacious and intrepid in her music-making and crowd-control, Judy has always been modest about her own achievements and refreshingly reticent in self-promotion. A talk about her life revealed some of the roads not travelled. On being shown her settings of Tolkien's poems, Olivier Messiaen had offered to teach her, but finance was impossible to obtain. I felt sad as I heard this. I mentioned this to another attendee who quickly answered, 'but if she had taken that path, we wouldn't all be here'. Many of us may not have gone on to pursue a life in music or have music in our lives.
Judith Clingan: So Good A Thing was originally published in the AMC's Resonate Magazine.