The Australian Financial Review’s Political Editor is also a member of Canberra Choral Society’s alto naughty corner.

Shortly after the Iron Curtain fell in 1990, I travelled with my mother Pam to Prague. For her it was the culmination of a lifetime love affair with a city that had been both locked away, yet a powerful part of her passion for music. She sang Vltava to me as we stood on the Charles Bridge and later, nursing New Year’s Eve hangovers, we went in search of the villa where Mozart stayed while writing Don Giovanni (to test the myth that he wrote the overture in the carriage on the way to the theatre!).

My mother sang Vltava to me as we stood on the Charles Bridge in Prague

Both my parents are responsible for flooding my life with beautiful music. My father’s lifelong passion for Jussi Björling, Puccini and later Plácido Domingo determined the soundtrack of our Saturday afternoons. But it was with my mother that music became not just something you listened to but something that you experienced as a musician, and watched with an understanding of all the exultation and risks of live performance.

Music is perhaps one of the few human activities where so many people can come together, all doing different but connected things, where so much can go wrong, yet somehow magically doesn’t. There are so many memories of performances at the Sydney Town Hall and the Opera House, with the excitement, always, of hearing that first ‘A’ from the oboe as the orchestra tunes.

Understanding the places and times in which music was written, marvelling at how people see through the rigid boundaries of prevailing forms to conjure up something utterly new is the great marvel of music. These themes run through all the music I’ve come to love from Byrd to Bach, Beethoven to Richard Strauss.

Music to me is not just about the powerful emotions it creates but the companionship it inevitably evokes. In Leipzig – in a house where Bach is supposed to have once lived, as well as in the Thomaskirche – I saw his music for the first time in the context of the group of talented musicians and friends that must have surrounded him in order to bring to life, week after week, such an extraordinary outpouring of composition.


Inside the St. Thomas Church, Leipzig. Photo by Gert Mothes

I learned the piano in my teens. My daughter’s piano teacher a few years ago reflected on the solitary nature of the piano and it made me think about how this shaped my early ear for music, and about how I may have missed something by not playing, say, a string instrument or singing in a choir beyond primary school.

The music that made me sit up and listen first was Bach and the early English music that was enjoying a revival at the time. I moved into the piano repertoire and a never-to-be-realised ambition to be able to play all the Beethoven sonatas. Or even just some of them. The love affair has grown through Lieder and orchestral music to opera.

Becoming a chorister in the past ten years feels like the ultimate step on the journey: the musical dilettante’s opportunity to become part of the mystery of an orchestra without all the hard work, the special joy of hearing a piece of music from ‘inside’. It’s opened my ears to all sorts of music I hadn’t heard, or really stopped and thought about before. I keep promising myself that “when things quieten down in politics” I’ll sit down and concentrate on understanding string quartets. That may still have to wait a while.


The Music I Couldn’t Live Without

Haydn Cello Concerto in C
Paul Tortelier vc, Württemberg Chamber Orchestra
EMI 6886272
This concerto was my way into Haydn’s music, maybe because I heard it just when I was switching from a youthful tendency towards the dark and passionate to appreciating more subtle and optimistic beauties. Its joyfulness is mixed with the bittersweet, and there’s a resonance in Tortelier’s performance which puts you in the room with him like an old friend.


Laura Tingle sings with the Canberra Choral Society, which performs The Vow, a dramatic presentation of Handel’s Jeptha on October 8 and Schütz’s Christmas Story on December 3