For the Ten Pound Pom turned ABC Classic FM broadcaster, Canowindra’s Baroquefest is one of many passions.
All my early musical memories were profound and lasting. As an infant, asking my father repeatedly for ‘the green record’ (Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance), ‘the juice man’ (Jussi Björling), and Galli-Curci (ensembles from Lucia and Rigoletto – my violin is now named Amelita!). As a pre-schooler in England being taught, with my sister Christine, two Mendelssohn duets. On my first day at school, the most beautiful music imaginable, played at assembly on the piano (Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring). And en route to Australia, as a seven year old, being taken to the Royal Festival Hall and being riveted by violinist Isaac Stern.
We Ten Pound Poms settled in country NSW, and although the music scene was decidedly not vibrant, I became passionate about singing, and was repeatedly called on to perform throughout my childhood and adolescence. A musician who heard me sing gave me a violin, but lessons were not available. I taught myself the guitar, invaluable for an understanding of harmony, and as my dad’s record collection grew, developed some new heroes – such as Victoria de Los Ángeles, still an all-time favourite. In my mid-teens my mother overcame all opposition to found the Orange Bach Society, and succeeded in triumphantly staging Bach’s Christmas Oratorio; I sang the soprano solos.
My self-taught harmony enabled me to enrol in music as part of my Arts degree at Sydney University, and there I joined Pro Musica, SUMS, and became a foundation member of the Sydney Philharmonia Motet Choir. Rather shame-facedly I confess that my undergraduate time was largely taken up with hundreds of rehearsals for the many concerts and operas I sang in as chorister, and increasingly as soloist.
I began formal singing lessons at the Sydney Conservatorium. The Opera House was being built, and I love remembering our pre-opening performances, as well as singing in Beethoven’s Ninth on the grand occasion of the opening itself. I sang a good deal on that stage in subsequent years, despite some emergent vocal difficulties, and then went to London to study further. I heard Birgit Nilsson sing Elektra, the fabulous Victoria in Wigmore Hall, here Mirella Freni, there Janet Baker; I drowned in Reginald Goodall’s Ring tetralogy and went to the theatre almost as often as the concert hall. But three years on, with some very unhappy experiences under my belt, my singing voice seemed irreparably ruined.
On returning to Australia I set out on a new path, taking up first the clarinet, and then, felicitously, falling in love again with the violin. My first formal violin lesson was at the age of 33, no less! A new life had begun with ABC Classic FM, where I was employed from the start as a music producer/presenter. I loved radio, loved the work, and had some success in this role over 34 years while learning an inestimable amount from it. My first direct broadcast from the Sydney Opera House caused me mixed emotions, as I was no longer on the stage but hidden away in the broadcast box, but I loved it, and have always considered working there a great privilege.
My decision to retire came quite suddenly. I had achieved my AMusA on the violin (such a happy day!); I was playing regularly with community orchestras and becoming increasingly involved in chamber music. I felt the call of a new challenge, and since retirement I have learnt to play the viola, taken up belly dancing again after a long break, found that I love teaching, and most significantly for me, discovered the magic of Estill Voice Craft.
In the last 30 years, understanding of vocal technique has progressed enormously, and to my immense joy I have begun to unlock the secrets of that possibly not-so-ruined singing voice! I present and play in all the concerts of the North Sydney Symphony Orchestra, this year celebrating its 70th anniversary; I have recently narrated Britten’s Young Person’s Guide and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf; and as I write I am setting up a studio in Sydney’s Inner West to expand my teaching: violin, viola, voice. I dance, I practise, I perform; I am the patron of the Cairns Winter Music School (where I also play and present) and of the Canowindra Baroquefest, (celebrating its third season this October) whose concerts I also present. Life is joyous, exciting and full almost to overflowing with music – which is just the way I like it!
Canowindra Baroquefest runs in Canowindra, NSW from October 16 – 18.