To celebrate Mother’s Day we asked four of the composers featured on ABC Classic’s Women of Note compilation to tell us about the women who inspired them.
Olivia Bettina Davies
When it comes to inspirational women, I think of those who have influenced me in a positive way. Australian composer Cat Hope and pianist Gabriella Smart who I worked with last year for The Summers Night Project are two women that come to mind. Both Cat and Gabriella are strong advocates for female composers and created The Summers Night Project with the goal of increasing the visibility of female composers in Australia. They inspire me with their dedication to new music, their knowledge of issues surrounding the representation of women in music and their active involvement towards rectifying those issues.
I also think about my oldest friend Liesel, who undertook and completed her PhD, during which time she also had two kids. She gets on with things that she wants to achieve – nothing, it appears, is too hard, and she has been my voice of reason for a long time. And finally, my mum, unwaveringly nice and true to herself – she inspires me to be strong and remain honest in my work.
I don’t have to look too far to find strong women that back themselves and these women have inspired me simply in the way that they pursue what they love, work hard, and are encouraging of others.
My Mother inspires me. She showed me unconditional love and taught me how to be a good person, i.e. be kind and treat others how you would like to be treated. She always supported me with my music. Strong independent women who think outside the box inspire me.
Musically I am inspired by women like Toshiko Akiyoshi, a composer and jazz pianist. When I was learning jazz she was one of the few women composers around in those days. I remember playing one of her compositions in a big band at the Conservatorium and thought this is great that we are playing a woman composer in the jazz genre.
Another woman that inspires me is [composer and saxophonist] Sandy Evans. Her playing is sublime, her tone and musicality is amazing. I really like her collaborations where she is working with other cultures and players from other traditions. The recent Bridge of Dreams collaboration with Sirens Big Band and Indian musicians is a great example of this, [as is] H=her work with the Sydney Improvised Music Association (SIMA), where she heads a Jazz Improvisation Course for Young Women.
I could not go without talking about Billie Holiday, the vocalist. Her voice is so thick like treacle and her singing is incredible – she and Lester Young, one of my favourite saxophonists, are a musical match made in heaven. Her rendition of Strange Fruit slays me each time I hear it. She is an amazing musician.
Another woman that inspires me is my cousin Wendy Brown. She has a deep understanding of culture and she happily shares it. She has a gentle and caring nature. She has shared her knowledge with me and I have learnt a hell of a lot from her.
Finally Minga Bagan inspires me and teaches us to tread lightly on her and take care of her.
My role model is Marie Curie. I read her biography when I was 14 and held her up as my idol and heroine. As the daughter of a physicist myself, I am in awe of physicists, regarding them as though they are magicians. I recognise Marie’s single-mindedness and conviction in her own work and research. Her pathway gave me strength to pursue my individual way regardless of all obstacles. She had a gift that was highly personal, not necessarily recognised by her immediate contemporaries. She possessed another world, [apart] from the reality of her existence – the world of her mind – and she followed this until her untimely death in 1934, changing the way in which we perceive matter and redefining modern science. Her willingness to give herself entirely to her research, experimenting with radioactivity before knowing its danger, using her own hands, equipment and inventing her own methodologies, unafraid of the risk, remaining answerable to her own questions, reminds me that no two paths are alike, and honestly following one’s own path gives us the greatest freedom. Her perusal of knowledge so as to understand the invisible world gave her strength. Her mind was on a track even where her body could no longer follow.
I am fortunate to have had many inspiring women as role models. In my musical life, my first piano teacher Erin Garbutt was gentle, kind and encouraging – exactly what a shy young student needed. My high school music teacher, Kristina Kelman, gave me opportunities accompanying and conducting choirs, enthusiastically introduced me to contemporary classical repertoire and most significantly, encouraged me to pursue composition as a career. There are countless composers from whose lives and work I draw inspiration – Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Augusta Read Thomas, Mary Finsterer, Missy Mazzoli, to name just a few.
On a personal level, I have grown up with a tremendous role model, my mother Karen Murphy. Her life is full of inspired action, from stubbornly insisting on continuing formal education beyond the age of 15 (typical for women at that time), to running a successful business for 25-plus years, and then giving back to her local community through charity work with the women’s service organisation, Quota International. Of course, my mother has never been someone to do things by halves, so after a number of years volunteering at the local level she went on to serve as the International President of the organisation. None of this would be possible without another inspiring woman in my life, my grandmother Joy Hale, who took a job outside of the home to put my mother through her final years of schooling and to send her from the country to the city to attend university.
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