Tag Archives: piano

Sitting On It – Friday Fictioneers 27th January, 2021.

My agent was on the phone for the umpteenth time this afternoon.

“Have you reached a decision yet?” She pestered. “The clock’s ticking”.

“I’ve already told you. I’m sitting on it.”

Of course, this was counter-intuitive. Anyone else would’ve leaped at the chance to play Victoria in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats on Broadway. This was what I’d been dreaming and striving towards, ever since I put on my very first ballet slippers as a three year old. Yet, I knew that once I’d accepted, there’d be no turning back. That my life would never be my own again. Was it all worth selling my soul?

Or, did I even have a choice?

Of course not. I was the moth flying straight into the candle flame, but at least I was prepared.

I had my mum.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields https://rochellewisoff.com/ PHOTO PROMPT © Marie Gail Stratford

Ruby and Eunice Gardiner in Sydney after their return from London.

At the age of 16, my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. At the time, Eunice was a sheltered Australian school girl living in Sydney’s Bondi Junction with her family. There was never any question of Eunice travelling to London alone. Indeed, her father said he’d “rather throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour”. So,  on the 3rd December, 1935 she set off with  her mother on board the Esperance Bay.

As it turned out, Eunice’s father died of a heart attack back in Australia four months later, and Her mother never saw her husband again. Eunice never saw her Dad. Moreover, Eunice’s older brother made personal sacrifices to continue supporting the pair in London. It was a very challenging road and Eunice’s incredible talent also had an incredible toll, especially for those around her. Indeed, in 1948 she left Sydney bound for New York leaving her husband, three young sons and mother behind. She returned about 12 months later at around 2.00am in the morning on Christmas Day morning. Hard to understand, and yet there have been times on my own parenting journey, I could’ve joined her.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 22nd December, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve popped by for coffee. Of course, I’m full of excuses and, of course, they’re all very compelling. Top of the list, is the house situation. We’re having my parents over for Christmas lunch, which has somehow necessitated a major renovation of our house in just a few weeks. Fortunately, my husband Geoff has been working from home much of this year, or it wouldn’t have been possible. Not that he’s been renovating on the job. It’s just that he hasn’t been commuting around 2 hours each way to work, and is actually alive at the end of the day.

Geoff cutting up the old carpet. Good riddens, at last!

We’ve actually been trying to launch this reno project for the last six months. The floor boards have been waiting in the garage for us to find someway of magically caterpulting the old piano out the front door. In the end, it turned out to be a classic case of “divide and conquer”. We couldn’t give the piano away as a whole, but it ended up leaving the house in pieces. We’ve kept the keys and pedals, and our friend loaded up the rest on his trailer and disappeared into the sunset. Well, it hasn’t entirely disappeared and a friend did mention something about seeing piano parts outside his place. It does sound a bit suss.

Deconstruction in progress….

As any of you who have renovated will agree, one thing leads to another. Once we moved out the furniture and got the new floor down, it became pretty clear a wall needed painting and then the room. I wasn’t much chop on the painting front, and so I drifted out into what really should be known as the “dump room”, and steadily started making progress and soon I found myself swept up in a whirlwind. Or, more to the point, hundreds of books found themselves caught up in the whirlwind and swept out the door to the charity shop. I decided I’d disposed of enough books to send an entire bookshelf packing, enabling us to turn the dump room into a retreat and we’ll be moving a couch out there tomorrow.

While it’s very satisfying to be on such a roll, with three days to Christmas, it’s hard to know quite when to call it a day and start shoving everything back in, not pulling more of it out. Yet, I’m planning to drop another load off to the charity shop tomorrow and the car’s not full yet. What else can go? What else can I turf and release that bit more space? It’s a sort of mania once it gets hold of you, but while we need to get the house as clean and spacious as possible, we also need to cook and cooking requires ingredients. Yikes, how does a simple lunch become so complicated? I’m sure if Jesus was in charge, he’d just tell me to make them all Vegemite sandwiches and be done with it. Keep it simple, Stupid.

Anyway, what else has been going on?

Well, we were relaxed. Being part of Great Sydney, we watched Melbourne go into lock down and we were just a little superior about it. After all, we always knew Sydney was better than Melbourne. However, Melbourne’s got it’s revenge. Covid’s back with a vengeance with a cluster generated out of Avalon just down from Palm Beach. This general area known as “the Northern Beaches” is now in lock down and people will be doing Christmas at home, potentially alone. It’s pretty tough, especially when people do so much to prepare for the big day, and I know I’ll really be spewing if my parents can’t come up. Christmas is Christmas. It is more than sacred.

How is Christmas looking in your neck of the woods? Are you catching up with family or friends? Or, are you playing it safe, or possibly in lock down. It’s rough when Christmas gets cancelled. I think even the great Scrooge would complain about that.

Anyway, I’d like to wish you are yours a Merry and blessed Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Best wishes,

Rowena

The Piano Deconstructed.

As the saying goes “you can’t even give a piano away anymore”, especially when it’s over a hundred years old, out of tune, verging on decrepit, but with just enough life left to hope someone else might take it on. For the last five to ten years, we’ve been trying to give our piano away. Although we’ve had a few nibbles over the years, there have been no takers, and it just kept sitting here covered in picture frames, and an accumulation of household detritus and dust.

“Some people are aware of another sort of thinking which… leads to those simple ideas that are obvious only after they have been thought of… the term ‘lateral thinking’ has been coined to describe this other sort of thinking; ‘vertical thinking’ is used to denote the conventional logical process.”

Edward de Bono

However, as we found out, it’s all about the packaging. Or, perhaps I should say, how you package it. While no one wanted the entire piano, we finally managed to get our friend Neil interested in the parts. Indeed, he ended up towing most of the piano away in pieces over a few trips, and we were particularly excited to be able to keep the strings in tact, even if Geoff did have to saw through more than 10 centimetres of solid wood to pull it off. Neil’s already mounted the felts in his loungeroom where they’ve become an curious discussion point, and there are plans for a seat out of the wood. Meanwhile, I’m wondering how the birds and possums are going to respond to the ghostly sounds the keyless strings will be playing out in the bush until he works out what to do with it.

Yours truly photographed with the hammers extracted out of our piano. Neil’s cleverly mounted this on a wall. It’s intriguing.

Meanwhile, I have to tell you how much we enjoyed deconstructing this humble 100 year old piano. I know that sounds absolutely terrible, especially when I’m from a family of accomplished pianists. Indeed, it felt very much like a chainsaw massacre, especially after we found out much of it had been glued together, and the only way to get it apart, was to saw it to pieces.

However, ironically pulling it apart emphasized the beauty of its parts, which had become lost in the whole, especially once some of the keys weren’t working, and the cost of restoration was never going to pay off.

Indeed, it was quite incredible to appreciate just how much work, skill and attention to detail had gone into constructing the piano, and I guess we felt a bit sad that it had ended up being a useless lump of furniture and a burden. Indeed, it went further than that. The piano had actually become a significant roadblock, stopping us from renovating our loungeroom and getting it to a state where we’d be comfortable inviting friends over and dare I say it (drum roll) ENTERTAINING!!

So, I guess you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this situation with the piano has become a great analogy for explaining how to deal with a large persistent problem. Somehow, we need to find a way of carving it up into smaller components which will be much easier to deal with so we can clear the decks.

I also think our handling of the piano problem also shows how persistence can backfire. Sometimes, we need to stop persisting and give up. Stop putting up with a burden, problem, difficult person or situation and decide that “enough is enough”. It is going, going, gone!

Do you have any special memories of the piano? Or, perhaps you have a few horror stories instead. It’s a shame that the piano no longer holds it’s place at the heart of the family home with people gathered round to sing and play together; and also how it’s demise can also be attributed to the clutter Nazi’s who on’t let another gather dust. It is OUT!

Best wishes,

Rowena

L – London…A-Z Challenge.

“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.”

– PETER ACKROYD, London: The Biograph

Welcome to London on Day 12 of the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. I spent a week in London in August, 1992 while I was “backpacking through Europe” (but mostly based in Heidelberg). Clearly, I don’t know much about London at all. Moreover, I have absolutely pathetic map-reading skills. So, even if I knew the place, I’d still get us lost.

Yet, forging ahead under the stressful demands of the A-Z Challenge, I still had to come up with the goods. So, for awhile there, I was longing for the foolhardiness of youth, where you can know absolutely nothing about a subject, and yet still present yourself as a fully-fledged expert.

So, rather than taking you on an actual tour of London, I decided to focus on what London meant as a cultural epicentre for generations of Australians who went there to get their big break. These included the likes of Dame Edna, the Unmentionable, Clive James and Germaine Greer. It also included my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, who was awarded a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, and became part of this cultural exodus. 

1937 London Debut in June

Eunice Gardiner was born on the 24th February, 1918. At the age of 16, she won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. However, the scholarship didn’t include her living expenses. An enthusiastic fundraising effort was launched, led by Lady Gordon and supported by pianist Frank Hutchens. These efforts culminated in a Testimonial Concert at the Sydney Town Hall on the 6th June, 1935 where she performed  Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata and works by Liszt. There was never any question of Eunice travelling to London alone. Indeed, her father said he’d “rather throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour”. So,  on the 3rd December, 1935 she set off with  her mother on board the Esperance Bay. Four months later, her father died of a heart attack back in Australia, giving some idea of the incredible personal sacrifices performers and their families made to pursue their careers in London. You couldn’t have a foot in both camps.It was all or nothing, and for many that also included their sanity and their very soul.

FT25 Ruby and Eunice

My grandmother (right) and her mother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara). Ruby was very much the wind beneath her wings!!

Eunice and her mother lived in London for around four years. During this time she performed for the Queen (who we know as the Queen Mother), her hands appeared in the movie Black Eyes and she also had a regular spot performing on BBC TV which came to an abrupt end, when the BBC shut down as soon as war was declared (humph sounds a bit too familiar during this coronacrisis!!)

Pix Eunice TV Screen Test

Press coverage of her time in London on her return reported:

“The highlight of her tour occurred when she played before Queen Elizabeth at a private reception at the home of Lord and Lady Howard de Walden; the function was arranged by Miss Macdonald of the Isles for students and Empire visitors. Miss Gardiner said the Queen was extremely charming , and complimented her on her playing and choice of music. Broadcasting, televising and film work have also come within Miss Gar-diner’s ambit. Miss Gardiner’s film experience was a strange one, as she did not appear on the screen, and her name was not even mentioned. She .provided the music for Mary Maguire in a film entitled Black Eyes, in which Mary, who was supposed to be learning the piano, was playing badly at first, and a three-minute shot was taken of Miss Gardiner’s hands as she played. At first she found she was not playing badly enough for the part ! In the same film she also provided music which the music master was ostensibly playing. In London. Miss Gardiner, said, the midday concerts arranged by Myra Hess at the National Gallery were extremely popular, and only one shilling was charged. Miss Gardiner played at one of these concerts only the day before she left England.” 1.

Eunice crochet group

The Crochet Circle, London. My Great Grandmother (second from the left) is crocheting a shawl for her first grandson, who was born back in Australia while they were away.

Eunice and her mother returned to Sydney on the 23rd March, 1940 partly to escape the war, but also because Eunice was under contract to the A.B.C. for three months, and would be touring Australia with the famed English conductor, Sir Thomas Beeeham.

When my grandmother returned to Australia, I doubt she had any idea of just how long it was going to take to get back to London. Indeed, a full decade had passed. Although she’d planned to go to London in 1948 on her way home from a 12 month stint in New York, a bout of appendicitis and consequent surgery, destroyed those plans.

Of course, there were regrets. London was LONDON.

Eunice returned to London in April 1951 as a music critic for Australian Consolidated Press, and she was one of only two Australian journalists covering the opening of the  Festival of Britain. She was away for three months, and I should also point out that at this point of time, she was married with four children and her mother back home in Australia. I clearly remember her telling me when she was well into her 80’s, how much she loved being spoiled over there. She specifically mentioned having a doorman to open the door for her at the hotel, which clearly didn’t happen as mum back home. As much as she loved her children, she was incredibly driven by her love of music, her career as a pianist and was never one to simply be absorbed by osmosis into domesticity. She ultimately ended up with seven children, and these tensions stayed with her for life, and possibly even beyond the scope of her failing memory. It was never an easy balance.

By comparison, my trip to London seems rather trite. I was only there for a week, and I was only doing touristy things. So, my time in London lacks the gravitas of my time in Paris, which still resonates almost thirty years later.

Geoff Le Pard

Geoff Le Pard and Dog out walking through London. 

In recent years, for me London has become associated with my long-term blogging friend, Geoff Le Pard. I’ve thorough enjoyed his tours of London mostly with Dog. He would clearly do a much better job of guiding you around London. Indeed, a few years ago, we were looking at doing a joint blogging tour of London, after I found an old letter in a London guidebook. I’ve been thinking with the current travel bans, we should resurrect this project and see how far we can take it. After all, it is a rather quirky story of an Australian and an Englishman who’ve never met retracing the footsteps of a mysterious Australian tourist who visited London back in the 1960’s or thereabouts.

Above: Photos Geoff Le Pard.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few links to Geoff’s posts. Firstly, Geoff and Dog went on their Thames Bridge Walk, from Putney to Tower Bridge. I also love his posts covering London’s street art and thought you might enjoy: Street Art in Shoreditch.

There’s much more of London on Geoff’s blog. However, I’ll have to leave you to it. Daylight is rapidly fading and it’s been a few days since I’ve been on a walk. With all this social isolation, I’ve been going a bit stir crazy as soon as the typing stops.

Have you ever been to London and have something to share? Or, perhaps you call London home. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

References

 

  1. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Thursday 21 March 1940, page 4

Night Musings With Grannie… Eunice Gardiner.

For all of us, there is this strange other world our parents, grandparents and even siblings inhabited before we came along. Yet, while we know world history was going on before we were born and stuck our proverbial tail in the donkey, it can be harder to grasp that the people closest to us had a life before we came along. Sometimes, the threads from these experiences are woven into wonderful stories told time and time again, which become part of our family fabric. On the other hand, these experiences can be thrown right to the very back of the cupboard and either not mentioned or strictly guarded and kept locked away behind closed doors.

Pix Eunice TV Screen Test

 

This all becomes rather more complicated when your relative had a public life. That you might’ve known them in private within that personal and family sense, but there was also this other public self. Perhaps, you stepped into this world now and then, or even belonged in it yourself. Or, perhaps it was a chapter which closed long before you came along and you don’t even know where to begin. Where is the magical red thread to guide you into that other world? The crumbs scattered along the footpath?

Pix Eunice playing piano at Academy

Eunice Age 22. 

My grandmother Eunice Gardiner was an International concert pianist, music critic and professor of the piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Yet, she also had seven children, twelve grandchildren and nine Great Grandchildren, including two of my own. This very same person who played the piano for the Queen and was dubbed “Melba of the Piano”, also knitted little jackets for each of her babies and at least sewed some of their clothes. She made the Sunday roast and was renowned for making custard. She was mother by day, concert pianist by night. She spent a year touring USA and Canada leaving her husband and three children at home. This is an intriguing web. A complex woman who was well before her time.

FT25 Ruby and Eunice

Mother and Daughter: Ruby & Eunice Gardiner (1940?)

There was also another parallel story…that of Eunice’s mother, my Great grandmother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara). Ruby left her husband and adult son at home in Sydney to travel to London with Eunice so she could accept her scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Eunice was only 16 at the time and there was no question of her going alone. Her father, Reuben Gardiner Master Mariner with the Adelaide Steamship Company, said: “You might as well throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour.” Less than three months after leaving Sydney, Eunice’s father had a massive heart attack and died at sea near Adelaide. So, when Ruby left for London, she never to saw her husband again. In the one letter I have which he wrote to his beloved “Rube”, you could see they were close. They being apart was a necessary sacrifice, not a relief. Ruby was Eunice’s everything and accompanied her everywhere. They were seemingly inseparable. Ruby made pots of tea and helped entertain the press and, as I found out only last week, massaged Eunice’s hands to help keep them supple. It is then also no surprise, that many years later when her mother was in the hospice after a debilitating series of mini strokes, that Eunice would stop by after work at the Conservatorium and feed her mother dinner. Indeed, for many years Gran lived with Eunice and the family in Lindfield.

I’ve written about Eunice before and after years of research, I’m still finding more edge pieces and the picture in the middle is still patchy. Just when I think I’ve found all the missing pieces, something else shows up and the picture hazes over. Indeed, I have to wonder whether she doesn’t want to be found and that really wouldn’t surprise me. I know she’d be horrified to know that all those interviews she gave all those years ago, along with all the photographs and her writings as a music critic, are now available with the touch of a few buttons and a very long time travelling through Google. However, although that might tell me to leave her alone and let her rest in peace, she was and remains a public person. A woman who lived an extraordinary life, which shouldn’t just be pushed to the back of the closet and forgotten. Moreover, on a personal note, her DNA has been shared and passed on. There is also a wider family which also shares these same elements and ingredients. They might not be playing the piano but they’re dancing, writing, painting, drawing or obsessively focused on something. Moreover, Eunice had her musical “family” of brilliantly talented young musicians who speak a language the rest of us will never understand. They’re carrying her legacy forward and when you’re that unique needle in a haystack, I’d imagine it would be helpful to know you’re not alone. That someone else has trod that path and left some writings and recordings along  the road. So, in this weird macabre kind of way, my grandmother isn’t dead. She lives on.

Anyway, what precipitated my latest wanderings…

Pix 1940 May 11 pg 24.jpg

The other night while was actually researching one of my grandmother’s colleagues, cellist Osric Fyfe, I stumbled across a new resource…a magazine called Wireless Weekly. I thought I knew about all the major media articles about my grandmother and to be very honest, thought I hadn’t left a stone unturned. Then, last week, I discovered a two page media feature in the Wireless Weekly dated 11th May, 1940. This was about a month after she’d returned to Sydney after five years in London. She had returned from London a star and there were interviews about her appearances on BBCTV and a movie Black Eyes with Mary Maguire. She was a person of interest. A person of the moment.

Pix 1940 pg 2 full page

What particularly delighted me about the photos in this media spread was that the photographer almost saw her through my lens. Every photographer, amateur or professional, has a tendency towards a different perspective ranging from the big picture wide-angle to the zoomed in or even macro perspective. This feature really focused on her hands. Indeed, you could say that it was a study of Eunice’s hands.

Pix 1940 May 11 Ruby Massages Eunices Hands.jpg

Mother and daughter’s hands…Ruby Gardiner massaging Eunice’s fingers. 

My favourite photo zooms right in close, showing Ruby Gardiner massaging her daughter’s hands. I never knew she did this, and I was really touched at a deep personal level to tap into this level of intimacy between them. It was truly special and meant so much to me not just as their grand-daughter and Great Grand-daughter, but also as a mother now myself. It’s also got me thinking about my own daughter who is seriously interested in dancing and recently went into her first pair of pointe shoes. Her feet get very sore and perhaps it is now my turn to massage her feet. Be that silent force beneath her dreams.

Pix 1940 pg 25 piano close up

I also appreciated a close up picture of her hands at the piano. This is exactly the sort of photo I would take myself zoomed right in focusing on the fingers. Indeed, you can observe every little detail of her fingers and they’re almost perfectly preserved in time yet cold and untouchable at the same time. Even though these are the fingers of a famous and very accomplished pianist and her tools of trade, they’re not quite the same as the hands I knew. The very same hands which squeezed my newborn son’s feet, while she sang Twinkle Twinkle to him.

Jonathon Christmas 2004

Our son’s first Christmas with Great Grannie Eunice. 

 

How I wish I could’ve frozen time somewhere further along that path so that she was still here and more than just a photograph. Yes, I know. I’ve incredibly lucky to have all these newspaper resources about my grandmother’s life. Yet, at the same time, having all of that brings her back to life in ways I’d never dreamed and yet she’s still among the dead. She can not smile, laugh or make a cup of tea and when I read all of this, I simply want her back. Back for more than just a cup of tea, but to stay.

DSC_0075

My grandmother with my daughter. She was born on Eunice’s birthday 88 years later. I love my grandmother’s smile in this photo. She looks so happy!

I have spent so many, many nights with her on Google and even ten years after she passed, I can still hear her voices as clear as a bell and she always offers me a cup of tea. It could’ve been yesterday or even a few moments ago.

The heart knows no distance!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS When you look at these photos of my grandmother with these young children, it seems like there was never any choice between career and family and somehow it all seamlessly came together. Photos and retrospectives tend to smooth out life’s rough edges and the bits which don’t quite fit into the narrative. There is no doubt in my mind that playing the piano was her first love and great, lifelong passion. Yet, then she met my grandfather. It was wartime and she found a second flame. Having a great talent and having had people sacrifice and invest in that talent, places an expectation. An expectation which led other female musicians of her day (including Australian Opera Singer Dame Joan Hammond) not to marry. Not to have a family. Eunice chose a different and more complex path, which was often fraught. There were times when these tensions boiled over. Eunice’s mother, Ruby, was a tower of strength, and there was also household help. So, Eunice wasn’t a modern female Atlas, carrying all of this on her shoulders alone. She was just like the rest of us. Only human.

 

Back to “The Con”…the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

As you may recall, a few weeks ago I went back to Sydney University for the first time in decades. Well, last Wednesday night, I  found myself back at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music doing the time warp again. This time, I was attending concert pianist, Gerard Willems’ Twilight Recital, which marked his retirement from full-time teaching at the Con.

While it only seems like yesterday, I haven’t been back to the Con since my grandmother’s Twilight Recital around 30 years ago. At the time, I was in the throws of leaving school, but now I’m married with two kids and our eldest isn’t terribly far off leaving school himself. So, clearly a lot of water’s flowed under the bridge, and even much of the landscape has been swept away by the tide. Yet, I still felt remarkably at home.

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Gerard Willems and his former teacher, Nada Brissenden.

By the way, I wasn’t just attending this concert out of interest. Gerard is almost an extended member of the family via one of my mother’s “secret societies”. Mum and Gerard both attended Wollongong Selective High School and learned the piano from  Nada Brissenden who, along with her husband Harold, introduced Suzuki Music to Australia. Mum was a year ahead of Gerard, and their paths have crossed over the years, which included studying piano at the Con. There was also a rather significant-to-me soiree which my grandmother Eunice Gardiner put on to give Gerard further performance experience. Not that Gerard was one of her pupils. Rather, he was studying under Gordon Watson. This soiree was also interesting because Australian authors Ruth Park and her husband D’Arcy Niland were there. Knowing Mum knew Gerard and possibly also because she had some single sons, my grandmother also invited my mother to the soiree. So, it was actually Gerard who first introduced my parents at Lindfield Station for the very first time on Sunday 26th March, 1967. That’s a connection you never forget and was brought up again recently at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.  There’s still is a group of Mrs Brissenden’s former students who get together, forming an extended musical family of sorts. After all, you have your genetic family but as a musician you also have your musical family.

However, I also had an ulterior motive for going back to the Con. I wanted to revisit my grandmother’s old studio. See if I could find my way through the old rabbit warren and back to her door. I remember going in there as a young child after visiting my grandfather who had a dental practice in nearby Macquarie Street. The Con itself was stark white back then and I remember some weird story about how they cleaned it using Coca Cola. I remember going up some stairs and along a longish corridoor and there was a grand piano in the room. Dad told me that it overlooked the Botanical Gardens. So, that narrowed things down quite a lot. So, I planned to arrive quite early for the concert to ensure no regrets.

Conservatorium Sign

A Sign Promoting one of my grandmother’s concerts at the Con around 1960.

By the way, the Conservatorium building is famous in its own right. In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie commissioned ex-convict Francis Greenway to design the government stables. Macquarie had a grand architectural vision for the fledgling colony and what emerged was more of a “Palace for Horses”  in the Old Colonial Gothick style. Indeed, it reminds me of  Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria’s architectural extravagance. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Governor Macquarie was recalled to England. In 1916, the building was extensively renovated and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music was established under directorship of Belgian conductor and violinist, Henri Verbrugghen, with the aim of ‘providing tuition of a standard at least equal to that of the leading European Conservatoriums’.

As I said, it’s been 30 years since I was last at the Con. For better or worse, a massive extension has been built and the original building has had an extensive facelift. Of course, it’s been tastefully done and if I didn’t have an intense personal attachment to the original, I’d only be impressed.

However, as much as I know we couldn’t let the old girl fall apart and that the building itself is representing Australian classical music on the world stage, a facelift is still a facelift. I miss the white paint. The cracks, wrinkles and crooked appearance. Indeed, I’d love to wipe all the beige away and bring her back out of her glamorous shell…even if only long enough to take a photo and then send her back to sleep.

The ticket office is in the new part of the Con and I noticed a sign saying “No Public Admittance” where I’m needing to access my grandmother’s studio. However, as soon as I explained the situation, I was granted access and off I hopped with my camera. I was so excited, even though I was warned that it had changed and the “rabbit’s warren was gone”. Dad had also told me that her studio looked out onto the Botanic Gardens, which narrowed things down quite a lot. I climbed up the stairs and slowly walked along the corridoor. I could hear piano music on my right and saw a grand piano through the window. Her room was further along from memory but very soon I was distracted by the sound of a violin tuning up downstairs. I found it rather strange than when I, the closet violinist come back retracing my grandmother’s footsteps, a violinist was playing. (As it turned out this was  Evgeny Sorkin who played Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in D Major Op. 12 No. 1. with Gerard during the concert.

Yet, the main reason I was at the Con was to attend this concert. So, we’d better head upstairs into the gallery where I had an absolutely fabulous seat with a bird’s eye view. Verbruggen Hall seats around 550 people and as far as I could tell, everyone there loved Gerard, not just as a pianist but as a person. He exudes such warmth and embraces the audience. Gerard introduced each piece himself, usually with an extensive preamble and I was hanging onto each and every word. Indeed, I was voraciously taking notes up in my seat. Among so many other things, Gerard is a teacher and I felt like this concert was also his last hurrah in that department as well trying to share as much of his knowledge and somehow try to encourage the spirit of music which lives in each of us to soar.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, here are a few snapshots.

Gerard Willems.JPG

Gerard Willems.

Firstly, I was struck by how Gerard would play that solitary, perfect note in a way that transcended our earthly realm and entered the heavens. Indeed, I was reminded of when you look up into the night sky and see the planet Venus twinkling almost like a star yet in its solitude. One of my great frustrations as a beginner violinist, was the difficulty of even being able to play one perfect note. I kept practicing and practicing and I’d play two strings instead of one. My bow would glide diagonally across the strings and screech like a flock of cockatoos. It was so incredibly frustrating and yet I was determined to succeed. Gerard made me appreciate the enormity of playing that one perfect note. That it’s nowhere near as easy as you think.

Secondly, I was completely blown away by his unbelievable physicality playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 1 in B minor Op. 20. Remember the man is retiring and this piece of music, is very physically demanding. Incredible.

However, while the other pieces were far more complex, I couldn’t go past Moonlight Sonata, which was followed by the Brahm’s Lullaby. He played these because these are the pieces he played for his baby daughter, Clara, and grandchildren. Indeed, as he played the Brahms, his wife appeared on stage hold Clara’s hands and helping her to walk across the stage to her Dad. She is only one year old and beyond cute. I noticed when I later looked at the photos that she was wearing a black jacket which looked a bit like a conductor’s jacket. As I said, she was extraordinarily cute and it was so touching to see how much Gerard loves his wife and baby girl. That was another time when you could feel all the stars twinkling in the sky and a sense of magic.

After the concert, I stayed the night at my parents’ place and had been so overstimulated by the concert, that I couldn’t sleep for hours. All my matches had been lit at once and I was firing on too many cylinders I suspect.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Conservatorium_of_Music

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share… 26th August, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you and how’s your weekend shaping up, if you still have any of it left? It’s now Sunday night here, and I’m opting to share the weekend that was meant to be instead of the weekend that was.

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A sign outside the Conservatorium advertising my grandmother’s upcoming concert . 

Yesterday, I was planning to attend Open Day at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music  where my grandmother taught and performed as a concert pianist and my mother attended as a pupil…her pupil. I wanted to try to find my grandmother’s old studio which I can really only remember as a young child being taken for a visit…stairs and long corridoors. Dad tells me her room overlooked the Botanic Gardens. That mystery will have to be unfold on another day.

Conservatium of Music (1)

The Conservatorium of Music, Sydney.

When you look at this grandiose apparition, it’s hard to believe that the Conservatorium  was originally built as the government stables. They must’ve had special horses. Or, Governor Macquarie was trying to transform a rugged convict outpost into a cultivated society.  Nothing like a few grandiose buildings to give a place a bit of  a step up. The Conservatorium was designed by former convict architect, Frances Greenway, and constructed 1817-1820. It is the only example of a Gothic building designed by Greenway still standing. The cost and apparent extravagance was one of the reasons Macquarie was recalled to Britain. I wonder why.

That was yesterday’s plan.

Today, I’d planned to go to the annual Irish Famine Memorial Annual Gathering at the Hyde Park Barracks, which is coincidentally located just down the road from The Con and was also design by Frances Greenway. The gathering primarily commemorates over 2000 Irish Famine Orphan Girls who were sent to Australia under the Earl Grey Scheme. These orphans included my 4th Great Grandmother, Bridget Donovan. I didn’t know anything about that growing up, and only found out about five years ago through a random Google search. I don’t know why this connection means so much to me, but she’s more than just a part of me. Bridget came from Midleton Workhouse, County Cork and I’ve also been researching the other girls she came out with. I was surprised to see they led quite disparate lives and seemingly didn’t huddle together. Getting to the gathering could well have advanced my research, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

Family photo

A Family Portrait.

Well, as much as this was the weekend that wasn’t, thank goodness we made it to my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary on Thursday night. I don’t know where the numbers finished up, but there were something like 80-100 guests. Rather than focusing on them, Dad wanted it to be more of an opportunity to catch up with family and friends who’ve both individually and collectively have meant the world to them. While I’d expected catching up with so many people all at once, was going to be like speed dating barely able to sustain a conversation, I actually managed to have quite a meaningful night and have rekindled a few connections and made some new ones as well. I had a fabulous time.

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Our puppy Zac was keen to join us for the party.

My apologies for going backwards through the week, but the build up to the big party was bigger than Ben Hur. While I had very little to do with the actual planning and I wasn’t even required to bake or make a speech, getting myself and the family ready for the big night was a job and a half. I had my hair cut for the first time in two years a few weeks ago. People kept asking me how I felt about getting it all lopped off as though it was a monumental decision, not neglect. I also ordered new contact lenses, not that you’d know that I wear glasses. They always come off for photos. It’s a family tradition. I was quite chuffed and amazed by the time we pulled up. Our son in a suit. The dry cleaner had resurrected my daughter’s dress and we’d paired it up with a white trench and even high heels. Her friend had braided her hair at school…one of the benefits of an education. After 17 years of marriage, my husband still fitted into his wedding suit and almost looked as dashing as ever. As for me, I barely knew myself. I seemed to “scrub up alright”.

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Government House, Parramatta.

Lastly, I participated in Thursday Doors for the second time this week. This blogshare is hosted by Norm 2.0 at Thursday Doors and I really recommend you check this out. There were doors featured from all over the world, and I loved revisiting my backpacking trip around Europe in many of the posts. I took it easy this week and posted a recent photo I’d taken at  Government House, Parramatta.

So, how has your week been? Hope you’ve had a good one.

This has been another contribution for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop over and join us for a “cuppa”.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Pianist in New York 1948…Friday Fictioneers.

The photo could’ve been taken yesterday. It hadn’t faded at all. Standing at the very top of the Empire State Building on the eve of her New York debut, she was a wife, mother of three little boys liberated from her domestic chains through her prodigious talent. Perched all 102 floors above the ground, what was she thinking? Was she feeling alone and thinking of home? Or, had New York waved its magic wand, cast her under its spell? I don’t know.  I came along much too late in the conversation, and have only been left with the photograph.

……..

Eunice Empire State Building 1948

Eunice Gardiner at the Empire State Building 1948.

In 1948, my grandmother Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner made her debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall. She spent something like a year touring USA and Canada leaving her husband, mother  and three young boys back in Australia. The two older boys went to boarding school and my Dad, aged 3, stayed at home with Gran, my grandfather and a housekeeper. Before I had my own kids, I didn’t understand how she could go to New York by herself like that and leave them behind. I have had a few moments in my parenting journey where a solo trip to New York would’ve been blessed relief, but I couldn’t have gone for a year…even to pursue a writing career.

While I don’t know a lot about my grandmother’s time in New York, there are a few newspaper articles and I thought I’d include this funny story:


‘Burglar’ Was A Pianist

NEW YORK, Mon. (O.S.R.). — While Sydney pianist, Eunice Gardiner, was practising in a friend’s home, a snow-covered policeman rushed in with re revolver drawn. The policeman, who was even more surprised than the pianist explained that neighbors had put an emergency call into the’ police station that a burglar was in the house. “They said that the window was open and the radio playing,’ he added apologetically. Eunice Gardiner said that blizzard or no blizzard, she had to have fresh air occasionally.

Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Tuesday 20 January 1948, page 2

Eunice 1948 USA

My Grandmother at the Australian Embassy in Washington, 1948. I’ll have to go looking for the photo on the Empire State Building.

This is another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields This week’s photo prompt PHOTO PROMPT ©Jill Wisoff

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I thought you might also be interested in seeing  Georgia O’Keeffe’s New York Series, which I touched on recently during the A-Z Challenge.

Weekend Coffee Share 26th March, 2027.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

You’ve struck it lucky this week. After weeks and weeks of torrential rain, today I can finally offer you a cup of sunshine, which, when you’d been deprived of sun for so long, is pure gold and way better than a measly tea or coffee.

The sun is shining. So, why on earth am I sitting inside on my laptop when I should be outside seizing the rays?

It’s okay. I’m working on it. I’m still waking up and trying to psyche myself up for my “twenty minute walk”. Now that the rain’s stopped, I’ve run out of excuses for the physio. So, I’ve gotta: “Move it! Move it! Move it!” I almost feel like praying for rain. And for all of you motivation types, I know I’ll enjoy it once I get started and that it’s about time I went and checked out the beach before Winter sets in, but the power of the couch is very alluring.

I am finally starting to get a bit of direction and focus at last.

About a month ago, I received a rather generous assistance package through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This included a physio, Occupational Therapy and psychology combo as well as a personal mentor, 9 hours of cleaning and a budget to really Spring clean the house and get it back in order. Ten years of chronic illness have truly swamped the place!! So, at the moment we’re getting started. Friday, I began the dreaded process of sorting through about 5 in trays, hoping that by now, all that paperwork was well and truly redundant and headed straight for the WPB (waste paper bin AKA recycling).

Woy Woy March 20

Taken on one of my recent “ten minute walks”.

The other advantage of getting rid of this excess paperwork, is that it distracts the mentor from culling my collections. After all, if anything is well into that endangered category of “not being used for the last 6 months and collecting dust”, it’s my collection of antique and vintage tea cups. Moreover, even I have to admit there’s considerable “excess”. However, before I do the hard yards sorting through my beloved “old ladies”, I’d much rather throw out the old school notes.

1936 Eunice in London

Meanwhile, I’ve been head down tail up transposing newspaper articles about my grandmother’s career as an international concert pianist. These started going online the week of her funeral, which was rather freaky at the time when articles from 1935 suddenly started rising to the surface. I am viewing her career through a much broader social context, which is much more time consuming but has created a much more interesting story line. For example, there was a review of a London performance which she’d kept as a clipping in her scrapbook. However, when I found it online this week, I read the full article which mentioned the arrival of Sudeten Jews in London in 1938 and how Jewish children were being adopted by English families. It’s fascinating reading history forward instead of reverse, which, of course, is how it was experienced.

One thing which has been quite interesting about researching my grandmother’s journey, is that I am reading all these facts, stories etc as her grand-daughter, a writer-storyteller and researcher and NOT primarily as a musician. I read the list of her performance pieces like a shopping list, yet without the  recognition. I’ve been ploughing through the articles and trying to get through them all and so stopping to listen to the music itself hasn’t been a priority. However, I finally Googled Beethoven’s Waldstein and a few others, and they were as familiar to me as breathing. They were such a part of my childhood and I remember falling to sleep to them on my parents’ laps. It’s so precious to relive these moments, even if it is through the exceptionally humble speakers on my laptop. So, I am inspired to listen to these more and to get the stereo operational. That is, if that thing is still called a stereo!

Meanwhile, real life realities always beckon me back from the joys of research and discovery. I’m finalising my daughter’s application for the local high school, while we wait on the results of the selective schools’ test. This involves an academic test for selective class and three auditions for the CAPA or performing arts stream. These auditions are filling me with dread. STRESS x 3 is not something to look forward to and I am becoming quite an adept motivational coach as she does various auditions. It’s just lucky that I’m a natural performer. It’s just an ironic twist that I don’t have an act, unless you include stand-up comedy after my latest trip.

dancer box

Just as well I have my own creative and stress outlet. Tomorrow night, I have my last contemporary/jazz dance class for this term. I am truly going to miss these classes. We have so much fun. Not only with the dancing, but with the hilarious commentary, my pink satin ballet shoes with ribbons attached and the way so many of us seemingly “breathe out” during these classes. I know this sounds like a paradox, because learning dance as an adult sounds very intense and it’s such a perfectionist thing, but we’re not trying be prima donnas. We’re wanting to stretch ourselves physically, psychologically and philosophically and laugh from head to toe. It’s magic…even if my dancing has a way to go!

I have cut back on writing on my blog this year. However, I am still enjoying writing my weekly flash fiction for Friday Fictioneers. You can read this week’s effort here.

So, how has your week been? I hope it’s been great and that the week ahead goes well for you too!

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Nerd In the Brain. You can join in the  Linky.

Xx Rowena

Musical Reflections 1941…

In March 1941, while London was in the throws of “The Blitz”, my grandmother was performing in Newcastle, a regional city North of Sydney. She was a concert pianist and after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she returned to Australia in 1940 to tour with famed conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham…and no doubt to escape the bombs!

Fast forwarding to 2017, and I’m meticulously going through old newspapers online, transcribing text and pasting articles about her into word documents by year. It’s taken me years to come up with this approach for compiling all these bits and pieces, especially as filing isn’t exactly my forte.

An interesting aspect of my grandmother’s career, at least from the perspective of a storyteller, is that she lived through an extremely turbulent, yet fascinating, period of history. That included: the Great Depression, WWII, “women’s lib”  and also the Cold War when she actually performed behind the “Iron Curtain” in East Germany and Soviet Russia (the latter being quite an “interesting” thing for Grannie to do and she even brought back some Russian coins which was not allowed!!)

So, when I stumbled across this little discussion in the Newcastle paper about the conflict between classical music and Jazz, I thought of a few bloggers who’d find this interesting and I’ll be popping round to “your place” and dropping off a link. You never know when little historical snippets like this could come in handy:

So, here goes:

“WORDS CONTINUE, like pebbles, to be thrown into the stream of controversy that races between followers of jazz and the classics. One writer, who attempts an impartial summing up of the question suggests: “The highbrow’s error is to suppose himself a different creature from the low brow. He loathes himself if he is betrayed into humming a tune that all the world is singing or into tapping his feet in time with the band. And failing to recognise or contemptuously rejecting these instincts in himself he has nothing but scorn for their manifestation in other people. To him the lowbrow is the person who likes ‘that kind of music.’ How much better if we realised that there are occasions when we all like ‘that kind of music” when our superior faculties are enjoying a rest. “This problem must be giving the B.B.C. a headache in compiling its feature programme. ‘Music while you work,’ since obviously there must be some who would prefer to make a bullet or put an engine together to the accompaniment of a Beethoven sonata than to ‘Roll Out the Barrel.’ “Germany, if reports are true, is producing special music to aid the war effort. Soldiers now march to tunes which automatically control their breathing to enable them to go longer distances without becoming exhausted.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954) , Friday 21 March 1941, page 18

This tension between classical and contemporary music, rings bells for me back at school, even in the 1980’s.

As if being a teenager wasn’t confusing enough, while the rest of the teenage universe was into  pop/rock/punk etc, my best friend was into classical and drew me under her spell. In retrospect, she was one of “those kids”. Their family only watched the ABC and she never ate junk food. Indeed, she didn’t even know what a Mars Bar was. That should have been a warning in itself, but your best friend is your best friend. Sink or swim, you do it together…even if you do die a social death.

So, if I could speak to my 13 year old self, I’d tell her that she should stand on her own two feet. That before you publicly declare you love classical music, remember you played Grease at your slumber party, which was anything but. Anyone who is your true friend, can accept a difference of opinion and give you the space and freedom to be yourself. You don’t have to be clones. Also, if you decide to go against the flow, make sure it’s for something you strongly believe in and that you’re prepared to cop the fallout. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.

These are life lessons I’m now trying to pass onto my kids. Navigating your way through high school is a veritable minefield and hopefully they can learn from my mistakes and make different ones of their own.

Meanwhile, getting back to the tension between different styles of music, I’m sensing that this has eased up over the years and we enjoy much more of a smorgasbord of styles these days. That we can be wonderfully eclectic. Is that your take as well? I’d love to read your reflections.

xx Rowena