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issue 3 2012

It’s hard to believe that we’re now in May, and even harder to fathom that final exams and assessments are just around the corner. Here’s to a year that seems to have flown by! It’s also hard to believe that, in the space of just three issues, Conversation has amassed such a wealth of fresh enthusiasm and dedication. Regular contributors have taken up residency in the pages of Conversation, and some you may like to look out for include: • Rachel White and her enlightening interviews / feature articles • The mysterious musicological musings of Eileen Wright • Charlotte Fetherston’s engaging articles • Daniel Butler’s stellar concert reviews

• The sheer crossword genius of Milo St. Clare-Holmes A huge mention must also go to Conversation’s graphic designer and visual mastermind Sarah Wielgosz. Without her, we would have to rely on my graphic design skills, which are poor at best and non-existent at worst. Issue 3 of Conversation features contributions from these people, as well as from numerous committed others. So go forth, fellow Con students, and allow Conversation to enrich your lives! Cameron Barnett Editor

Here is a quick update of what the CSA has been up to lately: -Last week marked the mid-point of semester and therefore the second catch-up phase of our mentoring program. As part of this there was a well-attended talk by David Larkin on Thursday in the cafe to give an insight into his career in musicology. -We have organised some subsidised (half-price!) Alexander Technique courses for limited numbers of Con students, kicking off this week. Places are full for this Semester but if you’d like to take advantage of the offer please email us as soon as possible to enquire for next Semester. -We held a Con Students Jam Night at the Paragon last Thursday 26 April. With generous discounts (I’m talking

$4 beer/wine, $5 spirits, $10 meals) and awesome live music provided by The Reputation and various keen soloists, the event was an all-round success. Stay tuned for a repeat occurrence later this month. -SAVE THE DATE: This year’s Con Ball will be held on Friday 12 October. If you have any suggestions about the theme, etc. feel free to email us at or stop by our stall in the foyer between 12 and 2 on Thursdays. Bernice Zandona President Conservatorium Students’ Association

Did you know that the SCM runs a service to connect musicians from the Con with hirers in the public? We get requests all the time for performances at weddings, parties and corporate events. All musicians can charge market rates. It’s a great opportunity to make some cash, contacts and establish your ensemble/band - all you need is your chair or lecturer’s approval to perform. If you have a string quartet, jazz band, beautiful voice, or Korean Drumming Conga Line that people might want to pay to hear, please contact Janine on 9351 1240, or come to visit at the Open Academy office (level 4, opposite venues) to get a form to fill in! Janine Harris Program Officer, Workshops and Festivals Sydney Conservatorium of Music

SRC Advice & Advocacy @ the Con Breda Dee, the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) Casework & Policy Officer, is based at the Con every Thursday in room 2125. Undergraduate students can get advice and advocacy on a broad range of issues including:

• Centrelink- there are new changes to Independent payments- if you are 22 years or older Centrelink considers you independent. • Tenancy- there are new changes which affect tenants and boarders • Accommodation -you can get advice on any accommodation problems you may have • Legal The SRC provides legal advice which is free and confidential • Financial Assistance- you can get a $50 emergency loan and referral to the Financial Assistance Office You can get advice on University processes, academic appeals, special consideration, plagiarism and much more. Drop in to see Breda Dee on Thursdays 10am -5pm. Alternatively, phone Breda on 0466 169 664 or email at:

If you happen to be in Surry Hills on a Sunday afternoon, take the time to close your eyes, open your soul and listen carefully… you may hear the dulcet tones of the Surry Hills Sacred Harp Singers floating down your street. But what, you may ask, is Sacred Harp Singing? Sacred Harp is a very distinctive style of vocal music, with its roots in 18th century English and American ‘country parish music’. The term ‘Sacred Harp’ is actually derived from a book of the same name containing over 250 songs, written by B. F. White and E. J. King in 1844. However, it is not necessarily the songs themselves which make sacred harp singing so unique - it’s the way in which they are sung.

Musically, sacred harp music is sung a capella in four parts – treble, alto, tenor and bass – with the melody in the tenor, and the alto, treble and bass providing harmonic contrast. The singers sit in a hollow square arrangement, facing inwards, with each part filling a side, and one person in the middle to lead. The music, provided in the song books, is used as a guide only, not an absolute. Sacred harp music use

The moment I heard sacred harp for the first time I was so taken with it I knew I just had to sing it... it felt like total chaos and bliss all at once.

‘shape note’ notation, which is based in the solfege tradition, and aids the singer in memorisation of the intervallic and relative pitch relationships of the music, rather than establishing a set key. In practice, it is the leader who sets the initial pitch at the beginning of the song. Each part finds their starting note from its intervallic relationship with what the leader establishes, and the singing begins from there.

This somewhat informal musicality is part of the beauty of sacred harp singing. It is also a purely participatory activity – sacred harp singers don’t ultimately perform for an audience, but perform ‘singings’. Those who sing, sing for themselves and for each other, not for an audience. The hollow square seating arrangement and significant nature of each vocal part makes sacred harp singing an

The Surry Hill Sacred Harp Singers sing at Hibernian House, 342 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills, Apartment 401 on Sunday afternoons - check the Facebook page for details. The soundtrack to the film Cold Mountain also contains a lot of sacred harp inspired music, and those wanting more information about sacred harp singing can check out the website

engaging and dynamic experience. James Daley is a 4th year Honours student at the Conservatorium who began the Surry Hills Sacred Harp Singers after his experience with a Sacred Harp Singing group in Brunswick, Melbourne. Rachel White asked him about his experiences with the group and the joys of singing‌

How did you become involved with the Surry Hills Sacred Harp Singers? I became aware of the music through folk anthologies and various other recordings, particularly those of Alan Lomax and Harry Smith. A lot of the musicians I have loved and listened to for a long time also come from the sacred harp tradition such as the Carter Family. The moment I heard sacred harp for the first time I was so taken with it I knew I just had to sing it... it felt like total chaos and bliss all at once. So I went down to Melbourne to sing (at that time) with the only group in Aus-

tralia, the Brunswick Sacred Harp Singers. It was a musical experience like no other and I knew I had to start my own group in Sydney, thus the Surry Hills Sacred Harp Singers were born.

How would you describe the style in which you sing? Sacred harp uses shape note singing. There are 4 shapes, a triangle, circle, rectangle and diamond. Each of these correspond to various pitches in both major and minor modes. The shapes are designed to help everyone becomew familiar with each part before they launch into the words. The style of singing could be described as Anglo-American folk/gospel singing, or Appalachian folk singing. It is important to note however that sacred harp is a democratic form of music making that requires no experience or special vocal quality. In fact those individual differences are what’s valued. The aim is not to achieve a good vocal blend, or even sing in tune. The

You are free to sing any part you like which creates a fascinating and unusual blend of voices.

only real requirement is that you sing LOUD! Tim Erikson (ethnomusicologist/ Sacred harp singer/folk musicians) says “singing in tune is only really as a courtesy to the person next to you”. It’s a very cathartic experience. Sacred harp is non-performance style of music, meaning there is never a stage, an audience, a rehearsal, they sing to and for each other. A beautiful idea, and one of the things I find most appealing about it.

What are the components of a sacred harp song?

women singing the bass or tenor part up an octave. You are free to sing any part you like which creates a fascinating and unusual blend of voices. The tunes will be in a major or minor mode, however the keys are relative - you start on whatever pitch the person leading the song sings. Like a lot of folk music, it uses very old sounding modal melodies and harmonies, which, coupled with the strange blend of voices, creates a very raw, powerful sound. As it is gospel music the texts are religious however you need no religious affiliation to sing. I myself am a secular singer. The tunes are “conducted” by the person leading, which will change from tune to tune. They move their arm up and down to set the tempo, however everyone else in the group may also do this. It sometimes looks a bit cultish... 20 or 30 people singing really loud waving their arms up and down.

Sacred harp music is always sung a capella in 4 parts. The tenor will always have the tune while the other three parts provide harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment. Traditionally men sing bass and tenor and women alto and treble. However the wonderDescribe a typical ful thing about sacred harp, and folk singing session. music more generally, is you don’t always get that typical SATB divide you find in classical music. You might have There are hundreds of regular sing-

ings throughout America. These can range from 5 or 10 people in a living room to an all-day singing convention that can have several hundred people coming from miles away. There are no set tunes, people just call out songs

Is it difficult to go from western notation to reading shape notes? I don’t think so. Aside from the shapes everything else is pretty much the

The Surry Hills Sacred Harp singers sing traditional sacred harp music from America, in the shape note tradition. We are an open group who pride ourselves on creating an atmosphere that is inclusive and participatory. You require no musical or singing experience to join just the desire to sing. Our meeting times are the second Sunday of every month, at Apartment 401 Hibernian House 342 Elizabeth St Surry Hills. We welcome everybody of all ages, ability levels, political and religious backgrounds… our common ground is that we sing together.

they would like to sing, and if that’s already been done they will pick another one. A typical Surry Hills session, however, is quite different to those in the states as most of those in our group are still learning about the music. So our sessions sometimes move a bit slower. We might spend more time on a particular tune just trying to get the shapes right, or if someone is unsure of their part we will stop and go over it, particularly when there are new singers. It’s very important that everyone feels like they are contributing, especially when you have varying levels of experience and ability.

same so you only have to master the syllables. It can be slightly confusing at first but you eventually get the hang of it and in the end it really does help. Especially for people who don’t read music often. I personally love singing the shapes. When you hear 20 people singing these old tunes and harmonies in syllables, no words, it really focuses you on the sound of the music. And as I have said before, sacred harp is not about getting it right - it’s about singing together purely as an end in itself.

How has sacred harp benefited you musically, personally, socially? As a musician it has redefined my ideas about music making, what it consti-

ent musical backgrounds, some who have never really sung before, coming together to make inspiring music. It’s an overwhelming feeling that I only get from singing with people. Socially the sacred harp community is a won-

Sacred harp is not about getting it right - it’s about singing together purely as an end in itself.

tutes and why we have it. Music making is for everyone and sacred harp is a forum where people can come and sing together without the pressure and expectations of performance. I love that! It’s incredibly uplifting and it’s the principle that I now live my musical life by. To a certain extent, I felt in my first couple of years at the Conservatorium I was developing a slight air of elitism… thankfully sacred harp has washed that away! Personally it has been very fulfilling to start this group and see people from differ-

derful thing to be a part of. We have people of various demographics, age brackets, experience levels who all find a common bond through singing.

What is your favourite aspect of sacred harp singing? As you can probably tell, I love the informal nature of it. It’s a wonderful principle to make music by. It really focuses your attention on why we make music and allows for a deep connec-

tion with the people you are making it with. I also can’t go past the music. The overwhelming power and rawness of the sacred harp sound rouses something in me that I can’t explain.

How would you like to see sacred harp progress in Sydney? We are going to do a singing convention later in the year with the Brunswick group and another group that has started in Blackwood, Victoria. We are also looking at running workshops at festivals to make more people more aware of the opportunity to be part of this music. I would love to see and help other groups start in NSW and just see the community continue to grow.

Any advice to new singers? COME AND SING! My words do little to describe the sacred harp experience - it’s just something you need to do for yourself. However, if people want to learn about it there is a great documentary called Awake My Soul, plenty of you tube clips, as well as lots of CDs and books. We also have a Facebook page for the Surry Hills group which you can join. Our singings are once a month on a Sunday afternoon and usually go for about 2 hours. All are welcome!

The overwhelming power and rawness of the sacred harp sound rouses something in me that I can’t explain.

Whether or not you are a dedicated opera-goer, you probably noticed all the flags and fireworks around Opera Australia’s new initiative, Opera on Sydney Harbour. Artistic director Lyndon Terracini began a new annual tradition by staging a production of La Traviata literally ‘on’ Sydney Harbour, with a sloping stage above the water and cast arriving by partylight bedecked water taxis. By any standards this was a huge gamble of money and resources for a spectacular revitalisation of the Sydney opera scene and arts scene, and in my opinion it was a good thing.

If classical music becomes an academic challenge but we fail to entertain our audience then we’ve missed the point.

general, and opera in particular, is susceptible to getting bogged down in a culture of academic elitism. Now, did Verdi imagine his masterpiece being overseen by a florescent purple chandelier? Or did the music really benefit from an additional firework percussion line? Probably not. But something much more important was achieved – the audience loved it. Thousands flooded in every night and cheered and clapped at a centuriesold musical genre in a foreign language. Of course, Opera Australia performed with beautiful musicality and inspiring professionalism in the face of the elements but that is not what I will take away from this production. If classical music becomes an academic challenge but we fail to entertain out audience then we’ve missed the point. Opera Australia did wonders for their own reputation, Sydney’s reputation, and music’s reputation when they launched this initiative and I applaud their success.

There are those that complained about the razzle-dazzle and the splurge of funding, but it’s worth remembering that the music industry is Emma Storey show business. The audience are there to be entertained. Classical music in

and her continuing musicological mutterings… When I moved from Moldova to Australia in 1963, one of the first questions I encountered in the Australian citizenship test was, “What is the common feature of all Australian music?” At the time I thought it was a trick question; that there was no Australian music. I know now that the right answer would have been this: Birdsong. Ross Edwards. Paul Stanhope. Anne Boyd. Peter Sculthorpe. Brett Dean. Giacinto Scelsi. You name an Australian composer and I’ll be able to show you at least one instance where the musical representation of birdsong is featured in their music. In the academic literature, this compositional practice is often explained as an attempt of composers to depict the sounds of the fauna native to this wide, brown country.

You name an Australian composer and I’ll be able to show you at least one instance where the musical representation of birdsong is featured in their music.

This is nonsense. I argue that this technique does not stem from the desire of Australian composers to find a uniquely Australian compositional style, but is merely the continuation of an historical compositional tradition. Indeed, the depiction of birdsong occurs frequently throughout the Western musical canon. This little-known fact will be my subject for the remainder of this paper. Allow me to provide you with a prominent example. In a performance of the first few bars of Mozart’s famous string quartet Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, most listeners would just hear the outline of a G major chord, played by unison strings. To expert ears, however, this passage is most clearly a transcription of the mating call of the Austrian Mountain Chicken (Gallus Austriannus), an extremely rare species of chicken that resides in the foothills of

the Austrian Alps. Many argue that this bird does not exist, but my friend Janine heard it when she was mountain climbing in her last trip to Europe. Mozart would have encountered this animal when he was an apprenticeship shepherd in the years before he began his musical study. It is evident that he included this birdcall in his string quartet as a reference to the happy years he spent living in a hut, tending sheep on the Alpine slopes. Other instances include the opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, where Beethoven transcribed the call of his grandmother’s parrot and the treble solo in Allegri’s Miserere, which is a representation of a warbling dodo that resided in Rome and is now, unfortunately extinct due to the second Vatican counsel.

Arthur Benjamin (b. Sydney, 1893, d. Hampstead, 1960)


his article focuses on the Australian-born pianist/composer Arthur Benjamin, a man who was an extremely talented musician, fought in a war, made his name in many different countries, and rubbed shoulders with influential figures in music history. He also lectured here at the Conservatorium in its early days. Have you heard of him? Arthur Leslie Benjamin was born in 1893 in Sydney, an only child. At the age of three, the family moved to Brisbane, and there, Benjamin began playing the piano, making his first public appearance on the instrument at age six! In 1907, as a young teenager, Benjamin travelled with his parents to Europe to learn more about music, came back to Brisbane to finish his schooling and then, at the age of 18, received a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music, London. Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (famous for his sacred Anglican choral music) taught him composition, and Frederic Cliffe, piano. Cliffe was a little-known British composer, who also taught John Ireland.

Near the end of Benjamin’s time at the college came the outbreak of WWI. He enlisted in the British Army (until the 1940s, all Australians were actually British subjects by default). In 1915, he became the second lieutenant with the 32nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, which served in France. Following this, he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a gunner. On 31 July 1918 he was shot down over Germany. Perhaps this can be seen as lucky timing; with the end of the war he was repatriated on 29 November of the same year.

He also lectured here at the Conservatorium in its early days.

In 1919, soon after Benjamin’s return from the army, and what was presumably a POW camp in Germany,

Henri Verbrugghen, newly instated first director of this Conservatorium, invited Benjamin to become professor of piano. Benjamin took up the offer, and held the position from 1919-1921. However, he returned to London to advance his performance and composition career further. He also became a touring examiner for ABRSM during this time. In 1924, Benjamin had his first work published (a string quartet) and more followed: he composed for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, orchestras, films and ballet and operatic productions. His music is hard to describe: clearly influenced by the British school, it is also very Romantic and yet playful and witty. His Viola Sonata is an incredible piece, taking its inspiration from the French music (particularly Debussy), and even the Viennese Waltz, but holds enough of its own character as to not owe itself to those styles (it was dedicated to the great virtuoso William Primrose). Naxos Music library, which we all have access to, provides quite an extensive list of recorded Benjamin works which are well worth accessing. In 1925, Benjamin made his first public appearance as a piano soloist (and during his life would give the British premiere of Gerswhin’s Rhapsody in Blue). He also became a professor at the Royal College of Music, where he taught Benjamin Britten and Peggy Glanville-Hicks (an Australian com-

poser who died in Sydney in 1990). In 1937, Benjamin visited Jamaica, and became interested in the native folk songs and dances there. This inspired him with compositions, most famously Jamaican Rumba, which can be found in varying instrumentation. Pianist Ian Munro has recorded all of Benjamin’s solo piano works in a CD by the same name.

His music is hard to describe: clearly influenced by the British school, it is also very Romantic and yet playful and witty. .

In 1938, Benjamin resigned from the RCM, and moved to Vancouver, Canada. There, he was the conductor of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra. A few years later he moved to Portland, Oregon, to work at Reed College. By 1946, however, he once again returned to England, so that he could devote more time to composition (at the request and bequest of his editors). He was apparently commissioned to write a fanfare for the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and the

Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 (though this claim is not substantiated by other sources). In 1950, Benjamin toured Australia for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, playing his own piano concerto.

Arthur Benjamin’s life was an incredible one, filled with extensive worldwide travel, two world wars, and a close proximity to those we really admire in music history.

With the increasing popularity of his operatic compositions, Benjamin continued composing and conducting in Britain in the 50s, though he had a serious illness in 1957, and in 1960 was admitted to hospital and died. Sources describe his death differently: some say that he caught hepatitis, either when en route to America, or when holidaying in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and others say it was due to a reoccurrence of cancer. Arthur Benjamin’s life was an incredible one, filled with extensive worldwide travel, two world wars, and a

close proximity to those we really admire in music history. This short article was intended to inspire us to remember an Australian expatriate, who was part of this institution’s early years, and an inquisitive mind who made the most out of opportunities presented to him. Charlotte Fetherston

2 May Lunchbreak Concert - Organ Unit 1.10pm - 2.00pm Musicology Colloquium Series - Neal Peres Da Costa - “The lost world of espressivo playing” 4.00pm - 5.00pm

4 May

Conductors’ Series - Symphony Orchestra (Performance #1) 6.00pm -7.30pm

5 May

Conservatorium Open Academy – Rising Stars 11.00am - 12.00pm Conductors’ Series - Symphony Orchestra (Performance #2) 4.00pm -5.30pm

7 May

Cocktail Hour - O For A Muse of Fire: Shakespeare Settings by Australian Composers 6.00pm - 7.00pm Cocktail Hour - Complete Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano 2 7.30pm - 8.30pm

9 May Lunchbreak Concert - Brass Unit 1.10pm - 2.00pm Ross Edwards Marquee 101 – Music of Ross Edwards 6.00pm - 7.30pm

11 May

Baroque Opera - Gluck – Les pèlerins de la Mecque (The Pilgrims of Mecca) (Performance #1) 6.00pm - 9.00pm Baroque Opera - Gluck – Les pèlerins de la Mecque (The Pilgrims of Mecca) (Performance #1) 6.00pm - 9.00pm

12 May

Conservatorium Open Academy – Rising Stars 11.00am - 12.00pm Baroque Opera - Gluck – Les pèlerins de la Mecque (The Pilgrims of Mecca) (Performance #2) 4.00pm - 7.00pm

14 May Cocktail Hour - Vive la France! 6.00pm - 7.00pm Jazz in the Cafe - David Theak & Friends – program to be announced on the night 7.30pm - 9.00pm Cocktail Hour - Complete Beethoven Cello Sonatas 1 7.30pm - 8.30pm


across down 3. When the Music Workshop is booked, lectures there are sometimes moved to this room in the High School 7. The nearest Allans’ Music/Billy Hyde’s store is on this street 10. Our beloved local watering hole 11. Abbreviation for the Students’ Association 12. Nearby building whose food court is frequented by students 15. Director of the previous incarnation of the Con whose tenure ended in scandal 17. Instrument originally played by 31 down 18. Opera recently staged in the Botanical Gardens, ‘La ________’ 21. Composer and Con alumnus who was instrumental to the AMEB, ____ Holland 23. The folks you go to when you need a room unlocked, or help generally 25. Feature of the Botanical Gardens closest to the entrance overlooking the Con 26. The most bacchanalian event on the Con social calendar 27. Instruments that have their own room on the bottom floor 28. Architect who designed the Con 29. Eatery located, conveniently, beneath 10 across 30. The saxophone-playing busker at Circular Quay is well-known for playing this hit 32. Places where you shouldn’t leave your things/instruments 34. Master of the Queen’s Music who is an alumnus, Malcolm ________ 35. Occultist whose association with 15 across led to his downfall, _____ Norton 36. Recently installed convenience near the 3rd floor practice rooms 38. Name of the underground Japanese restaurant across the road from 10 across 39. The box full of index cards in the library refers to this kind of recording 40. First name of Verbrugghen 41. Composer whose Piano Concertos were recently performed at the Con

1. This brand of piano features extra keys and is made from Australian wood 2. The most happening student publication around 4. Australian composer, a bust of whose head graces the front of the library 5. Australian electropop band whose members studied at the Con 6. Current head of Composition, Matthew _______ 8. Most frequently visited site on Con computers 9. Incoming Dean, Karl _____ 10. The recent Jazz exchange featured students from here 12. Half price sessions were recently offered by 11 across for this technique 13. Conductor and Con alumnus, Richard ________ 14. Con alumnus and soprano, _______ Kelly 16. Composer, pianist, scholar and Con alumnus Larry _______ 19. What is now the Early Music Room was once exclusively for these students 20. Street on which the Con is located 22. Solo guitar work by Georges Lentz whose recently-issued first recording was made by a Con student 24. Instrument played by 9 down 30. Library near to the Con 31. Alumnus and Icehouse mainstay 32. The mention of degrees in this subject at the Con is always contentious 33. Fourth floor department 37. Renowned pianist and Con alumnus

Interested in contributing to Conversation? Or would you like to promote your group, event or business? We’d love to hear from you. Simply email for more information.

Conversation Issue 3  
Conversation Issue 3  

Conversation Issue 3